10. Forgiveness: To let go of resentment and anger towards ourselves and others

What would you do?

Bjørn Magnus Jacobsen Ihler is one of the survivors of the July 2011 attacks on
Utøya island in Norway. Despite the trauma of watching right-wing extremist
Anders Behring Breivik rampage across the island, killing 69 people and injuring
110 others, Bjørn insisted on seeing his attacker again at one of the court

“Meeting him in court was a very important moment for me because I realized
he could no longer point a gun at me. I saw him then as just another human
being with no power to hurt me anymore…I believe that we have to recognize
Breivik’s humanity. I find people’s efforts to dehumanize him really scary
because that’s what he tried to do to us…This type of forgiveness is about
finding some wisdom that we can take out of what has happened to ensure
that violence doesn’t repeat itself. ”
Source: www.theforgivenessproject.com

The benefits of forgiveness

Forgiveness has the potential to:

  • release us from anger and resentment, which undermine our mental and
    physical health
  • deepen our understanding of other people and their points of view
  • help to avoid future conflict at all different levels of society

A 16 Guidelines view on forgiveness

Forgiveness is the capacity to reclaim our peace of mind when something has happened to disturb us. As we go through life it is inevitable that we are going to hurt one another. In fact, as our world becomes more complex and interconnected, the opportunities for conflict increase. We have the choice whether to respond to these hurts and conflicts with anger and bitterness, or with forgiveness.

Forgiving is not the same as forgetting. It does not mean that we gloss over the harm that has taken place, or pretend that it never happened. What it does is to allow us to let go of the destructive attitudes towards the past that imprison us and the person who harmed us in a cycle of recrimination and guilt. When our desire for reconciliation and peace is stronger than our anger, disappointment or pain, then forgiveness offers the opportunity to make a new start.

Forgiveness can seem insurmountable, and has vast consequences, but in essence it is nothing more than a shift of mind. The motivation to forgive has to come from a genuine wish deep inside to relieve the pain and discomfort of ourselves and of others. It cannot be forced. Does everyone have the capacity to forgive? Can everything be forgiven? Is forgiveness something we can learn?

16 Guidelines resources and training for developing forgiveness

Did you know?

Research studies suggest that people who forgive are happier and healthier
than those who hold resentment, due to factors such as: improved functioning
in the cardiovascular and nervous systems; a reduction in stress; and being less
susceptible to illness. A recent research project in Northern Ireland indicated
that forgiveness can also make people feel more confident and compassionate.

If you’d like to find out more, scientists who specialize in forgiveness include
Fred Luskin (Stanford University, USA); Everett L Worthington Jr. (Virginia
Commonwealth University, USA) and Robert Enright (University of
Madison-Wisconsin, USA).



“To forgive is not just to be altruistic. It is the best form of self-interest,” suggests
Archbishop Desmond Tutu, who was awarded the Nobel Peace Prize as an
extraordinary exemplar and ambassador of forgiveness.

In 1995, Desmond Tutu was appointed Chair of the Truth and Reconciliation
Commission set up to promote restorative rather than retributive justice in the
new South Africa. Tutu heard many harrowing stories, but was still able to say:
“Yes indeed these people were guilty of monstrous, even diabolical deeds, [but]
that did not turn them into monsters or demons.”

However neither does he believe in ignoring wrongs. “If you are neutral in
situations of injustice, you have chosen the side of the oppressor. If an elephant
has its foot on the tail of a mouse and you say that you are neutral, the mouse
will not appreciate your neutrality.”
Tutu continues to speak, write, and
campaign, sharing his subtle and profound understanding of the process of
forgiveness worldwide.

For more on Desmond Tutu, see:

  1. www.tutu.org is the website of the Desmond Tutu Peace Centre
  2. The Book of Forgiving: The Fourfold Path for Healing Ourselves and Our
    by Archbishop Desmond Tutu and Rev Mpho Tutu is the most recent of
    Tutu’s many books
  3. Rabble Rouser for Peace, a biography by John Allen (New York: Free Press,


A short reflection on forgiveness from '16 Guidelines: The Basics' book

Find a quiet space where you can relax. Sit comfortably. To help you settle, focus your awareness on your breathing. Let go of any thoughts, images or feelings that arise. Whenever you become distracted, bring your awareness gently back to the sensation of the breath going in and out. Spend a few minutes enjoying the sensation of coming to rest.

Imagine that as you breathe in, you are inhaling blissful light. It is white, the colour of purity. The light represents all the positive qualities that exist in the universe. It represents all the qualities of the people you admire, and which you would like to develop within yourself.

As you breathe in this light, imagine it flowing through the whole of your body. All the way to your toes and finger tips. Filling every tiny part of your body, down to the cells, the atoms and the subatomic particles.

Spend some time breathing in the white light, letting it fill your whole body. Imagine that it has the capacity to heal whatever anxieties, problems, pain and sicknesses you are carrying in your body and mind.

Generate a conviction that this is really happening. That this blissful clear light is actually entering your body and filling every crevice. Your body becomes very light and transparent and relaxed.

Now begin to imagine dark smoke or pollution coming out of your body when you exhale. This smoke represents all the times that you have been angry with yourself. When you have said something that you regret or that didn’t feel right.

Every time you breathe out, let this anger and pain leave your body, in the form of dark smoke. Watch it disappear into space. It doesn’t pollute or disturb anything, it just disappears into space.

Continue for as long as you can, imagining the white light coming in and the dark smoke going out. Forgive yourself. Enjoy the sensation of the body and mind becoming blissful and clean clear, free of all problems and negativities.

Close with the wish “May all beings be happy!”


Quotes on forgiveness

  • To be wronged is nothing unless you continue to remember it. - Confucius
  • Always forgive your enemies. Nothing annoys them so much. - Oscar Wilde
  • Forgiveness is the attribute of the strong. – Gandhi
  • People are often unreasonable, illogical, and self-centered: forgive them
    anyway. – Mother Theresa
  • When another person makes you suffer, it is because he suffers deeply within
    himself, and his suffering is spilling over. He does not need punishment; he
    needs help. That's the message he is sending. – Thích Nhat Hanh
  • An eye for an eye makes the whole world blind – Mahatma Gandhi
  • Hatred is the winter of the heart - Victor Hugo
  • If we could read the secret history of our enemies, we should find in each
    man's life sorrow and suffering enough to disarm all hostility. – Henry
    Wadsworth Longfellow
  • Forgiveness is the way we stop our human community from unraveling. -
    Desmond & Mpho Tutu
  • Until we can forgive the person who harmed us, they will hold the keys to our
    they will be our jailor – Desmond and Mpho Tutu


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