Tuesday, June 10, 2008


Last week I got a parking ticket. I’m talking about a $10 ticket. I think that’s sizable, but my reaction this time was different than it has been in the past. This ticket resulted from pure negligence. I simply forgot to feed the meter. When I saw the ticket, I immediately wrote the check, walked a block down the street and deposited my penance in the little box attached to a pole. Thus, within minutes the ticket was discovered, dealt with and forgotten (almost). Previous tickets have triggered different responses. If I’ve fed the meter, and then get there moments after it's expired to find a ticket, I’m red hot mad! Not only had I “wasted” $3 on feeding the meter, in the first place, but now I have to pay $10 more. So what does a passive aggressive person do in a case like this? They scribble their check out, to demonstrate their anger, they wait until the 71st hour to deposit it in “the box,” and they seethe and fume to whoever will, or won’t, listen to them. Once, I felt justified in appealing my ticket, and won. I knew the meter was soon to expire so ran out to the car and discovered that: One, it had expired. Two, there was no ticket on the windshield. Three, there was a meter maid standing next to my car writing, or punching something into an electronic devise. I immediately fed the meter, in front of her, before she could put the ticket on my windshield. This prompted a dialogue. She argued that the ticket was valid from the moment she entered it into her “system.” I countered that there was no ticket on the windshield when I re-fed the meter and that I shouldn’t have to pay. This went on for a short while and ended when she suggested I appeal it, which I did. Did I mention I won the appeal? I thought so.

For some strange reason when I reflected on my tickets and the various ways I dealt with them I got to thinking about “forgiveness.” My most recent ticket experience seems to have been the least painful of my ticketed past. Why is that, I wondered? Is it because I quickly recognized that I was wrong, (forgetful) immediately faced the consequences, paid my dues and then it was over. I could, and did, go about my business without the storm and fury of previous experiences. All was forgiven. Whereas, in the past when I painfully drag it out, I’m the one who gets upset, stressed, mad and distracted, not the city of Urbana. So, by not forgiving myself, I’m the one who suffers.

The need to forgive ourselves for minor annoyances, like parking tickets, is small compared to the interpersonal hurts and losses we face. Fred Luskin, Ph.D. Stanford, is devoting his professional life to the study of forgiveness. Forgiveness has been shown to reduce anger, hurt, depression and stress and lead to greater feelings of optimism, hope, compassion and self confidence. Dr. Luskin’s research is conducted in a workshop format and typically lasts from five to six weeks. “It is not therapy. It is teaching people how to learn this kind of skill,” he said. “We can teach people to forgive and that will improve their well-being.” One of the greatest outcomes of forgiveness has been the reduction of anger felt by the forgiver. One of the benefactor’s of Luskin’s work sums it up, “To me, the most important thing was that when you are angry you are only hurting yourself. You are not hurting the person that you are mad at.”

Forgiveness does not necessarily mean reconciliation with the person that hurt you, or condoning of their action. What you are after, is to find peace. Dr. Luskin lists nine steps toward forgiveness including: Remember that a life well lived is your best revenge. Instead of focusing on your wounded feelings, and thereby giving the person who caused you pain power over you, learn to look for the love, beauty and kindness around you. Forgiveness is about personal power.

This entry submitted by guest blogger, Cathy Colbert Inman.