I would like to teach forgiveness to some people, but I find that they are not receptive to the idea that forgiveness is worthwhile. How do I proceed, given their resistance?

I have three points for you to consider. First, because forgiveness is ultimately their choice, if they are not ready to proceed, you should honor that. Second, a person’s rejection of forgiveness today is not necessarily his or her final word on the matter. So, be aware of changes in attitude. Third, there is nothing wrong with occasionally discussing forgiveness, brining it up in conversation, as long as you do not push an agenda. Conversation concerns at least two people and their worlds. If your world includes forgiveness, then sharing that world with others is legitimate, again as long as you are sharing who you are and not using this in a manipulative way. Who you are may play a part in whom the other will become as you share this aspect of yourself.

Restorative Justice Program Helps Mother of Deceased to See Killer’s Humanity

The Mirror newspaper of London – Grace Idowu lost her son to a knife-attacker in South London and as part of a restorative justice program, she recently visited in prison the teenage boy who took her son’s life. Mrs. Idowu reported that she was surprised to see a remorseful, sobbing boy in front of her. She was able to see his deep regret and when he asked her to forgive him, she did.

She imagined he would be a monster. Most parents would never want to take a second look at the person who took their precious child away from them. But Grace, 52, made the bold decision to go and visit Elijah Dayoni in prison after he brutally knifed her 14-year-old son David to death.

And today she insists she has totally forgiven Dayoni for what he did… and wants to help him become a better person.

Full story here.

A Critique of the Prologue to PBS’s New Film

In April, a new documentary will be shown on PBS television: “Forgiveness: A Time to Love and a Time to Hate.” This raises a central question: Is there ever a time to hate? Surely there are times when people hate, but should we set aside a time for hating? The subtitle of the film suggests an affirmative answer, but what good has hatred ever delivered to the world? Do those who crafted this title mean, instead, that there is a time to seek justice? This is self-evidently true because justice is a central virtue, perhaps the central virtue according to Plato. The subtitle, then, is muddled in its meaning if the writers confuse hatred and justice.

The film has a “prologue” for viewing. “Forgiveness is elusive,” the narrator says as the opening statement of this prologue, suggesting that we cannot find its core meaning.

“There is no consensus about what it is,” the narrator of the prologue proclaims with firm confidence. A Socratic dialogue would lead us to ask: “Does this imply that the “meaning” of forgiveness has no consensus?” Further, we need to clarify: “Does this mean that the actual differences are centered in the people, who possess ‘differences of opinion’ about what forgiveness is, or is the ‘meaning’ of forgiveness itself relative and ultimately lacking in any true consensus across the globe?”

“However you define forgiveness….” is yet another statement, bringing home the relativist assumption. There are many “opinions” brought forward in the brief prologue. None are examined. The impression, then, is that forgiveness itself is “elusive.” ¬†An issue not even remotely assumed in the prologue is this: Might the problem of a lack of consensus exist in the people themselves, who may not have thought about and experienced forgiveness deeply and over a long period of time? If Socrates assumed his own ignorance at understanding the objective nature of justice, which he did in The Republic, why do not the speakers in the prologue to “Forgiveness: A Time to Love and a Time to Hate” do the same thing? We are in an age in which the individual speaker has the power. Socrates assumed just the opposite.

In our blog post of March 17, 2012 (scroll down to read), we made the point that there are cross-cultural and cross-time meanings of forgiveness that strongly suggest a core meaning to what the narrator calls an “elusive” concept.

In the movie, The Paper Chase, Professor Kingsfield proclaims to his first-year Harvard law students: You come in here with a head full of mush….and you come out thinking like a lawyer. If the prologue is prelude to the rest of this symphony of ideas on forgiveness, we predict this: The viewer who has thought little about forgiveness will come to the film with a head full of mush……and, if he or she absorbs the film’s message without strong rebuttals, will leave with a head full of mush. We shall see.

When I think about it, I have a long list of people to forgive, starting from childhood and moving up to the present in my adult life. It all seems so overwhelming, With whom should I start and why? How can I get organized as I forgive in this way?

This is a common and important question. It is important because to organize all of this information is not simple. In my new book, the Forgiving Life (particularly Chapters 8 and 9), I systematically walk you through this process of getting organized in the way you request.

Here is the gist of those chapters. First make a list of people, from the family in which you grew up, who have hurt you. As many times as they were seriously unjust to you, list those incidents as best you can. Then move to peers and school experiences, then to adolescence, and into adulthood with work and relationship experiences. List each incident of considerable injustice as best you can.

Then start in the family of origin (where you grew up) because it is there where you may have established your own pattern of behavior. I recommend that you do not begin forgiving the one person for the one event that was most challenging for you. Start smaller and learn to forgive before moving up the scale of hurt to the one person and one event that caused you the most hurt. From there, move to schooling or peers, whichever needs your forgiveness work the most and again follow the same pattern. Start with the smaller issues and work up to the larger. Eventually you will come to the present day where you may have to forgive a partner or someone else close to you. You already will be strengthened by all of the prior work and so this new task will not be the huge challenge it might have been, had you not built up your forgiveness muscles first by forgiving people from your past.

Respect or Love?

When we forgive, what moral principle should underlie the forgiving response? Would it be better to approach each person with respect or with love or perhaps with some other moral quality? A case can be made for respect because we can more easily offer this to all whereas love is not that easily given through our anger. For example, we can show respect for a hard-driving boss even when we feel no love for him or her at all. Thus, respect covers a variety of circumstances and hurts, whereas love does not.

On the other hand, love is the higher principle because it includes respect and then goes beyond it to serving in mercy. It reaches farther and challenges us more deeply. I think that the response of love goes farther also in its effects. We can give respect at a respectable distance. A hand shake out of respect is not the same as letting someone into our world and caring about him or her.

Other moral responses do not go as far and as deeply as love either. Tolerance can be a rather cold approach, patience by itself can be almost neutral, and a spirit of cooperation can have a “What’s in it for me if I do cooperate?” ring to it. None of these go beyond love as a way to forgive.

Although more difficult than all the rest of these, I opt for love as the underlying response to forgiveness.

Why? Because respect might keep the world safer, but love changes the world for the better.


How hard is it to forgive someone who hurts your son? Bullying is vey real these days and my son was a victim, not once, not twice, but many times. He is quiet and a good student and so some of the other boys would tease him, unmercifully. I went to the principal, who is a weak leader because she is afraid of conflict. I had enough and so after school one day, my son and I paid a visit to one of the boys’ home and had a very frank discussion with his mother. She was surprised to hear all of this. Yet, it helped because that boy did not say anything to my son after that. I had to forgive the principal most of all because she was passive and that is not right when children are being bullied. I tried to see her in her weakness, in her confusion, in her striving to be liked. I felt kind of sorry for her, although I will never put up with passivity that harms children. And, yes, I forgave the boy who bullied my son. I saw him as very angry, growing up without a father, and taking it out on others. I had to mix fairness with forgiveness, which I did with the visit to his home. So, that combination of “stop it” and “I love you unconditionally” both worked.

The Proper Use of Forgiveness

Even goodness can be used for ends to which it was not intended. Forgiveness is no exception to this. Consider the following true story. A woman in her late 30s came to me to discuss the fine points of forgiveness. She was college-educated, a sharp thinker, and seemed quite focused on getting to know what forgiveness is and is not.

Her motive was to forgive her husband for injustices which she did not divulge to me. We spent a while discussing what forgiveness is and what it is not, that it is not excusing or forgetting what happened or reconciling, where two or more people come together again in mutual trust.

“I want to learn to forgive and then put this into practice in my marriage,” she said to me with resolve. I was encouraged.

A few weeks later, we met and I, of course, was curious about how her newly acquired forgiveness skills were faring in the marriage. “Oh, I forgave my husband and then left him.” Surprised by this juxtaposition of forgiving and leaving, I asked for some clarification.

“I never knew that forgiveness and reconciliation were not the same,” she said with some relief, “So, I forgave him and did not reconcile.” And that was the end of her story.

As we talked further, it was obvious to me that she was using this distinction between forgiveness and reconciliation as a kind of excuse to bail out of the marriage without putting the patience of forgiveness to work. She quickly left him without grappling with the issues of true forgiveness and true reconciliation. I was left with the impression of her using this distinction as an excuse rather than as an opportunity. The opportunity would have been to first try reconciliation alongside forgiveness.

Maybe she already tried reconciliation before coming to see me and it failed. I doubt this because when she approached me, she thought that the two terms, forgiveness and reconciliation, were interchangeable. She was originally intent on putting this into practice.

In this context everyone lost, including forgiveness herself.

Ask yourself this question as you consider forgiveness: What is my motive? Is it to do good? Or is it to find a quick and easy way out? An answer of “yes” to this final question should show you that it is only an imitation of forgiveness that is being practiced.

I know that to forgive, I must confront my anger toward the person who hurt me, but to be honest with you, I fear my anger. I fear that I could get out of control because the person who hurt me was very cruel, over and over again. I do not like fearing myself. Please help me to overcome this.

First you should realize something very positive: You are aware that you are very angry. Some people deny the extent of their anger, which does not help in cleansing oneself of it. After all, how can you reduce the anger if you are minimizing it? If you have a deep cut on your arm and you are afraid of infection, what do you do? If your fear freezes you to such an extent that you cannot clean the wound and apply an anti-biotic, then that fear is preventing healing. It is similar with injustices and anger. Fear of the anger is the problem more so than the anger is the problem.

Please keep in mind that you do have available to you a kind of cleansing agent, a kind of anti-biotic against toxic anger, and it is forgiveness. As you practice forgiveness, you will see that the anger diminishes. Even if it returns, you have forgiveness to help you once again. As you become better at forgiving, you will fear your negative emotions less because you now have at your disposal a powerful antidote to them. Enjoy the cleansing power of forgiveness.