I know from experience that forgiveness is hard, but if we just look at its health benefits, it can help us lower blood pressure and cholesterol, make us sleep better, and strenthen our inmmune system.
But, of course, it is also much more. According to my beloved psychologist Rick Hanson this is what it can do for your spirit:
Fundamentally, forgiveness frees you from the tangles of anger and retribution, and from preoccupations with the past or with the running case in your mind about the person you're mad at. It shifts your sense of self from a passive one in which bad things happen to you, to one in which you are active in changing your own attitudes: You're a hammer now, no longer a nail. It widens your view to see the truth of the many, many things that make people act as they do, placing whatever happened in context, in a larger whole.And Michael McCullough, author of Beyond Revenge: The Evolution of the Forgiveness Instinct, explains in this interview for the radio show On Being that we are actually wired for forgiveness, but also for revenge, and that they both served an evolutionary purpose, but in the end, forgiveness is the more important, as it enables humans to build peaceful communities. But his research suggests that we do need to work hard at it, and that the more we forgive, the easier it gets and the better we will feel.
I think we all know this already. But it is great to see that the science of well being and evolution agree that this is something worth our while.
I'm going to leave you with some more stories to read of amazing acts of forgiveness, including today's TED talk. Read them when you cannot forgive the stupid guy that was so annoying today at work, so you can realize that, yes, that stupid guy is also a human being like you and maybe he was just having a hard day today as well. These stories describe incredible acts of courage. I hope they inspire you as well.
- Can Forgiveness play a role in Criminal Justice? A rather long, but very compelling, New York Times article about the concept of "Restorative Justice," illustrated with the story of the murder of a young woman by her boyfriend, and the actions that her parents took to actually help him.
- No more Taking Sides, Another episode from the radio show On Being that describes the unlikely friendship between an Israeli woman who lost her son to a Palestinian sniper and a Palestinian man who lost his brother to an Israeli soldier. As the description of the program says, "they don't want to be right; they want to be honest."
- Finally, here's today's TED talk about two mothers who found forgiveness and friendship after 9/11.