Tuesday, August 25, 2015

The Science of Forgiveness

As much as we try, it is difficult for Board members and managers to ‘let go’ when dealing with a homeowner or vendor that has wronged us or our community.  While no one is suggesting we blissfully ignore misdeeds and idiots, to forgive is critical to healthy community oversight.  Festering anger only clouds judgment and leads to burnout. 
‘Forgive’ has religious connotations for many.  However, whether or not you are a person of faith, over the last decade the physical and social benefits have been confirmed too often to be ignored. 
Getting scientific for a moment: Functional Magnetic Resonance Imaging (fMRI) brain scans traced forgiveness to the dorsal prefrontal cortex (for cognitive control), the posterior cingulate (for understanding how others are thinking) and the anterior cingulate cortex (for balancing the perception and suppression of moral pain (such as feeling wronged)).  From this, neurologist Dr. Pietro Pietrini notes that forgiveness is a moral distress painkiller.
Dr. Pietrini states, “The fact that forgiving is a healthy resolution of the problems caused by injuries suggests that this process may have evolved as a favorable response that promotes human survival.”  Forgiveness alleviates suffering.  It is a positive, healthy strategy for overcoming an otherwise stressful situation. 
In trauma burn units, anger interferes with the ability to heal. One doctor counseled a patient, “You can still pursue damages through an attorney. You’re entitled to be angry, but for now I’m asking you to abandon your entitlement and let it go, to direct your energy toward healing, and turn this over to God or nature or whoever you worship. It’s not up to you to get revenge on yourself or someone else.”
Another medical example:  In 2009 the journal Psychology & Health reported that patients with heart disease who underwent forgiveness therapy experienced higher blood flow and were at less risk of pain and sudden death, compared to those who underwent the standard treatment.
According to Professor Fred Luskin of Stanford University, “When you don’t forgive, you release all the chemicals of the stress response.”  Think about a wrong twenty times today, and your body releases stress chemicals each time, limiting both your physical and mental ability to tackle problems.
Reframe that painful memory by considering possible points of view that led the homeowner or vendor to act the way he did. This makes it more difficult to blame and demonize him, reducing the level of resentment you are feeling.
When you blame someone for how you feel instead of holding them to account for their actions, you become stuck in victimhood.  We’ve all experienced the same thing, and to get past it you have to accept that most often the person wasn’t intentionally out to personally hurt you.  How we’ve been dealing with anger hasn’t worked.  Instead, humanize the offender, and hate the wrong without hating the wrongdoer.

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