To Forgive -- or Not to Forgive

Why should we forgive? That is a reasonable question most normal people ask when we feel a wrong has been done to us.

We have been deeply hurt and cannot forget. And we also want the wrong righted, say through some form of justice or compensation. And then we will be satisfied. Yes?

A few years ago, while assisting in mediations of employer-employee disputes, I observed the following: in each case, the employee (accompanied by their attorney) would bitterly present the wrong they felt had been done to them. And the employer (accompanied by their attorney) would adamantly present their viewpoint. Eventually in almost all cases, a financial settlement would be reached, providing the employee a monetary compensation that was perhaps less than they had hoped and more than the employer wished, but the two parties would go their own way. And that was that.

Were they satisfied? While there is no scientific proof to present, it was the observation of this writer that neither was satisfied in the least. So what was missing? As it seemed to this observer, some kind of apology and forgiveness -- perhaps from both sides.

An apology, as we looked at a few blog posts ago, can be a powerful thing. So often, people just want the other side to say they are sorry -- and when they do, it carries a value beyond gold and precious jewels. And then forgiveness from the other side often ensues.

But what if an apology is not forthcoming? Is it a necessary pre-requisite for forgiveness? And what do we do if there is none? Can we still forgive?

Of course, the answer is up to each individual, but there are some heartening examples that might provide insight. Perhaps most startling in recent times was the response of church members in Charleston, South Carolina, following a deadly shooting there. In this instance, they immediately and unilaterally chose to forgive the shooter -- not that it was in any way easy to do so.

Meanwhile, in the nation of Colombia, where for years the population suffered under nationwide violence, a priest there has launched "schools of forgiveness" -- a growing network around the country aimed at helping citizens pro-actively forgive and come to terms with what happened.

There is a growing body of evidence that forgiving is also good for your health. Studies by such researchers as Dr. Everett Worthingon and Dr. Kathleen Lawlor-Row have been able to document the relatively better blood pressure of those people who are able to forgive.

In a 2008 film titled, "The Power of Forgiveness," the Rev. James Forbes of the Riverside Church in New York City sums it up this way: "At some point, there has to be the movement beyond the fixation that by my holding this [anger] in my mind, I am in some way going to improve the situation or reverse the situation....These offenses can never be adequately atoned for even if we stayed up all night....It is not possible to achieve by vigilance in anger and revenge what the soul is longing for. The soul wishes peace."


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