I can sympathize with my sister who hurt me, but I have a hard time empathizing with her (stepping inside her shoes, so to speak, and feeling what it is like being her). Can I ever feel compassion for her without empathy?

Not being able to empathize with your sister today does not mean you will never be able to do this.  Empathy can open the door to compassion.  Sympathy, or feeling sorry for her, also may be such a door to the eventual development of compassion.  Yet, as you are seeing, empathy is the deeper, more challenging perspective.  Here are some questions that might help you with empathy toward your sister:  Was your sister hurt by others some time in the past?  How deeply was she hurt?  Is she still carrying those wounds?  Can you see your sister’s struggles in life?  Your answers may induce a greater empathy for her as you see her wounds from her perspective.

In my experience, the longer a person harbors deep anger, then the longer pain and even a sense of hopelessness seem to rule their lives. As a person practices compassion in the face of others’ pain, the greater the likelihood that you are setting yourself and even your family free from pain (that started within you). So, I think it is really important to conquer that pain through forgiveness not only for yourself but also for loved ones. What do you think about this?

I agree with you and have nothing more to add to your wisdom.  All that you say makes sense to me.

I see a lot of anger being expressed in social media. What can you suggest as a way to start reducing this?

If more students have forgiveness education when they are young, then this will give them a chance to more deeply see the inherent (built-in) worth of others.  As we see that all people are special, unique, and irreplaceable, I truly think that deliberately hurtful verbal attacks on others will lessen.

I have a friend who uses sarcasm a lot. He ends up hurting people and then says, “Oh, come on! I was only kidding.” I suspect hidden and deep anger in him. What do you think?

If this is a pattern and if he sees that others are hurt (which you imply that he does), then, yes, I suspect the same: hidden (from him) and deep anger.  He may need to courageously explore who has hurt him in the past and try to practice forgiving, if he chooses.  It might lessen or even eliminate his hurtful sarcasm.

Would there even be a need for forgiveness to exist if people never reacted with toxic or unhealthy anger?

Forgiving others is not done exclusively because it has excellent psychological benefits, shown by research.  Forgiving others also is good in and of itself because it is a moral virtue (as are justice and kindness and respect).  Showing goodness as the goal of forgiving (rather than deriving a psychological benefit) is sufficient for forgiveness to be a part of your and others’ life.  To address your point directly, as we both know, reacting to injustices only with temperate, short-term (not unhealthy) anger is not likely as part of the human condition.  Thus, the need for forgiveness, for psychological reasons, will continue to be alive and well on this earth.

When did “forgiveness” become part of life? More precisely, there is no need for forgiveness in the animal world up to the early Homo sapiens, say, some 50,000 years ago… oh, there is no resentment, no revenge either but, of course, violence for survival/protection is part of life in all organisms: So what triggered the need for forgiveness?

Humans are **aware** of themselves. They are aware of others as well.  This awareness leads to the question, “What is right and what is wrong?”  When what is right fails, humans are aware of this. A central response of mending the effects of this wrong-doing is forgiveness (the awareness that even though the other did wrong, one can accept the wrong-doer as a person).  So, awareness starts the sequence which leads to forgiveness. No other species seems to be self-aware like this.

Every time I try to make a decision to forgive, I find myself getting very angry all over again with the person who hurt me. What advice can you give me for committing to forgiveness so that I can start this process?

A key to entering into what we call the Decision Phase of forgiveness is to commit to doing no harm to the person who hurt you.  In other words, try to commit to not insulting this person or not speaking badly about this person to others.  Note that I am not suggesting a **positive** response such as cultivating, for now, empathy or compassion or even love.  Instead, I am advocating your refraining from the negative.  This commitment may help you to decide: Yes, I now want to move more deeply into a decision to forgive this person.