What do you think the most common misconception about forgiving is?

I would say the most common misconception is the fear that once people forgive, they think they have to automatically reconcile, ignoring justice or the protection of the self.  This needs to be clarified for many people to begin trusting in the process of forgiving.

For additional information, see What Is Forgiveness?

If you could give me one piece of advice as I ask someone to forgive me for what I have done, what would that be?

For one and only one piece of advice, I would say this:  Once you have asked for forgiveness, please be patient with the person who was hurt.  Do not expect instant forgiving from that person.  Asking for forgiveness requires a humble approach and letting the other person choose when it is the best time to forgive.

For additional information, see Learning to Forgive Others.

I was in a heated argument with my spouse.  We both needed to ask for forgiveness.  I did, but she refuses to apologize.  What do I do now?

Your spouse likely is still angry and so needs some time.  If she can find it in her heart to forgive you, this may give her the insight that she, too, acted unjustly at that time.  So, if she can forgive you (and your apology likely will help with that), then she may be open to apologizing and thus seeking your forgiveness.

For additional information, see Forgiveness for Couples.

I forgave a betraying friend and yet I still suffer from sadness over this.  What can I do to get rid of this?

Think of forgiveness as a process that can take time rather than a one-time decision.  If you have a little sadness, this is normal.  If, however, the sadness is deep and is interfering with your well-being, I suggest starting from the beginning and forgiving the friend again.  Each time you practice forgiveness, some of the sadness may lessen.  Again, please do not expect that forgiving will wipe away all feelings of sadness or even anger.  If such symptoms are manageable for you, then you are advancing well in forgiving.

For additional information, see The Four Phases of Forgiveness.

The Idea of Forgiveness Lives On

Two recent experiences have prompted me to reflect on this: Forgiveness as an idea for all of humanity is powerful and so such an idea tends to persevere across time and not wither.

For the first example, I unexpectedly received on Facebook a message from a person who coaches people before they give Ted Talks.  His name is Brendan Fox and he had this message for me in the context of forgiveness for sexual abuse victims/survivors:

“Hi, Robert! Hope all is well. I just wanted to let you know that I read your book, and I watched one of your online lectures. I think your work is so good for the world. Recently, I coached a Ted Talk featuring a sex trafficking survivor. Your work was hugely influential in inspiring the talk and message (as you’ll see). I wanted to credit you, and share it with you, because I think this represents part of your legacy, and how you are making the world a better place (in many indirect ways!). I’m rooting for you in the Game of Life!”

Here is a link to the talk to which Brendan refers.  The video (10:21) is quite inspirational: Escaping the Pain of Human Trafficking Markie Dell.

I find Brendan’s message and the video very interesting in this: Suzanne Freedman, whose blog on forgiveness education we recently posted here, and I had an idea in the mid-1990’s that a forgiveness intervention might be helpful for women who have been sexually abused.  At the time, this idea was exceptionally controversial.  People thought that we were saying this, “Oh, you were abused?  Forgive and go back into that situation.”  No.  This is not what forgiveness is at all.  A person can forgive, rid the self of toxic resentment and hatred, and not reconcile.  Suzanne’s ground-breaking forgiveness intervention with incest survivors was important in helping the social scientific world see the importance of forgiveness interventions.

That study was published in 1996, almost a quarter of a century ago: Freedman, S. R., & Enright, R. D. (1996).  Forgiveness as an intervention goal with incest survivors.  Journal of Consulting and Clinical Psychology, 64(5), 983-992.

After almost a quarter of a century later, Suzanne’s ideas live on and are helping people to heal from extreme injustices against them.  If we can get this far with forgiveness in the face of grave sexual abuse, perhaps there is a place for forgiveness in other areas of woundedness, such as helping people who have no homes, who are living on the streets, to forgive those who have crushed their hearts.  Will this aid their recovery?  Jacqueline Song of our International Forgiveness Institute is taking the lead right now on this question.

Here is the second of our two examples regarding the staying-power and influence of forgiveness.  In 2002, a team of us decided to start what we now call forgiveness education with children.  We reasoned this way:  If we can help children learn about forgiveness and how to forgive, then  when they are adults, they will have the tool of forgiveness for combating the potentially unhealthy effects of unjust treatment against them. 

These students at Ligoniel Primary School in Belfast, Northern Ireland, are learning about forgiveness at the same school where Dr. Enright’s Forgiveness Education Curriculum Guides were first used more than 17 years ago.

We developed forgiveness education guides for grades 1 and 3 (Primary 3 and 5 in Belfast, Northern Ireland) and we brought these guides to the principal, Claire Hilman, and the teachers at Ligoniel Primary School in Belfast.  Claire said yes and so we launched forgiveness education there as the first place in the world where there is a deliberate curriculum to teach forgiveness, about once a week for 12 to 15 weeks.  The program has expanded to include pre-kindergarten (age 4) all the way through 12th grade (this is a designation in the United States and includes ages 17-18).  These forgiveness education guides have been requested now by educators in over 30 countries. 

Just recently, Belfast had its almost 2-week annual 4Corners Festival.  The theme for 2019 was “Scandalous Forgiveness.”  The term “scandalous” was inserted as an adjective because, even in 2019, some people consider the act of forgiving others to be outrageous and inappropriate.  The point of the festival was to gently challenge that thinking and try to fold themes of forgiveness into the fabric of Belfast society.

I gave a talk on February 1, 2019 at this 4Corners Festival.  When Mr. Edward Petersen of the Clonard Monastery introduced me to the audience prior to my talk, he stated that the theme for this year’s festival was inspired by our 17-year presence of supporting Belfast teachers in their forgiveness education efforts.  We started in 2002 and an inspiration by community organizers blossomed in 2019, many years after we first planted the idea of forgiveness education in Belfast.  The idea of forgiveness lives on and now expands city-wide because of the vision and wisdom of the 4Corners Festival organizers.

Forgiveness: it does not wither.  It survives over time and grows.  I think it does so because forgiveness gives life.  Forgiveness unites people in families and communities where injustices could divide.

The idea of forgiveness lives on, and for good reason.

Robert

Is there anything I can do to encourage my brother to forgive me?

Did you apologize?  Did you show him that you are aware of your error and have taken steps not to repeat it?  This may help him establish trust in you which may help him to forgive you.  You will need patience as he makes up his own mind.  Your trying to put pressure on him to forgive will not be helpful.  He needs to see the value of forgiveness and willingly say yes to it.

For additional information, see Learning to Forgive Others.

Forgive ourselves and forgive others just as God forgives us

By: Surjit Singh Flora

To enjoy life peacefully, a very important aspect is to learn to forgive.
Forgiveness is to let go that which no longer serves us, freeing us to heal and move forward with ease and lightness. But for many of us, forgiving is a very hard thing to do.

The simplest things in life are often the best gifts. But they may also not be that simple.

The best gift people can give to each other are the gifts of forgiveness, peace, love, respect, and a smile, as we forget all the wrongs, we believe have been done to us.

Have we thought about giving ourselves the gift of forgiveness this year?

The way I learnt it was back when we came to Canada in 1989. At the time I didn’t speak or understand any English and was living at my aunt’s house with her family and my family being together. It started small, but over time it had an insidious effect. My aunt started teasing us, which slowly turned to insult, then bullying behaviour: we are useless here, we will be struggling, doing factory labour work… and on, and on. It started as just a joke but later turned into real verbal bullying.

At first, I thought it was nothing serious. No big deal. I thought she might realize and will change one day.

But slowly I started feeling depressed and began to brood about it. That eventually turned to actual, physical headaches every day. I felt like as if I was in hell. My mother was trying to help me, but as the bullying was not stopping, we decided that the only solution was to move to another place. And we did finally move out and get our own apartment — and then I had no more problems with bullying. But I also never showed my face to my aunt for a good five years after that. So much so that she noticed and began to complain to my mom and elder sisters.

One day we met at a family event, and she demonstrated to me, “What have I done wrong?” I explained to her, “Aunty, I love you and will always have respect for you and your opinions. But in this case, I am finding it very hard to dismiss the nasty comments you made about me and my family. I found I could not let such remarks go. They were hurtful, cruel… and though you aimed them to me and my family, I was the one you hurt. I hope that was unintentional.” She realized her part and felt bad and said, “Sorry!” Anyways, it will remain as an awful memory.

The road to forgiveness, it was hard. But I learnt to forgive her, with patience. It took time. When I thought of her, the urge to avoid her — worse, to get back at her, and treat her in kind — was strong. But I worked hard to get it off my chest and forgive her, and then I felt much better. True, I may never be able to forget what she did to me. But when I eventually learnt to forgive, it released the burden, and the floodgates of my negative emotions!

Forgiveness does not mean forgetting or minimizing the pain we feel, nor is it about excusing others. Forgiveness means making a conscious and deliberate decision to let go of our feelings of resentment or revenge, regardless of whether the person who has upset us deserves it.

So, are you ready to be free and ready to move ahead into the future?
We have to let go of our mistakes and forgive ourselves and forgive others just as God forgives us. Completely and with no reservations!

Have a wonderful life and peace!


Surjit Singh Flora is a veteran journalist and freelance writer based in Brampton, Ontario, Canada.