“Revenge is sweet” is a pithy maxim that seems to help Hollywood blockbusters make a mint.
X-Men: Days of Future Past, Captain America: The Winter Soldier and The Amazing Spider-Man 2 all have vengeance woven into their storylines.
However, while the “Don’t get mad, get even” mentality might be good for box office takings, a vengeful mind can be a lot less healthy when carried through in real life.
In fact, it is the reverse approach that helps us thrive. That’s the view of many noted personalities, including the late lamented Maya Angelou. For despite every apparent justification to be bitter about the cards she was dealt, she carved out a long and meaningful life that touched and benefitted millions.
Indeed, there are a number of reasons she and others have voiced for doing the right thing even when feeling wronged. Here are some ideas from those who have road-tested the art of forgiving under very trying circumstances:
2. 1. Forgiveness is a gift to yourself.
3. 2. Failure to forgive is a form of self-harm.
4. 3. Resentment gives mental space to an unwanted guest.
5. 4. Loving your enemies frees you as well as them.
6. 5. Reacting in kind never solves the problem.
7. 6. Forgiveness is a sign of strength.
8. 7. Forgiveness is opening the window to let in fresh air!
9. So why is that also good for your health?
Apart from Martin Luther King Jr - whose life was so tragically cut short by the unforgiving act of another - these visionary thinkers have each lived to a ripe old age, suggesting that turning the other cheek might actually be a good lifestyle choice.
Indeed, that’s a view many scientists also share.
“Forgiveness is one of those ways where we wipe clean a major threat to our well-being. That causes the body to have more time to repair. Immune function goes up, blood pressure goes down,” said Dr. Fred Luskin, Senior Consultant in Health Promotion at Stanford University.
Beyond such physiological perks for letting go of a tit for tat mentality, I’ve found there’s another kind of immunity that comes with putting compassion ahead of condemnation. It can open our hearts to a deeper forgiveness available for wrongdoings of our own.
As Jesus put it, the divine way is: “Forgive others, and you will be forgiven.”
I’ve found this becomes especially clear when the basis for our forgiving is not striving to feel a personal leniency despite the logic of a grievance, but rather applying a different kind of logic - a “divine logic”, as Mary Baker Eddy puts it. This perspective accepts that if divine goodness is ever-present, as the Bible and other sacred teachings suggest, then the memory of an evil occupying our attention is actually distracting us from a goodness right at hand, a goodness we can access anew at every moment.
Of course, that logic of a divine ever-presence is a big “if” for many, but I’ve found decades of mental freedom by looking at life through such a spiritual lens. And I’ve found doing so can often open the way to practical solutions for situations which had seemed to reach an impasse. In this way forgiveness is indeed strength and not weakness, as Gandhi said - a strength that is both empowering and healing.
Far from resentment or revenge being sweet, then, they are bitter pills with an awful side effect. They cloud our sense of the more joyful, healthful, spiritual identity divinely inherent within us.
We don’t need to let that happen. Instead, we have the right to see ourselves and others as we are: forever being forgiven by the infinite, divine Principle, Love, that many know as God.
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