The following is an excerpt from my book “The Way of the Harvest: 15 Lessons on Reaping a Life of Abundance". Click here to order your copy.
In 2004 a projectile crashed through the windshield of Victoria Ruvolo’s car and smashed into her, breaking nearly every bone in her face. She would be in a medically induced coma for weeks while undergoing surgeries to rebuild it. What was it that caused such damage? A 20 pound frozen turkey, purchased with a stolen credit card, hurled from an overpass by an 18 year old boy. It was a miracle that she survived the ordeal, but what she did with her new life is one of the most profound and touching lessons on forgiveness that I’ve ever seen. Victoria Ruvolo asked the district attorney to work out a plea deal for a lenient sentence, which ultimately amounted to 6 months in jail and 5 years’ probation. She forgave the young man who caused her so much pain. At the sentencing hearing, Ruvolo embraced the young man and instructed him to “do good with your life.”
I have imagined what it must have been like to sit in the courtroom when she hugged that boy. I can’t fathom that there could have been many dry eyes; the poignant example of forgiveness she showed in that moment must have been overwhelming to witness. But why did she do it? The course of her life had been inexorably altered by the thoughtless act of a careless young man. Few would have thought her wrong if she would have cursed him and pleaded the court for a much stiffer sentence. But she didn’t. Ruvolo later said, “If I hadn't let go of that anger, I'd be consumed by this need for revenge. Forgiving him helps me move on.”
To her, forgiveness meant forgetting the past and moving forward with life. Here, the phrase “move on” means to stop dwelling in the anger. In my mind, this is a necessity for a person to have lasting happiness.
Why do we hold grudges in the first place? It’s a confusing question, and a difficult one to answer. It boils down to two things: 1) the grudge becomes part of our identity; 2) our desire for compassion and empathy as the victim of a wrong. We hold a righteous authority for our feelings of victim-hood, and therefore believe we are entitled to be treated a bit differently, a bit better. Nancy Colier wrote in Psychology Today:
We have a definition and a grievance that carries weight. To let go of our grudge, we have to be willing to let go of our identity as the “wronged” one, and whatever strength, solidity, or possible sympathy and understanding we receive through that “wronged” identity. We have to be willing to drop the “I” who was mistreated and step into a new version of ourselves, one we don’t know yet, that allows the present moment to determine who we are, not past injustice…our grudge, and the identity that accompanies it, is an attempt to get the comfort and compassion we didn’t get in the past, the empathy for what happened to us at the hands of this “other,” the experience that our suffering matters. As a somebody who was victimized, we are announcing that we are deserving of extra kindness and special treatment. Our indignation and anger is a cry to be cared about and treated differently—because of what we have endured.
What this means is that grudges are our natural way of trying to feel better. The problem is, they don’t work. Grudges hold us in place; they stifle our growth and ultimately suppress true happiness. They weigh us down.
What are your thoughts on forgiveness? How has it helped you? Please leave your comments below!