The Deal: A Guide to Radical and Complete Forgiveness

The Deal: A Guide to Radical and Complete Forgiveness

by Richard Smoley


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Product Details

ISBN-13: 9780399172137
Publisher: Penguin Publishing Group
Publication date: 01/08/2015
Pages: 176
Product dimensions: 5.60(w) x 7.25(h) x 0.63(d)
Age Range: 18 Years

About the Author

One of today’s most highly regarded writers on esoteric topics, Richard Smoley is a graduate of Harvard College and the University of Oxford. He was a longtime editor of the venerated spiritual journal Gnosis. Smoley’s books include Inner Christianity. He is editor of Quest: Journal of the Theosophical Society in America and of Quest Books.

Read an Excerpt



Let me begin with a confession. My sales skills are extremely limited. I’ve never mastered the art of the pitch or the close. My forays into the sales world have amounted to selling advertising for my college literary magazine (admittedly a hard task for anyone) and to a microcareer as a financial adviser, which mostly consisted of futile telemarketing.

So it’s very much out of character for me to say what I am about to say. What I am offering you in this book is the best deal you have ever gotten in your life, or ever will. Even though I know nothing about you, I’m willing to make this claim with complete certainty. There are no products to buy, and there’s nothing for you to spend money on. Very little time and effort are required, and you don’t have to make any public statements or testimonies—because there is also nothing to sell. In fact, you never need tell anyone that you have even done it. All the same, it’s the best deal that anyone will offer to you at any time in your life, past or present or future. For obvious reasons, I will simply call it the Deal.

The Deal is this: You agree to give up all your grievances and resentments and grudges for good. In exchange, you ask for—and receive—complete forgiveness for yourself.

Broken Glasses

Forgiveness is, we all agree, a great virtue, and we never seem to cease hearing its praises sung. But all is not quite what it seems with this business of forgiveness.

What, after all, do you think when you hear the words “I forgive you”? Maybe it sends a warm glow through you, but maybe it doesn’t. You may remember times when someone said it condescendingly—as if they had the lordly power to bestow it as a favor on mere mortals like you. Possibly you can even remember times when you’ve said it that way yourself.

Then there is the breast-beating form of forgiveness—“I forgive you because we are all wretched scum. All have sinned. There is none righteous, no, not one.” This hardly feels any better.

In fact, forgiveness seems to be best when it’s the least ostentatious. If you look back on your life, you may find times when you have forgiven or been forgiven almost without noticing it at all. I’m reminded of a time when I was about ten. It was recess at school, and it was winter. Several of us were sliding on the ice. At one point I bumped into another kid by accident. He fell down, and the stem of his eyeglasses broke. I think I said I was sorry, but I really don’t remember. One of the other kids said, “Wow! You’re going to have to pay for those!” The kid whose glasses were broken didn’t say anything.

I was very anxious for the rest of the day and night. I was sure that my parents would have to pay for the glasses, and, having no idea of how much they cost, I was terrified that the price would be stiff. Of course I said nothing. The next day I went to school dreading the consequences of my deeds. What greeted me was something I did not expect in the slightest. The kid with the broken glasses had a little bit of tape wrapped around the broken stem, and the glasses seemed to be holding together. He still didn’t say anything, and I never worried about the problem again.

Was that forgiveness? It certainly wasn’t forgiveness of any grandiose sort. It was simply a matter of letting the whole thing go. All the same, it was a tremendous relief to me, and I was grateful enough to remember the incident almost fifty years later.

From all of this, it seems clear that forgiveness can take more than one form. It can be, and often is, a simple matter of letting things drop. It need not involve blubbery reconciliations and lots of hugging. Of course those can happen too, and they can be intense and satisfying in their own way. But forgiveness is far richer and more wide-ranging than even the most intense emotional experience.

The Pleasures of Resentment

It seems that forgiveness in any form feels good. So if it feels good, why don’t we do it more often?

Partly because it can also feel good not to forgive. There can be something delicious in holding a grievance, in mulling over someone else’s wrongs and failings and viewing him through the lenses of condemnation. We could call this “the thrill of righteousness.” In 1964, psychologist Eric Berne published a best seller called Games People Play. One of these games was called “Now I’ve Got You, You Son of a Bitch.” As Berne put it, “This can be seen in classic form in poker games. White gets an unbeatable hand, such as four aces. At this point, if he is a NIGYSOB player, he is more interested in the fact that Black is at his complete mercy than he is in good poker or making money.” Possibly the thrill of righteousness has something to do with this game.

Unfortunately, righteousness is the most dangerous of all weapons to wield. It’s easily turned against the user. Say one of your fellow employees is regularly late for work. You find it delicious to contemplate this poor fool’s tardiness and to congratulate yourself for your own punctuality. Then one day, for some reason or another, you are late for work yourself. The boss yells at you in front of everybody, including the coworker who you’ve been so comfortably despising. Suddenly all the fun has gone sour. The moral might be this: Beware the sin you condemn. It will be the next one that you commit.

Sometimes we also refuse to forgive because of our sense of justice. A recent study looked at how people differ from chimpanzees in their approach to fairness. Scientists tested this by means of the ultimatum game, which has two players: a proposer and a responder. They have to divide a quantity of goodies (which could be anything from cash to chocolates). The proposer chooses how much will go to him and how much to the responder. The responder has no choice but to take or leave the offer.

You might expect that the responder would accept any offer, no matter how small; after all, even a little is better than nothing. That’s what chimps do. But humans don’t. Human responders will generally reject any offer smaller than around 20 percent—even if they don’t get anything at all. They do this, it seems, to punish the proposer for his greed.

So, in a way, chimpanzees turn out to be more rational than humans. And yet researchers believe that this sense of fairness, and a willingness to punish someone who’s being unfair even at a loss to oneself, is humanity’s “killer app.” It’s what allows large social groups to form.

No doubt this sense of fairness has something to do with our reluctance to forgive. We want to punish someone who’s gone beyond the bounds of fairness—but unfortunately we want to keep on punishing. At some point this “punishment” starts to go on and on in our own heads. We rehearse the wrong that we have suffered, we stew over it, we brood, and we sulk. And we do this even when the offender is nowhere in sight. Again the punishment is turned against the punisher.

Treacherous Armor

But possibly the most important reason that we hold on to grievances is that we believe they offer something to us. And what they offer, or appear to offer, is protection.

Think about it. To be free of grievances is to be innocent. And if you go around with your innocence exposed, you believe all the buzzards of life will suddenly swarm upon you to pick your bones white. Your grievances are like the hard face you wear when you’re making your way through a bad neighborhood. They are your shield.

There is a grain of truth to this idea. All of us, as living beings, have a basic need to preserve ourselves. We react—sometimes violently—to anything that threatens our survival. Fear and anger are common types of this reaction. These responses are useful up to a point, but there is a problem: They continue long after the threat has passed. We often carry this fear and anger with us for a long time afterward—possibly years or decades—long after the emotions have outlived their value. These retained feelings can take the form of grievances and resentments. They do not help us survive. They are debilitating.

In fact, your grievances are your weak spot, the open wounds that anyone can prod to put you on the ground in an instant. Perhaps this is not readily apparent. To explain what I’m talking about, let’s turn to politics.

I am not, by the way, putting forward any political agenda in this book. The Deal is open to people of any and all ideologies. But I do believe that people of any and all ideologies can be and are manipulated by their grievances.

Let’s look at the political scene with some attempt at impartiality. No matter what ideology you believe in, you know what’s really wrong with things. It’s them. It’s their fault. If it weren’t for them, the world would be happy and safe and prosperous. But as it is, the world’s problems seem to be beyond all hope of a solution. Why? Because they are always in the way, always on the alert to block anything good.

Whoever you are, I venture to guess that you have a them. So do I. Yours may or may not be the same as mine. It doesn’t matter. The fault is all with them. In the United States as I write this in 2013, there are several large blocks of people who are united by their hatred of particular versions of them. This hatred is enormously useful, although not to the people who possess it. It’s useful to any number of powerful interests who manipulate your hatred of them. These interests know how to set you snarling about them, and this knowledge—gained by enormous amounts of research in manipulating mass opinion—can be used to make you dance whatever jig they want you to.

With all this going on, it’s no wonder that conspiracy theories abound, warning us of a secret cabal at the top who have us at their mercy. More likely, the truth is that there are any number of competing interests, each trying to set a particular group of people against a particular version of them and thereby gaining an advantage. Although no one of these interests is all-powerful, their strength, individually and collectively, is not to be denied. If you are susceptible (and all of us are to some extent), you can be made to love what these interests want you to love, hate whom they want you to hate, elect whom they want you to elect. You, like me, can easily be gotten to vote against your own best interests. This has been proved over and over.

I could go further into these issues of mass control and mass manipulation, but this doesn’t serve my purpose here. I’m simply pointing out that, in the world of politics, your grievances are not protecting you. They are weakening and betraying you.

So it is in daily life. In the workplace, for example, you inevitably acquire allies and opponents—or, if you like, friends and enemies. In the complex world of alliances, one can easily turn into the other. Someone you detest turns out to be very likable—or very useful. Someone you thought was close to you turns into an adversary.

Beyond a certain point, there is no avoiding this. It’s what makes human relations what they are. But it can be harmful to you to hold on to a grudge when it serves your own best interests to drop it. (Notice that I’m speaking purely in the language of advantage and disadvantage; we will leave love, compassion, and other higher things for later.) It’s even worse to form a resentment on a purely imaginary basis—for some slight or wrong that may have been totally unintentional, or (which happens just as often) is actually the doing of someone completely different. But the human mind has a tendency to jump to conclusions. The ancient Greeks associated the mind with the god Hermes. And Hermes was a trickster. This was no accident.

Are You Your Team?

In any event, if you examine your mind with any amount of honesty, you will probably conclude that your grievances are doing you no good whatsoever. Why, then, hang on to them?

I’ve already given a couple of reasons, but there is another, subtler, and more troubling one. Let me approach it by telling a story. This took place during my aforementioned microcareer as a financial adviser. One day we were all shepherded into a daylong seminar. It was one of those watered-down human potential workshops that seem to be popular in corporate America. They probably don’t accomplish much, but they allow the company to congratulate itself for being “enlightened,” and they give the employees a painless break from the routine.

As part of this particular workshop, we were asked to think of a symbol for ourselves. The leader of the seminar—who happened to be my boss—offered his own personal symbol. It was a half-full beer glass, which, I gathered, combined an innate optimism with a fondness for brewed beverages. It was, in its way, apt. My boss then went around the room and asked the forty or fifty participants to think of personal symbols for themselves. Most people were at an utter loss. About half could think of nothing more original than the logos of their favorite sports teams.

There’s nothing wrong with being a sports fan (although I’m not one myself). But it is a little odd to be so deeply unaware of who you are that a team logo is the best symbol for yourself that you can come up with.

Of course, many fans genuinely identify with their teams. Eric Simons, author of The Secret Lives of Sports Fans, observes, “In the case of sports, there is compelling evidence that this is basically a real relationship in your brain. In a very real sense, the sports team becomes a part of you. You just feel like whatever success it achieves is a personal success, and whatever failure it has is a personal failure. You can’t cut the team off without cutting off a part of yourself.”

Up to a point this is all harmless enough. But for many people, being a fan is not only loving your own team—it’s hating the other team. (Again you see them raising their heads.) Sometimes it looks as if hating the other team is the most enjoyable part.

Table of Contents

1 The Problem 1

What you think you're getting out of your resentments, and why you're not getting anything at all

2 Doing the Deal 19

A step-by-step guide to releasing all your hostilities

3 Why It Works 39

… and why only complete forgiveness works

4 Living the Deal 49

How to keep the Deal going and make it a permanent pan of your life

5 Questions and Concerns 69

Answers to tome of the most common issues that come up.

6 The Wish-Fulfilling Jewel 141

A look at the great mystery at the heart of the world's spiritual traditions.

7 The Upper Room: Group Work 151

How to help others keep the Deal alive-and have them help you do the same.

8 Furthermore 151

Taking forgiveness into your future.

Recommended Reading 161

Acknowledgements 163

About the Author 165

What People are Saying About This

From the Publisher

“Forgiveness liberates the soul.  Here is a book that covers just about every aspect of forgiveness. It is beautifully written, clear, and practical.  Read it and leave it in a public place so that everyone else can read it.”  
Thomas Moore, author of Care of the Soul

“Many books claim to be challenging, but Richard Smoley’s The Deal truly is so. Following its simple yet radical premise could change your life.” 
Eben Alexander, M.D., author of Proof of Heaven
The Deal is concise, compact—and powerful. If people would simply learn these principles, so clearly and simply articulated here, they could transform the world. I am going to get copies for friends and family. Because I care about my friends and family.”
—John Shirley, author of Doyle After Death

“I have a standing rule: I read anything Richard Smoley writes.”
—Larry Dossey, M.D.

“Smoley…is adept at unknotting the paradoxes of spiritual traditions and making new connections across centuries and languages.”
Library Journal

“One of the liveliest, most intrepid, and most gifted explorers of the spiritual landscape writing today.”
—Ptolemy Tompkins, author of Paradise Fever

"Always provocative, Smoley asks importnat questions."
—Publishers Weekly

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