Forgiveness Is Worth Learning About

It’s also extraordinary.

Photo byMichael Olsenon Unsplash

The Book Of Forgiving is an excellent resource for forgiveness, and I believe everyone in this world needs that.

Desmond Tutu, and his daughter Mpho Tutu, have extensive experience of forgiveness. Desmond Tutu has been a critical part — the chair, of the Truth and Reconciliation Committee after South Africa ended apartheid.

Tutu states that the country remarkably chose forgiveness over revenge, and avoided a bloodbath in doing so.

The horrors of apartheid were large; everyone was affected by it: violence, subjugation, and dehumanisation of the black population. Yet, the citizens who liberated themselves from this state decided to pursue forgiveness.

You could argue that the white oppressors dehumanised themselves in oppressing the black people.

I believe this intention was in no small part due to Nelson Mandela, and other leaders like Tutu.

“The process we embarked on through the Truth and Reconciliation Committee was, as all real growth proves to be, astoundingly painful and profoundly beautiful.”
~ Desmond & Mpho Tutu ~

Two simple truths:

  • There is nothing that cannot be forgiven

  • No one is undeserving of forgiveness

When you understand that we are all bound to one another — whether by birth, circumstance, or simply by our shared humanity — then you’ll know this to be true.

One simple choice:

  • Do I seek forgiveness or revenge?

Neither path is easy.

Both will have you mess up and circle back. Reconsider. Make mistakes, and move forward.

We are all human, and we all make mistakes.

Forgiveness isn’t about forgetting, or condoning, either.

If someone is not healthy for you, then set your boundaries, then seek forgiveness from afar.

There isn’t a ‘one size fits all’ rule.

Rage and the quest for vengeance ultimately destroy us, and everything around us. It’s much better to forgive.

If you can’t forgive, then can you accept that you’re seeking forgiveness and that you can’t reach that yet?

A great example of seeking revenge is the film, Gladiator. Maximus is searching for vengeance, for the killing of his family, after they tried to kill him also.

The new emperor’s motivations are vengeance also; towards his dead father, whom he murdered because Marcus Aurelius was going to return Rome to a republic. Maximus was to be involved, so the new emperor ordered him to be killed.

This fact would have been easy enough to accept, aside from the fact that the son had never felt welcomed by the father. The son fluctuates between compassion, rage, megalomania, and service towards his father, his family, and the citizens of Rome.

One thing is sure, none of us live our lives without needing to be forgiven, and needing to forgive others.

The nature of life is suffering, and so the best way to face this is with a compassionate presence, in love, acceptance, and forgiveness.

Understanding forgiveness

What forgiveness is not:

  • Weakness

  • Subversion of justice

  • Forgetting

  • Easy

I always notice forgiveness as setting myself free from the burden of a situation; it’s as much about my freedom, as it is about their culpability.

If I can forgive you of what you did to me, for example, I’m able to release you from that and carry on my life path. Or I am free to renew the relating with you, into a different form.

If I am unable to forgive, then I keep you, and me, bound to the moment in time where the hurt occurred.

I forgive you, and I set you free, I forgive you, and I set myself free.

The science of forgiveness

Forgiveness usually sits in the realm of religious context; thankfully now it’s being brought into the research domain. John Templeton Foundation has been doing some of this research:

Unforgiveness is stressful, and holding unforgiving emotions and motives for long periods can take a toll on our bodies, leading to elevated blood pressure, heart rate, or cortisol. If those elevations persist, they can cause stress-related problems (i.e., mental health problems and problems like elevated cardiovascular risk; problems in the digestive, immune, respiratory, and sexual-reproductive systems; and damage to the hippocampus and other brain structures). Furthermore, people might try to cope with disorders or impending disorders by making lifestyle choices like too much drinking or medication.

They suggest this process:


To heal, you have to face the fact that you’ve been hurt. Decide not to be nasty and hurtful, not to treat yourself like a victim, and not to treat the other person as a jerk.


Empathy is putting yourself in the other person’s chair. Pretend that the other person is in an empty chair across from you. Talk to him or her. Pour your heart out. When you have had your say, sit in his or her chair. Talk back to the imaginary you in a way that helps you see why the other person might have wronged you. This builds empathy.


Forgive as an unselfish, altruistic gift. After all, an offender does not deserve to receive forgiveness. To help you want to give the gift of forgiving, try to remember when you wronged someone, and that person forgave you. By forgiving altruistically, you can provide that same gift to someone who hurt you.


Once you have forgiven, write a note to yourself — something as simple as, “Today, I forgave [person’s name] for hurting me.” This helps forgiveness last.


The self-addressed notes of commitment (above) help us because we will almost surely be tempted to doubt that we forgave. We can re-read our notes. We did forgive.

Healing the whole

Science cannot understand, by dissection, the deep interconnectedness that we all share with each other.

Forgiveness is the path to healing the collective whole; this is what it means when someone says:

“I’m not free until we’re all free”.

Not forgiving is a burden on yourself and others. I’m not suggesting that it’s easy, or it should be instant, yet you should always strive for forgiveness.

The fourfold path

Tutu’s book describes the fourfold path to forgiveness, four ways to navigate through the path. I’d recommend getting the book and working through the journaling prompts. Here are the basics:

Telling the story

Telling our story is how you recover your dignity, how you rediscover your voice, and what happened to you. It would help if you told the truth to regain a relationship to your Self; your trust.

Start with the objective facts of what happened; then you can work out how you feel about them. Work with a professional if needed. Some experiences are too painful; the energy too big for you to hold by yourself.

Understand the risks of not telling your story. It will compound that energy in you, it will repress your emotions, and it will increase the pressure and stress.

One aspect of telling the extremely important story is deciding who to tell. You must be sure that, if you confront someone, you’re in a safe and facilitated environment. If the perpetrator is present, they must be willing and able to show remorse.

Remember, these things are often delicate issues; delicately approaching this will help the situation and you.

The last aspect of telling the story is speaking publicly. There are many benefits to speaking your story publicly, building connection and community.

As long as you feel safe to do so, then speaking empathetically to others can be very healing.

Naming the hurt

No feeling is wrong; it only needs to be felt. It doesn’t mean you need to act upon it.

Working out who is best to talk to is vital because having a trusted confidante can help you to get clarity on how you feel. Which, in turn, helps you to gain trust within yourself.

Brené Brown talks about this in her recent podcast where she discusses Dr Vivek Murthy’s book ‘Together: The Healing Power of Human Connection in a Sometimes Lonely World’.

Once you begin to permit yourself to feel, you will notice a richer feeling experience in your body. The feeling becomes a useful tool, and enjoyable experience; every feeling has a use.

Whether it’s a secondary intent to ‘undesirable’ feelings, that move us toward connection or a ‘desirable’ sense that leads us back to our loving awareness.

We are all a part of the human family. We all seek connection and love.

Many of our cultural ways aren’t accepting of that.

For example, if I get angry with my partner for crossing my boundaries, my secondary intent is to move the relating closer to a respectful place. In a respectful place, we both exist in more peace and connection.

I have to forgive them for crossing my boundaries and offer a solution if I am to move in love.

Granting forgiveness

Firstly, you must choose forgiveness; otherwise, it won’t happen.

Then you must recognise your shared humanity, the times when you felt similar to them. If you’re sincere, then you’ll recognise when you’ve similarly treated someone else.

We hold onto charges that we need to deal with within ourselves.

What’s your real story?

What’s your essence, that wants to come through?

Forgiveness can help us to grow; to help us understand ourselves better, to learn more of our shared humanity, and to learn more of the person with which you have had a conflict.

True forgiveness is shedding of weight and a deeper connection.

Renewing or releasing the relationship

Forgiving someone doesn’t necessarily mean remaining in the relating space.

It could mean the ability to release that relationship from both of your lives; it could mean removing that form of the relationship that is trapping you both in resentment.

Tutu’s book mentions this phrase:

“I have a part.”

Acknowledging that you have a part in the situation gives you a sense of agency, and clarity, it allows you to know your reality fully.

There are always relating dynamics to every situation, even if you have to admit that you didn’t uphold your boundaries.

We must make meaning of every experience; making a decision as to what a situation means, and then requesting your needs based on that, is a powerful thing to do.

It happens unconsciously or consciously.

The difference between renewing and releasing is an energetic one for me. Both people know whether they are in a place to step up and renew the relating process courageously.

It’s an open space to step into, outside of expectation.

It can involve challenging and bold conversations — heated discussions.

If you are not holding each other in respect or stated agreements, standards, or boundaries, then you’re not ready to renew.

The question is, can you release the current form of relating, and move forward?

Yes, no, or I’m not there yet.

All valid answers.

Life is complicated. If you’re not there in one aspect, and ready in another, that’s O.K.

Can you acknowledge and accept that?

How do you forgive?

The last question should be both clear and unclear.

You forgive by intending to forgive, and then walking the path to forgiveness; however, it comes to you.

There’s no one way to forgive; because there’s no one way in which someone can harm another.

Forgiveness happens when you are willing to forgive; nothing comes easily to the unwilling.

What is it in your life that you need to forgive?

Is it yourself, or someone else?

How can you take the next steps forward, with the fourfold path?

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