Wednesday, February 12, 2014

It's about forgiveness

            I do spend a lot of time thinking about things like ethics, psychology, philosophy, blah, blah, blah. Always have. This week a few conversations, a few things read, led to this post about forgiveness:

            A week or so I was tuned in to Dylan Farrow's molestation accusations about Woody Allen. She had written an open letter about him, which a New York Times' columnist posted in his own blog, explaining that while they are considering what Woody Allen movie is their favorite, they should consider what he did to her. She then explains in detail her story of being molested in an attic and I think other places, and how he ruined her life. It was pretty moving. Naturally, he is suspect to some people because he picked up with Mia's adopted daughter, Soon-Yi, who he married (and is still married to).  I read the online comments and wrote one saying basically, well, we will never know and that is just the way it is. People you might think would never do anything wrong, can be molesters and people you would think would never so passionately falsely accuse someone else, can and do.  It would be nice to be able to know, but the most we can do is have beliefs and form opinions.

            Some time later I read Woody's response, which was also pretty moving. He described an ordeal of being accused of molestation in his 50s during a bitter divorce and custody battle with Mia. He describes how at first 7 year old Dylan was taken by Mia to the doctor, but denied anything happened, only to change her mind after being taken out by her mother for ice cream; how he passed a lie detector test and Mia refused to take one; how the official investigation led to a conclusion that he did not molest her and that likely the reason Dylan claimed it had happened was either due to her imagination or her mother's influence; how a friend of Mia's has told the press that Mia asked her to lie and say she was under-aged when Woody dated her; quoted their other son Moses saying “My mother drummed it into me to hate my father for tearing apart the family and sexually molesting my sister” and “Of course Woody did not molest my sister. She loved him and looked forward to seeing him when he would visit. She never hid from him until our mother succeeded in creating the atmosphere of fear and hate towards him,” and how he now has a relationship with the adult Moses; that Mia allowed her image to be used in an award celebration for Woody after she had accused him of molestation (why would she do it if true), and other facts - presuming he is giving it accurately (he would be slaughtered by the press if he doesn't) concluding that Mia cannot be believed at all, nor, sadly, Dylan, who he thinks believes what she says. While I was reading Woody's reply I remembered that this was actually my impression when it all went down.  

            Still, then and now I still say we will never know for sure.  Woody actually complained about the judge in his case (I believe the custody case) saying the same thing, as he felt all the facts showed it hadn't happened and their is no valid dispute.  He knows what happened because he was there.  Mia may know, although it is always possible, if it is not true, that she talked herself into it. Dylan may know, but she might not either.  I personally know people who have described childhood molestation to me and I didn't believe it, while admitting that I cannot know that either.   

            Of course, sometimes you can know. About 24 years ago there was a murder on Long Island of a young girl. Her neighbor, barely a man himself, was arrested and prosecuted. It was the first time in NY where a murder conviction was obtained with forensic evidence. However, I watched most of the trial and was appalled by the lack of professionalism and downright bad science that was used. In fact, the prosecutor used a so-called tooth bite expert, whose testimony was just ridiculous - years later it was determined he was a fraud (I thought it pretty obvious). But, the defendant seemed like the natural suspect based on his age, lack of a girlfriend and steroid use. The media was grossly biased against him. After watching the trial I realized the terrible dilemma that I would have if on the jury. I didn't think the prosecution proved their case. But, he did seem to be the likely one. I would have acquitted and wondered my whole life.

            Well, that is what I thought for all these years. And I always nursed a hope that someday he would admit it, so that everyone could know for sure. Then, a few months ago, the convicted defendant, in an effort to win probation, admitted it. I was overjoyed. Now, if only O.J. would do the same.

            Woody claims he does not hold it against Dylan at all, but his efforts to reach out to her now that she is an adult have been rebuffed.  She was a child when this went down and he does not doubt she believes it. I imagine that makes forgiveness easier.

            Anyway, at the same time as I was reading Woody's response I was getting emails from a friend who likes to send me quotes. Usually it is one a day, and they vary in message, but that day he was on a tear.  A couple of them were about people disappointing you. One of them I am almost positive he just wrote himself - "Expect the people of the 21st Century to be greedy, selfish and self-centered; it helps you from ever being disappointed because you have no expectations and you will remain vigilant to never help those who only call you when they need something and lose your number when they don’t."  Sounds a little like Paul Simon's I am a rock, I am an island, but not so lyrical.

            I'm pretty used to some friends only calling me when they need me. It has happened many times. But, I don't really mind that much. I've even told some who made a habit of it that it is okay just to say, I need you, but maybe we can talk a little anyway. I do remember that once, with one friend in particular, it got a little much. She would email me for legal advice, but would not even return calls anymore (not just from me, but anyone we knew). I emailed back that I wouldn't unless she told me at least one personal thing about herself. She did, but, it didn't really change anything. And it was probably the last time I heard from her.

             I didn't ask my friend who sent the quotes what happened that made him write that to me. He would have told me if he had wanted to, but you could read the frustration, maybe anger, in it.  I sent back two quotes from my own tiny collection (yes, I collect quotes, which, ironically, I write just as there is an advertisement on tv for a show called King of the Nerds; I think I've even written a post about them once). I was trying to be helpful. I'm hoping one day he quotes them back to me without realizing I sent them to him in the first place. At least I could know that it had some effect on him.
             The first quote was from Viktor E. Frankl, who wrote a wonderful book called Man's Search for Meaning. I read it a long time ago, but there were two quotes from it that I loved, one of which is pertinent: “Everything can be taken from a man but one thing: the last of the human freedoms—to choose one’s attitude in any given set of circumstances, to choose one’s own way.”

            But when we say that we want to have a good attitude, we usually mean we are going to try and stay balanced when things we don't like are happening. That's what my friend meant when he was chagrined about his friends disappointing him and it is what I think we all mean when we say to  others, try to have a good attitude or words to that effect.

            Frankl might know a thing or two about forgiveness. He was a holocaust survivor. It's hard to imagine anything more terrifying and which would test someone's ability to forgive. Though he was allowed to practice as a doctor for some time while a prisoner, and survived, he lost his wife and almost his entire immediate family - all but one sister who had emigrated. Nevertheless, he was able to later write about his experience in a remarkably uplifting book with real insight. I was not all that keen on his psychological system -- at one time a very respected one - called logotherapy. He professed that crisis was important in learning values and that these values provide a meaning to the existence in life. I find most humanistic theories about almost any topic have their good points, but break down when put under a sharp light. His just seemed unrealistic to me and perhaps too biographically attached to his own life. But, what did attract me to him was his attitude and his ability to forgive, which seemed enormous, given what he had suffered. He is no longer a household name, in fact he wasn't when I discovered him decades ago (he died in 1997) but you can find plenty about him online.

            The other quote I sent my friend was a poem by Mother Teresa, which I first received from a cousin of mine. Leave aside the God reference at the end, the thoughts mirrored many of my own and I stuck it in my collection.

"People are often unreasonable, illogical and self centered;
Forgive them anyway.

If you are kind, people may accuse you of selfish, ulterior motives;
Be kind anyway.

If you are successful, you will win some false friends and some true enemies;
Succeed anyway.

If you are honest and frank, people may cheat you;
Be honest and frank anyway.

What you spend years building, someone could destroy overnight;
Build anyway.

If you find serenity and happiness, they may be jealous;
Be happy anyway.

The good you do today, people will often forget tomorrow;
Do good anyway.

Give the world the best you have, and it may never be enough;
Give the world the best you've got anyway.

You see, in the final analysis, it is between you and your God;
It was never between you and them anyway."

            I could write that shorter. "People suck sometimes. Try and have a good attitude about it," but I like the way she said it better.

            I'm not going to analyze these two further. I think they are pretty clear. I tried to transmit some values to my daughter when she was growing up, among them trying to have a good attitude and trying to treat others better than they treat you, despite all the disappointments in the way people react to you. The fact that it seems like she got it, is among the things I'm proudest of in my life (realizing, of course, that I have to hope I had something to do with it). Nowadays, she probably lives it better than I do. Of course, you always do them very imperfectly, and sometimes one or more completely drops off the radar. As I get older, I notice it gets harder. At some point you start thinking - I just don't want to bother with it anymore. It is not a matter of shrinking values. It's a matter of satiation.

            I'm not claiming any meditative harmony or perfect stoic calm. I've heard so many times in my life from other people that nothing seems to bother me. That's ridiculous. Of course things bother me. But, I can't tell you how many times insisting to myself that I have a good attitude about something, including letting insults and hubris roll off my back, has helped me immensely. I had better take that approach, anyway. I'm not the most orthodox guy and that makes you a bit of a target for criticism.

            But, life isn't about not having problems, it's about dealing with the ones you have. I've quoted Gandalf a number of times to the same point when Frodo complained that he wished the rise of Sauron had not happened in his time. Gandalf replied: "'So do I,' said Gandalf, 'and so do all who live to see such times. But that is not for them to decide. All we have to decide is what to do with the time that is given us.'"

            Knowing it is for us to decide what to do with the time given us just raises a big question and provides no answers. Everything else we are in life has to provide them. A "good attitude" (entirely subjective, of course) and tendency towards forgiveness doesn't hurt. If you don't have that, you get bogged down in a lot of stuff that just isn't fun. And you become less fun.

            I have never been tested as Frankl was. When I think of what people like him have gone through I feel ashamed I have ever complained at all. But, in most of our lives (probably everyone) we do go through periods where we are disappointed by people and sometimes feel betrayed and overlooked. I recall, as if yesterday, when I was undergoing the biggest sense of betrayal in my life, hearing the song "The Heart of the Matter," by the Eagles' Don Henley for the first time. In particular, some lines stood out to me -

"I've been tryin' to get down to the Heart of the Matter
But my will gets weak
And my thoughts seem to scatter
But I think it's about forgiveness
Even if, even if you don't love me anymore"

            I like some music well enough, but have no talent for it - can't sing, dance or play an instrument, and this was the only time in my life that I remember music actually helping me. I played that song over and over again, probably hundreds of times in just a few weeks until I knew every word (that took a while too as I have little ability to remember the lyrics to even my favorite songs). Writing this, I popped online and played it. Amazing how a song can bring back old feelings - instantly.

            It wasn't a magic pill, of course, but it did help get me to get where I wanted to be over the course of a few months. I did not want to be stuck in feeling hate or other negative emotions and I had to work at it as you can't just wish or reason grief away. There are things I know help me forgive and I'm sure can help others forgive too. Time may be the most essential element. And time takes time. Of course, an apology or some recognition of responsibility by the other person helps enormously, but you can't always get it. Often the situation has nothing to do with you, but almost completely with the other person, and it is hard for them to see it. Other times, they want to, but just can't do it. I have had subtle apologies made to me, some which I didn't even expect or need, but I knew it helped the other person and was the best they were capable of doing. There has to be some recognition that perhaps we are wrong and they are right. But, tautology though it be, when we don't see it, we don't see it and emotionally there is no difference in the two.

            I am generally speaking, much more an Adlerian than a Freudian, Jungian or Franklian, though I think they all made contributions. Sometimes when someone says something about me I don't appreciate or judges me in a way I'd rather not be judged, I feel bad about it. It is natural to want others to like us and even to admire us -- certainly not think little of us. But, most often, when I really think about it, I recognize that it is more about that person's insecurity or need to feel admired or liked or vindicated themselves and I try and approach it that way. People think that I am wrong about a lot of things. If you aren't the type to bow to all conventional thinking when it doesn't suit you (I always maintain that I acquiesce to 99% of life's conventions, but the other 1% drives people crazy) that is going to happen a lot and I am very used to it. But, people don't often like to rely just on their reason to win an argument (even if they are the only one who knows there is an argument). They gild the lily and often that is done by making up stuff that isn't true. It is the combination of it that finds its way into so many disputes, including legal ones, that especially galls people and makes them intractable. It certainly doesn't make me smile.

            Most of the few times in my life where I learned of friends talking behind my back (because other friends came running to me) I chose to deal with it by having a pleasant conversation about something else with the person involved and only at the end mentioning it by saying something like, it is no big deal, and we don't need to discuss it, but, just don't want you to be in position of confiding to others things that turn out not to be true and having other people dislike you for it. You can do this in a positive way - though when I see it in writing now I wonder how - but it very much seemed to work. A couple of years or so ago I learned from a large number of friends that someone I was close to was repeatedly stating things about me that were not just his opinion (which is fine), but which were factually untrue. Not only that, it appeared to have taken hold and it became the common belief among many people I knew.  Part of it I knew was my fault. I'm very quick to tell people things about myself that are less than impressive (just read my blog) and often reluctant to defend myself. Honestly, I don't know why I do that as I can't see a moral reason for it. Maybe I've read too much philosophy and it's a stoic influence. There are times I have even been mad at myself just for caving and beginning to defend myself.  But, I also knew my friend and believed strongly that it wasn't malicious. Some people, and I know quite a few, tend to believe things they want to or even fear to be the case - as the actual fact. The last time I heard from someone else what he had said about me that was untrue I did get angry for about two hours. But, I got over it, recognizing it had more to do with him than me. We spoke about it once and I said what I thought plainly, but not with any venom. I didn't ask him to stop. I just said I know and joked that he was busted.  Did it help? It helped me. I don't carry any anger about it. Did it get him to stop? Maybe.

            I don't admire all forgiveness. Things which are done out of venality, spite, for economic gain, out of anger, etc., can rise to a level where it is not necessary to forgive absent some kind of apology or even an act of contrition or recompense. There have been a few times in life I have insisted on it. And sometimes, like with murder or other heinous acts, almost any forgiveness seems impossible - though there are some who can do it. I don't know how Frankl forgave, though I presume he did it for himself and by focusing on the stresses of those who persecuted him or sat silent while it occurred. And, I'm sure it helped him. A good attitude and ability to forgive is worth more than Fort Knox.

            Here's my cheat sheet for forgiveness and getting over unpleasant things:

            Take your time. Time does heal all wounds (at least almost every one). You don't see feeling  better coming, but only in the rear view mirror.

            Ask yourself what in the other person's life might cause them to behave the way they did? It is probably more about them then you. Often, all about them.

            Vent - I find there is more anxiety among people I know because of their shame in discussing something that hurts them or embarrasses them. Confession is good for the soul, because it takes a lot of work to keep a secret - and the emotion comes out anyway, often in non-productive ways.

            Confront - I mean, verbally - and it doesn't have to be aggressive at all, though that may be   the other person's reaction, especially if the other person feels they may have been wrong. In my experience, lack of communication is the biggest reason for most conflicts.

             If possible ask for acknowledgment of the bad act, not an apology. If there is acknowledgement, apology will usually come on its heels.

             Recognize that we forgive not just - maybe mostly not - for the other person, but because it helps us to do so.

             Nothing on that list should be taken to mean we must always forgive or something is wrong with us. We are just better off if we can.  Nothing means that just because we forgive we need to associate or deal with someone anymore - they are two different things.

              Mostly, if you've gotten this far, forgive me for the length of this evalovin' post. I do go on.

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I started this blog in September, 2006. Mostly, it is where I can talk about things that interest me, which I otherwise don't get to do all that much, about some remarkable people who should not be forgotten, philosophy and theories (like Don Foster's on who wrote A Visit From St. Nicholas and my own on whether Santa is mostly derived from a Norse god) and analysis of issues that concern me. Often it is about books. I try to quote accurately and to say when I am paraphrasing (more and more). Sometimes I blow the first name of even very famous people, often entertainers. I'm much better at history, but once in a while I see I have written something I later learned was not true. Sometimes I fix them, sometimes not. My worst mistake was writing that Beethoven went blind, when he actually went deaf. Feel free to point out an error. I either leave in the mistake, or, if I clean it up, the comment pointing it out. From time to time I do clean up grammar in old posts as, over time I have become more conventional in my grammar, and I very often write these when I am falling asleep and just make dumb mistakes. It be nice to have an editor, but . . . .