A philosophy professor asked her students to fill their water bottles to the brim and to keep it raised above their heads. She then exclaimed, “this bottle represents the spite, malice or antagonism you hold against those who have wronged you”. The professor instructed her students to hold this bottle with their arms outstretched above their heads until the end of her ninety-minute lecture.
Most of the students could barely manage to keep the bottle uplifted for ten minutes. The professor then went on to explain that the exercise was an allusion: the increasing weariness of the arms while holding a constant weight is representative of the exponential increase, over time, in the burden we carry within ourselves if we harbour malice and blame towards others. The only solace the professor went on to explain was in the act of letting go and making peace which in its most complete form is called ‘forgiveness’.
Forgiveness, however desirable a trait, is very challenging to practice due to the petty nature of the human psyche. The defensive ego takes offensive actions in the form of grudges and ill will. Little do we realise that by hoarding such anger and spite within us, we are victimising ourselves with their corrosive effects.
The acidity of anger melts the mental framework of those with a frail psyche. Only those with a firm psychological posture can be open not only to the virtue of forgiving others but also to the liberation in dissipating any of our emotional angst. This can reintroduce levity in our lives as the weight of the past and the wrongs of yesterday are lifted from our backs.
To better understand the virtue of forgiveness, we must delve deep into some patterns of the human mind.
The individuals with the capacity to forgive display stable mental palaces which are fortified and stands unwavering in the face of the sweeping gusts of anguish. Such a mental framework is moulded through a multitude of life experiences accompanied by the practice of deep introspection.
Introspection is an exercise of the brave for it throws lights into the deep corners of our reactionary self and the shadows of our past experiences that subconsciously influence our present-day responses. The strong-willed confronts the piercing pangs of the past and become aware of these internal thought designs.
Such thoughts must be re-invented and re-designed to achieve a solidified mental balance that is immune from the tempests of externally stimulated emotion cyclones. This does not imply that the mentally adept does not experience emotion but instead, it exalts their ability not to be ruled and have their life dictated by these tumultuous emotions.
The mentally weak, on the other hand, fall prey to these emotions and allow their thoughts to be polarised. This polarisation causes perception to be distorted with extreme emotionality while interacting with others.
Any wrong committed against these weak individuals will be marked in fire within their mental diary of atrocities they consider themselves victims too. This only results in a charred and parched psyche incapable of opening up to the idea of forgiveness.
Only those in control of their emotional responses can welcome the prospect of forgiving. Incidentally, this emotional calibration is a trait among strong individuals. Those with the ability to forgive freely have the ability to distinguish between their emotions like the various shades of a colour. Such a skill enhances their outlook towards life due to a greater understanding of their internal machinery and protects them from the deafening cacophony of emotionality.
The weak are either incapable of performing this function or are very poor at discerning their emotions. This is reflected in their lower ability in being empathetic. Without empathy one is isolated in their idea of self without any heed or awareness of the social positions or circumstances of the individuals around them. This leads to a self-induced feeling of alienation which transforms into victimisation which furthers their rejection of forgiveness.
Only those with an ample quotient of emotional intelligence1 can recognise the utility that forgiveness has to one’s mental health.
The talons of suppressed rage will dig deep into an individual’s psychology thereby inhibiting normal life itself. Their external life when affected will concomitantly intensify the virulence of anger that has already infected the mind. Rage acts as a feedstock and enlarges the cancer of internal dissatisfaction. To not address this at the earliest will be equivalent to nurturing a snake in one’s own backyard.
The stranglehold of this constrictor will impede an individual’s ability to make appropriate decisions. Inability to take useful decisions will once again reduce their quality of life.
Anger is the only output when abstaining from forgiveness. There is neither retribution nor reparation in being begrudged but only a false prestige within the mind embellished by the ego. Remarkably, anger also affects an individual physically. When the tidal wave of rage sweeps over our beached emotions, the body releases ‘cortisol’. Cortisol2 is the stress hormone of our body and its release can leave one haggard and bogged down.
Anger harboured by the incapacity or reluctance to forgive further widens the gap between the strong and the weak.
Roadblocks of Resentment
Extended abstinence from the act of forgiveness can spawn resentment which is the ultimate burden to carry. Resentment is such a powerful and negative trigger to the emotional framework that it induces a very large cortisol release capable of inducing a state of decision paralysis.
The flight or fight response in situations of extreme stress will diminish into a third termed ‘freeze’. This response is a result of the dulling of creativity and critical thinking which commonly occur in states of stress. Without creative, free and unimpeded thinking, the individual will solely have a view jaundiced by resentment thereby automatically restricting their worldview.
The strong forgive and take a detour around these roadblocks of resentment whereas the weak get trapped in the gutters of rage drowning in the sewage of their own emotions. Great thinkers have theorised that the ability to maintain a stable emotional temperament and escape the entrapment of resentment is associated with the soul. Whether the said soul was meant to be read literally or metaphorically is open to interpretation.
Both Gandhi and Plato likened the ability to forgive as the force of the soul. The strength of individuals to forgive is considered a universal virtue across all cultures and societies. Like every other kind of force in the world, the soul force3 must be observed, identified, cultivated and encouraged. The most commonly associated idea with a strong soul is the preservation of a righteous and honest moral code.
It is quite difficult for adults to question their morals let alone change them. Childhood experiences, peer interaction, education and upbringing greatly influence the formation of an individual’s moral code. Thus, steps must be ensured to provide adequate levels of moral development to children in schools therein enabling them to wield the soul force
Forgiveness as a virtue is secured, practiced and enjoyed when an individual brews within the cauldron of their souls a concoction of mental maturity, emotional equilibrium, resolved rage, rejection of resentment and openness. Such individuals are truly strong and would be brimming with Gandhi’s soul force whose capacity to forgive will be rewarded with an unyieldingly positive attitude towards life.
"The views and opinions expressed in this article are those of the author and do not necessarily represent the views of The Renaissance"
Cherry, Kendra. “What Is Emotional Intelligence?.” Very Well Mind, About Inc, 3 June 2020, https://www.verywellmind.com/what-is-emotional-intelligence-2795423. Accessed 5 June 2021. ↩
Thorpe, Mathew. “11 Natural Ways to Lower Your Cortisol Levels.” Healthline, Healthline Media, 17 April 2017, https://www.healthline.com/nutrition/ways-to-lower-cortisol. Accessed 5 June 2021. ↩
“Mahatma Gandhi Soul Force.” CVS Edu, 18 Aug 2015, http://www.cvs.edu.in/upload/Mahatma%20Gandhi_%20Soul-Force.pdf. Accessed 5 June 2021. ↩