By Margaux Kay LaPointe , '11
On Wednesday, Feb. 27, Daniel Gottlieb, Ph.D., visited campus and delivered a lecture entitled, “The Many Paths to Forgiveness,” sponsored by the University’s Forgiveness Project, which was formed by the Office for Mission Effectiveness three years ago. Barbara Wall, Ph.D., special assistant to the president for mission effectiveness and associate professor of philosophy, explained that the purpose of the project is to present “practical applications and learning skills on how to forgive.”
Gottleib is host of WHYY-91 FM’s “Voices in the Family,” an award-winning mental health call-in radio show. Gottlieb also is a practicing psychologist and family therapist in the Philadelphia and South Jersey areas; he has been in practice for more than 35 years. In addition, he is a nationally recognized lecturer in the field of mental health and a columnist for The Philadelphia Inquirer. He is author of the new book, Learning From The Heart: Lessons in Living, Loving and Listening.
In 1979, Gottlieb was paralyzed from the waist down as a result of a car accident. A wheel flew off a tractor trailer in opposing traffic and bounced into Gottlieb’s lane, crushing his car. In the ensuing years, he experienced divorce and the death of his wife, parents, and two sisters. His grandson, Sam, the subject of his book, Letters to Sam, has autism.
Gottlieb explained that he has worked through depression and has allowed forgiveness into his life. Forgiveness, he said, is not easy, because the natural human reaction is to be hurt and angry. “When we are wounded, we shut down,” Gottlieb said. “It is in my evolutionary nature. Forgiveness? Maybe later. My body is busy; my soul will wait.”
Gottlieb redefined forgiveness. “Forgiveness comes up only after we’re hurt, so it’s really about wound management,” he said. “What’s justice? What are we looking for? Ultimately, healing is living with injustice.”
Gottlieb asked the audience members a question: what do you feel when you experience injustice? People answered: betrayal, anger, fear, envy, pain, hopelessness, shame, regret, greed, helplessness, vulnerability, panic, and frustration.
Explaining how he felt after his accident, Gottlieb said, “Everybody I knew looked at me differently, even my family. I was on this path alone.” He said he thought to himself at the time, “Am I still one of them? Am I still human? Am I less than human?” Gottlieb said that he experienced alienation and felt as though he was cut off from the human species. He described his accident and its result as his life’s most profound emotional experience.
“We protect ourselves with rage and righteous indignation,” Gottlieb said. He explained that hopelessness opens people to healing. Gottlieb said that as individuals do this, “we face those tough questions. Who am I now?”
Gottlieb described the healthy environment for a heart this way: have compassion for “the injured person that is you.” Eye contact, first with yourself and then with people who love you, is the first step, he explained. “True forgiveness asks you to find the other person’s humanity. You can’t do that until you find your own humanity.”
Revenge does not assist healing, Gottlieb said. Instead, “we heal through the pursuit of social justice,” such as through service activities where people connect with one another. “Don’t pursue forgiveness,” he said. “Allow it to follow in the wake of your life… Forgiveness is a complicated business, and it doesn’t come easily.”
For more on Dr. Dan Gottlieb, please visit his Web site.
Margaux Kay LaPointe, ’11, is a first-year student from Lebanon, Pa. She is an intern in the Office of Communications in the College of Liberal Arts and Sciences at Villanova University. Margaux plans on majoring in communication with a specialization in public relations.