Forgiveness is not easy. Humans, being the imperfect creatures we are, most of us are called upon to practice forgiveness at one time or another. There’s a new study that sheds light on why it is something we should do. It was conducted by Everett L. Worthington Jr. a professor at Virginia Commonwealth University in Richmond. He specializes in forgiveness and in how people reach it. He says how people become ready to forgive varies but usually falls into two main categories, decisional forgiveness and emotional forgiveness. “you can experience a change in your emotions and then decide to forgive,” he explains, “Or you can decide to forgive first and experience those changes emotionally later on.” For people who are struggling to forgive or may need a push to experience it he suggests to be mindful of three evidence-based ways forgiveness can benefit our health. Not being able to forgive invites feeling of hostility, anger and stress. While forgiveness is not the only way to deal with stress and adversity, it is an effective way. Forgiveness is the opposite of the fight or flight response of the parasympathetic nervous system, it is called the rest and digest response, it slows breathing and heart rate and ends up being good for heart health. Last but not least, forgiveness keeps us from ruminating. We all ruminate, but sometimes rumination can lead to a host of psychological issues such as depression, obsessive disorders, anxiety, psychosomatic disorders. ….And so even if and when it seems unfair, it is in our best interest to forgive.
Some stories have a long journey before they end up in print. In the last year or two we have read about several countries and museums returning art to their native countries, art that was obtained under less than legitimate circumstances. Back in graduate school many years ago I remember reading about colonial administrators, adventurers, greedy collectors and others just taking what art they encountered and liked. They had no respect for the people who created this art, and colonial archives will show this, and yet they appropriated what art they came across and wanted. Last year the Ethnological Museum in Berlin returned all the Benin bronzes it had to Nigeria where they belonged. As Germany continues to engage in reconciliation with its colonial past, the same will be done with its entire collection of Namibian art. The restitution is only a part of the reconciliation that is underway. In this case it includes also the sum of 1.3 billion Euros to be paid over the next 30 years. The art to be returned is made up of 23 treasures which were taken between 1884 and 1915. The Museum stated that “ the collection reflects colonial, and in some cases extremely violent processes of appropriation.” It added that they also show the creativity and ingenuity of the Namibian people. Other museums are also involved in restitution of art appropriated during the colonial era. The Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York City is also returning a large collection of Benin bronzes and the Brooklyn Museum has decided to return a very large collection of 1305 pieces to Costa Rica. There is also 17,000 pieces being returned to Iraq by the US government. It took decades of work from many artists and activists to return this art. And it may right a wrong but it nevertheless reminds us of the harm colonialism did.
It’s not exactly news, that kindness is good for us. And yet it does seem important that a new study validates the fact. The Kindness Test is a major new study devised by the university of Sussex and launched by BBC Radio 4 involving more than 60,000 people from 144 countries. They have been asking questions about what makes people be kind. The short answer is that it is because it makes people feel good. Some might even say it is not altruistic at all. They wanted to know if religion was a factor, and in a way it is, in the sense that kindness tends to be an expectation for those who are from religious households. But what is much more of a predictor is personality. Kindness involves being outward, reaching out to people, and extroverts are more likely to do that. In some cases, people may refrain from acts of kindness because they fear their action might be misunderstood. What seems to run across the board is that for those who receive an act of kindness as for those who initiate it, it increases a sense of well being and life satisfaction. Claudia Hammond visiting professor of the public understanding of psychology at the University of Sussex says “it’s a win-win because we like receiving kindness but we also like being kind.” The results of the study are being aired on BBC Radio 4 in a program called The Anatomy of Kindness and Hammond is the presenter. 60% of those who participated in the study said they had received an act of kindness in the previous 24hours. Hammond says that being kind may even stem from ulterior motives, making it a selfish act in a way, because we know from brain research that being kind straight away creates a warm fuzzy feeling. It also makes one feel that we are someone who cares about people and we want to be good. Regardless of all the particulars, the point is that kindness is much more prevalent than we might think.
I rarely focus on individuals doing something good because I don’t want to foster the cult of personality, but there are times when focusing on an individual is a testament to the power of the human spirit and it needs to be noted. I had become aware of World Central Kitchen when they began in 2010 cooking meals in Haiti after the earthquake, and then in Puerto Rico after Hurricane Maria. And one night as I was listening to BBC World Service I learned they were in Ukraine and Kyiv cooking for those who couldn’t cook for themselves, providing several thousand meals a day. The logistics to bring in what they needed were becoming very complex including the fact that not only local suppliers were not always available but also they now often had to pay cash instead of using credit cards. I went to the website and was surprised that instead of the normal hype and pabulum one tends to encounter, there seemed to be a kind of more direct and concise statements. it says, for example ” food relief is not just a meal that keeps hunger away. It is a plate of hope. It tells you in your darkest hour that someone, somewhere cares about you.” World Central Kitchens goes in disaster areas, in war zones and other emergency food relief such as those arising from climate change disasters. Like Doctors Without Borders they link humans to each other at times when despair is near and need is felt so keenly. They are now also working in an area that can easily be forgotten, the famine in Madagascar. And as they learned in Haiti, they prepare food that is locally considered something like comfort food. Jose Andres is the public face, and one that can attract needed donations, he’s been widely interviewed, and recently been named to replace Amos Oz on a White House task force. But the people and volunteers who work with him cannot be forgotten. They too remind us of what human beings can accomplish and stand for.