Life Science

By Everett L. Worthington Jr. | September 1, 2004 | 0 comments

The phone rang. My brother Mike’s voice was shaky on the other end of the line. “Mom’s been murdered.”

That morning, Mike had found our 78- year-old mother, Frances Worthington, bludgeoned to death in the doorway to her bedroom. She had apparently interrupted burglars in mid-robbery.

Rage grew inside of me during the seven hour drive to Tennessee. It swelled as my brother, sister, and I talked about the murder scene. That night I was so angry I couldn’t sleep. Around 3 a.m., I began to consider the irony of my situation. I had studied forgiveness scientifically for seven years, but all day the word “forgiveness” hadn’t even crossed my mind. I wondered, “Could the forgiveness methods I’ve taught other people actually help me?”

By this time in 1996, colleagues and I had helped about 1,000 people experience emotional forgiveness by replacing negative, unforgiving emotions with positive emotions like empathy, sympathy, compassion, and love. The last thing I wanted to do was feel anything positive about the murder, but I knew that my anger would solve nothing. Healing could only come from changing my emotions.

I systematically imagined who the perpetrator was and what he must have experienced. I tried to understand his fear and shame at being caught by my mother, and I tried to extend compassion toward him. My own rage was gradually replaced by empathy; my resentment gave way to emotional forgiveness.

Forgiveness is seldom a once-and-for-alltime event. My emotions were complicated when, in the following weeks, a youth confessed, then retracted, then was not arraigned after a grand jury determined that the evidence in the case had been contaminated.

I struggled with this news, but forgiveness held as I extended my empathy toward overworked and unappreciated police and courts. I replaced resentment toward the system with compassion. Years later, I learned that the youth had been killed in a fight, and I felt sad. If he had committed the murder but hadn’t repented, now he wouldn’t have the chance.

Tracker Pixel for Entry
 
 
 

Greater Good wants to know:
Do you think this article will influence your opinions or behavior?

  • Very Likely

  • Likely

  • Unlikely

  • Very Unlikely

  • Not sure

 
About The Author

Everett L. Worthington Jr., Ph.D., is a professor in the department of psychology at Virginia Commonwealth University. He is the author of Humility: The Quiet Virtue (Templeton Foundation Press, 2007).

  

Like this article?

Here's what you can do:

Donate
 
  
 
blog comments powered by Disqus
 

Most...

  
  

Greater Good Events

The Greater Good Science Center Summer Institute for Educators 2017
Clark Kerr Campus, UC-Berkeley
Sunday, June 25 - Friday, June 30, 2017 OR Sunday, July 16 - Friday, July 21, 2017


The Greater Good Science Center Summer Institute for Educators 2017

The GGSC’s six-day Summer Institute equips education professionals with prosocial learning strategies, tools and processes that benefit both students and teachers.


» ALL EVENTS
 
 

Take a Greater Good Quiz!

How compassionate are you? How generous, grateful, or forgiving? Find out!

» TAKE A QUIZ
 

Watch Greater Good Videos

Jon Kabat-Zinn

Talks by inspiring speakers like Jon Kabat-Zinn, Dacher Keltner, and Barbara Fredrickson.

Watch
 

Greater Good Resources

 
 
» MORE STUDIES
 
 
» MORE ORGS
 

Book of the Week

Roots of Empathy By Mary Gordon Mary Gordon explains how best to nurture empathy and social emotional literacy in all children—and thereby reduce aggression, antisocial behavior, and bullying.

» READ MORE
 
Is she flirting with you? Take the quiz and find out.
"It is a great good and a great gift, this Greater Good. I bow to you for your efforts to bring these uplifting and illuminating expressions of humanity, grounded in good science, to the attention of us all."  
Jon Kabat-Zinn

Best-selling author and founder of the Mindfulness-Based Stress Reduction program

thnx advertisement