Stoic Serenity 5.3.2: Love Your Neighbor / Stoic Forgiveness Exercise

If you didn’t read the previous post (short) about why we should love those who wrong us, you absolutely must.

If you want to read the Christian application, then you need to start with the
previous post, then read through this one.

If you don't want to read the Christian application, then you need to start with
the previous post and then skip down to the section in this post titled
"Grudges".

Today’s lesson in Stoic Serenity about accepting others who wrong us struck something in me. I was cooking lunch and thinking how Marcus gave such a simple but compelling reason about why we should love those who wrong us: because they simply don’t know any betterGoodness, if I think of it this way, then it really seems much easier to let go of the troubles caused by even my “worst enemies.”

Wait a second… Is this what the Christian concept of “love your neighbor” and maybe even “forgiveness” is getting at in the Bible?


Love Your Neighbor

Do not seek revenge or bear a grudge against anyone among your people, but love your neighbor as yourself. I am the Lord.
(Leviticus 19:18)

The second is this: “Love your neighbor as yourself.” There is no commandment greater than these.
(Mark 12:31)

Sometimes (actually a lot of the time) I really struggle with Christian principles because they seem pretty abstract. What do they mean? How do I do that? But what I love about entertaining the ideas in both belief systems is that sometimes they actually shed light on each other.

When Jesus instructed us to “love our neighbors,” did He mean it in the same way? Did He mean that we should love them because people that harm us are just misguided and don’t really know what’s truly Good? Did He mean that they harm us because they don’t know any better and they’re chasing after the wrong things?

When I was a child, I talked like a child, I thought like a child, I reasoned like a child. When I became a man, I put the ways of childhood behind me.
(1 Corinthians 13:11)

When we learn the truth, that the Virtues are the only true Good, is that our “coming of age”? Is that when we start reasoning with maturity? Is that the first part of our transformation from idiôtês to philosophers? From the ignorant to the enlightened?


Grudges

I’ve had a handful of people in the course of my life whose name or picture now immediately conjures up anger and anxiety. They’re just people who have acted terribly, either toward me or towards those whom I love, and they don’t have any redeeming qualities in my opinion. These are just people that I’ve had enough of and “no longer wish to discuss.” Even if the events occurred long ago, I still hold this opinion that they’re simply “no good,” and I’ve ended up harboring anger over the years, ready to bubble up a bit when the subject arises. But as I was cooking lunch today, thinking about Marcus’ Meditations, it all suddenly clicked. “Don’t be angry, ruffled, surprised, or harmed. But LOVE THEM anyway, because they don’t know any better and they’re part of your life.”


Last night, my Arabic-speaking friend was trying to learn the meaning of the English word “Stoic” (which didn’t work out well, as we all know the definition of “stoic” in English). But when he explained the Arabic definition for “Stoic”, he said:

“A [Stoic] is someone who, from the outside, looks like they’re not disturbed by anything. It might seem like they’re enduring everything. But a [Stoic] isn’t enduring things. It’s just that he knows the reality of the situation and therefore knows how to deal with bad things when they happen.”


I know the reality now, and I think I know how to deal with it.


I’m ready to sit down tonight, make a list of each one of these people that I’ve harbored grudges against for all these years, and go through each one individually and cognitively make the switch from anger to love.

“I’ve been so angry toward __________ because they _____________________.  But now, because I recognize what I value, because I know what’s truly Good, I realize that they never actually harmed me. By looking at __________’s behavior, I can see evidence in ___________ that __________ doesn’t really value what’s truly Good. Instead of valuing ____________________ , __________ was mistaken and valued ____________________ instead. But now that I know the Truth, I know that __________ never actually harmed me. __________ is actually misguided and confused. But because __________ is human, acting badly out of ignorance of what’s truly valuable; and because __________ played a part in my life and therefore a part in who I am today, I love them.”

Try it.

I've created a print-out, along with a "worksheet" to help guide you through
this exercise. I myself keep the first page as a reference sheet with the rest
of my "meditation" material. You can print out multiple copies of the second page
to fill out as many times as you wish.

Forgiveness Exercise Worksheet
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