The Art of Forgiveness: How to Learn to Forgive Yourself and Others


Creative Commons License photo credit: Magagggie

Last night I curled up on the couch with a blanket and a coffee and watched a movie called Kite Runner. This film is set in Afghanistan and is about two best friends who end up parting ways due to the war and a terrible incident that occurs between them. Many years go by and finally one of the friends is presented with an opportunity to redeem himself and win his childhood companion’s forgiveness. The story that ensues is one of the most heartbreaking, honest and beautiful stories that I have ever had the pleasure of watching. I am not ashamed to admit that I cried my eyes out at the end of this one.

One of the main themes in Kite Runner is forgiveness. Forgiving others for what what they have done to you and forgiving yourself for mistakes you have made. Inspired by this touching story I decided to write a few thoughts about how you can learn the art of forgiveness.

NOTE – this is not a religious post. Forgiveness, like ethics in general, is not something that should be limited to those who go to church. This post has practical and meaningful applications for every one of us.

Giving forgiveness a chance

Forgiveness is a tricky subject that is hard for many people to approach. I know that one of my family members is completely shut off to the idea of forgiveness, especially when the recipient is my father. Sometimes pain and hatred get in the way of more helpful solutions like forgiving and moving on.

If you feel like you might be one of those people who don’t “believe” in forgiveness I ask that you read on and see if any of these points hit home for you. I used to be like you. I found it extremely hard to forgive people who had hurt me. But my attitudes changed when I saw some concrete evidence that showed me that I would be happier if I gave forgiveness a chance.

I ask that you give it a chance too.

How forgiving are you really?

Many of you might think that you are already pretty forgiving people. I know a lot of my readers are extremely loving people who are excited about self-development and helping others. But are you that forgiving? Let’s see.

Here is a list of a few people you might have forgiven, and a few you might not have. Some of them have made some small mistakes, others have caused terrible harm. How many (if any) have you forgiven:

  • Your father
  • Your mother
  • A teacher that embarrassed you in school
  • Your political leaders
  • Osama Bin Laden
  • The guy who cut you off in traffic
  • A guy you got in a fight with
  • Yourself

This might seem silly but sometimes it is easier to forgive someone for a big thing like killing your friend in a car accident than it is the guy who deliberately cut you off in traffic. Why? Because you can see the former person’s remorse. You want to forgive them. You don’t want to forgive the person who doesn’t care a less whether you are happy or sad. You really don’t like that person.

Other people might find it easier to forgive the guy who cut you off in traffic than the guy who crashed in to the twin towers in New York. After all, those people killed thousands of innocent human beings. Why the f%&k should we forgive them.

You might be right. Maybe we shouldn’t. All I am asking is for you to take a look inside and ask, “how forgiving am I really? Do I always forgive, or only some of the time?”

Why we should learn the art of forgiveness


Creative Commons License photo credit: lant_70

So why should we learn to forgive those who have done us wrong? Why should we give them a second chance? There are many philosophical answers to this question but I want to tell you one practical reason that you might not have thought of: it is ruining your life.

A few years ago when I was in India listening to one of His Holiness the Dalai Lama’s teachings he started talking about forgiveness. Now the Buddhist concept of forgiveness is very different to the Christian one. In Buddhism there is no God to pray to for forgiveness. There is just you and your mind and your relationship with other sentient beings. His Holiness started talking about how he thought it was kind of stupid to not forgive someone. My ears pricked up knowing that he would have something interesting to say about forgiveness after what had happened to his country.

The analogy he gave was very illuminating. He talked about how you might be angry at one of your enemies for something they did to you. You carry the anger around with you every day. You think of how horrible that person is and how you would love to get back at them for what they did. But while you are busy hating them hey have long forgotten about you and your issues. They are off enjoying life. They are moving on. But you are stuck. Stuck in a moment that happened long ago. And the only way for you to move on is to forgive them.

I think this is one of the best approaches to take if you do not like the idea of forgiving someone. Do it for yourself. If you don’t forgive that person it is going to be you that suffers. They don’t care. They have moved on. But you will be stuck in an angry place for a long time to come. This is the main reason why we should learn the art of forgiveness; to give ourselves a second chance at happiness.

How to forgive yourself and others

Now I want to give you a few strategies to help you learn how to forgive yourself and others. Not everything here is going to work for you. That’s fine. Just take what you think might work and apply it to your situation.

Understand that causes and conditions are at play
When you look at a “bad” person you will first see all of their downfalls. You will see how nasty they are and how they don’t care about anyone but themselves. But what you don’t see is the fact that this all comes about due to causes and conditions.

Take, for example, the young child who is sexually abused by his uncle. This boy has endured horrors that most of us could not imagine. He lives his life in fear and as a result of that incident he grows up to be a petty thief or a drug user. It seems a little easier to forgive someone for stealing the coins out of your car for drugs when you know they were molested as a child.

Now I am not negating the importance of choice. I think everyone has a choice in life as to whether they take one path or another. But I fully believe that the choice is easier for some than it is for others. It might be a lot easier for me to be ethical and law-abiding that it is for someone who spent his childhood getting raped by his uncle.

So the next time someone does something bad to you think “it is due to causes and conditions” and just forgive the person. You are still allowed to be angry at them and sad at the situation but let it go. Try and think about why that person is acting in that way and reassure yourself that it isn’t who they really are, or who they would like to be.

Think about compassion
Have you ever heard the saying “what goes around comes around”? It is an excellent saying and it is an even better way to learn to forgive someone – have compassion for them.

Think about your worst enemy for a moment. Picture their face and their voice. Now think about why you hate them so much. It might be something they did to you or it might just be something they stand for that irritates you. Bring it to mind.

Now think about them in 20 years time. Where will they be because of what they have done? Will they be happy and content or will they be alone, sad and bitter? Will their life turn out the way their parents might have hoped for them?

Now think about them on their death bed. Will they have loving family around? Will they have regret for what they have done? Will the die peacefully?

When you think about where you enemies are going to end up in 20 or 30 years time you often feel extremely sorry for them. You get the general sense that things aren’t going to work out so well and this makes you sad. As much as you hate them right now the basic goodness inside of you wants to forgive them for what they have done. Your heart begins to open up and it is hard to hold on to the anger. You want to forgive this person because you know they aren’t going to die smiling.

Look on the positive side of life
When you break up with a loved one you have two choices: stay angry and bitter or forgive and move on. There doesn’t seem to be an in between option. For a while anger seems to work; you need that to help yourself move forward. But after a while one needs to make the transition from anger to forgiveness. Making this transition is not always easy.

One way to do it is to look at all the positive things that came out of the experience. This might seem a little airy fairy at the moment but it really does help.

Not long ago Mrs. Daily Minder broke up with me (I know… crazy huh?). We had been together for six long years but due to some things going on in her life she decided that enough was enough. When it happened I went in to shock. I couldn’t understand how two people who were so in love and happy after all this time could just part ways. It was an extremely difficult period in my life. I did a lot of soul searching and a lot of crying. But after the initial pain wore off I started to make a lot of progress. I became stronger, more independent and much more balanced. I realized that happiness depended on me and no one else.

Mrs. Daily Minder and I are back together now and happier (and healthier) than ever. Although the break up hurt like hell I am glad it happened. We needed to to grow up and to sort our relationship out for the long term. We are better people because it happened. But before we got back together I needed to forgive her for hurting me. If I couldn’t truly forgive her we could never work. The first two points in this article were big helpers in finding that forgiveness. In the end, however, it was seeing that the break up had made us stronger individuals and a better couple that helped me get there. By looking at the positives in the situation I was able to forgive her.

See things on a grand scale
Have you ever sat outside at night time and just stared up into space? It is an interesting experience. Some people find it a little overwhelming because it makes you feel so insignificant. On the other hand, some people love it because it makes their problems seem so insignificant.

When you think about the whole of history and everything that has happened it makes forgiving someone seem rather tiny. Think about Ancient Greece and their empire falling, Hitler and the modern wars, the Atomic Bomb, a billion people in India, man going to space, global warming, all the people dying of starvation, the Soccer World Cup, etc. All of these huge events make forgiveness seem easy.

If you try to look at the bigger picture and how insignificant your drama really is I think you will find forgiving someone less difficult. With everything that has happened and everything that is going to happen on our planet forgiving someone is really not that big of a deal.

Shift your perspective
I remember being very little and telling my mother about how a boy at school had been mean to me. I said I hated this boy and I never wanted to go back to school again. She explained to me very gently that my side of the story wasn’t the only one and perhaps I needed to think about what this other boy was feeling and why said what he had said. It immediately occurred to me that she was right, this boy had been mean to me because I was mean to him.

Whenever something bad happens it is important to try to shift your perspective from your side of the story to the other persons. This helps you get a better picture of what’s going on and allows you to make a more informed judgment. Most importantly, however, shifting your perspective allows you to forgive others for what they have done.

You see the reason that we don’t forgive is because we believe that we are right and the other person is wrong. We want them to admit it and we never waver from our point of view because that would be tantamount to admitting guilt. But if you shift your perspective you see a different side to the story and you open yourself up to the very real possibility that no one was wrong, it was just a bad mistake. Then forgiveness can happen.

Be the bigger person
It takes bravery to forgive someone. It takes an extremely brave, big person to forgive someone after they have done you wrong. Sometimes the best way to teach yourself to forgive is to just up and do it without really meaning it. This can open the way to more thoughtful and meaningful forgiveness later on.

Let me tell you another story about when I was young. I had a friend over for a weekend play date and during a bike ride my “friend” had thrown a stick at my front wheel and sent me toppling over the handle bars. It must have looked hilarious from his perspective, me flipping over the bars on to my head, but for me it hurt and left me with a bleeding scalp and a lot of scratches.

I marched back in to the house and went and found dad (mom was out) and tried to explain to him through my tears how this bastard of a friend had tried to kill me. Dad cleaned me up, gave me a hug and then told me to go back outside and play.

No way. Not with him.

I stormed off in to my room and closed the door. I wasn’t coming out until that kid had gone home. But that wasn’t going to happen for another day and a half – his parents were away and we were babysitting him. After some time dad convinced me that the whole thing was probably and accident and that I needed to forgive him to make his stay pleasant for the both of us. And although I really didn’t want to forgive the little jerk I went outside and accepted his immediate apology.

We were friends again.

Sometimes you have to be the bigger person even if you don’t want to. This allows you to move on with your life and helps everyone involved in the situation. Try it, even if you don’t mean it.

Think about death
Don’t be frightened about what I am about to say. It is a simple truth that everyone will have to face.

You are going to die one day.

Let that sink in for a moment. Don’t just read it, let is sink in. You – dead. Not someone else, you. One day you are going to die and when that day comes do you want to have any regrets? One of my favorite quotes of all time is this one:

“My religion is not Buddhism. My religion is to live and die without regrets.” – Milarepa

What about the other person who you didn’t forgive. Would you be happy if they died and you didn’t get a chance to forgive them? Would that weigh down on you? That person would be gone forever and you would never get the opportunity to fix it.

The best way to learn how to forgive yourself and others is to realize that death is certain and the time of death is uncertain.

If you were to die tomorrow, would you die with any regrets?

Conclusion

In Kite Runner the main character goes in search of his childhood friend to apologize for what he did to him when they were little. He needs to forgive himself for the mistake he made but in order to do that he needs to seek the forgiveness of his friend. I won’t tell you what happens in the end of the movie but I will tell you that it makes you understand how important it is to learn forgiveness now. Waiting on this one is not a sure plan. You never know when it will be too late to learn the art of forgiveness.

19 thoughts on “The Art of Forgiveness: How to Learn to Forgive Yourself and Others

  1. Very well put and written.

    Sometimes people see forgiveness as a sign of weakness or a sign of “giving in”. Trust me, I have heard people say both.

    I have found that asking for and granting forgiveness can be hard, but can be liberating and page turning in your life. My biggest example of this was a time I lost my patience with a family next door, when I still lived in an apartment. They were black and one of the children, about 12 year old, kept taking things off my patio. I lost my tempter one day and made a couple racial comments towards her.

    I felt very bad… and in an effort to correct this, I went to their house, knocked on the door. The mother answered. I explained that “I have a wrong I need to right.” The mother let me inside, and to the girl, with all her friends around, I told her that I acted poorly and that I regretted saying what I did to her. That she did not deserve it.

    She thanked me and accepted the apology.

    I was nervous and ashamed at the time, not sure if she would accept the apology. But afterward… I cannot even tell you how I felt. It was like a drug, it was that intoxicating.

    It is truly amazing how much a simple word, spoken with honesty, can affect you like that.

    Again… good article. I am adding you to my BlogRoll, if you do not mind.

  2. Thank you for sharing that Samuel. What you did was the right thing. Sometimes it is hard to admit that we were wrong but when we do we open ourselves up to a lot of growth.

    Appreciate your story, wish more people behaved the same.

    Sure, add me to your blogroll! Thank you.

    Hope to see you around again.

    TDM

  3. Excellent post! It reminds me of a story I heard while in Vietnam about an Aussie during the Vietnamese war.

    He was apparently patrolling this village one night, and there was of course a curfew, so the whole place was locked down. Well the soldier sees a man walking across the village, the soldier being on such a high alert, shoots first, thinks later. Turns out, he killed one of the villagers. After the war, he was a very different person. He would go on long retreats just disappearing places, and popping back up months later. His friends slowly dwindled away because the soldier just couldn’t maintain relationships. He became an alcoholic. He was mired in guilt over what he did to that villager and his family. One day, years later, he decides that he has got to go back to Vietnam. He needs to find that village, present himself in front of the man’s family and apologize for killing their son/father/brother. So he packs up, makes his way to Vietnam, finds the village where he killed the villager all those years before. He finds the home of the family of the fallen man. He was very conflicted, he didn’t know what to expect. Hatred? Anger? Being turned away? He thought of all these horrible things that this family should rightly feel toward him, he was ready for any of it, he needed something, anything from them. I think he may have been wanting to punish himself still more for his actions, and thought the family could do just that.

    One of the family members answered the door, and the whole family was paying attention. He explained who he was, and what he did those years past. He told them that he was incredibly sorry, and he just needed to say it. After a few moments, they said they had forgiven him a very long time ago, that the war was a crazy time, and crazy things happened. They were genuinely sorry that he had been so conflicted all these years as a result. They then invited him into dinner, and the soldier broke down into tears.

    They had moved forward, and the soldier could not leave the past.

    Later, the soldier told the man who told me, that he could have handled being slapped, spit on, yelled at, having the door slammed in his face, its what he felt like he deserved. He couldn’t believe that they had forgiven him. He broke down and cried his heart out on their door step, and eventually went and ate with them. Now this soldier lives in this village, and teaches English there. The man who told me about his friend the soldier said that he has never seen him so happy, that his life is finally clear again.

    That story was very powerful for me. I thought it telling that the soldier couldn’t forgive himself, and carried around all this heartache, knowing every day that his very name was being cursed by this family for what he did those years before. Yet, the family had forgiven him, they moved forward, all that self torment was unfounded, but he had to give himself permission to forgive. We so often build more pain and more torment into our reality than truly exists. Its kinda like mom pulling off the band-aid from our cut as a kid. We imagine so much pain involved, yet after she yanks it off, its like, “wow, that wasn’t so bad”. Its definitely a story that sticks with me.

    In other news, I think that you should start a forum on this site. I’ve had some random questions that I”d love for you and/or some of the other readers to give their more expert opinions on, but don’t have a format to do that in. Except of course to just post randomly on your next new post, so that’s my opinion πŸ™‚

    ~Mickey

  4. Mickey,

    I love your comments. You have become a massive part of this blog lately and I thank you for it.

    This story is truly heartwarming. It is so fantastic to see that sometimes people get a second chance at a happy life. I wish more people could experience the same.

    Thanks again.

    TDM

  5. Yeah its on my list of books to pick up soon. For a couple months it seemed like everyone I met was reading it.

    So about that forum… πŸ˜›

  6. What I like about this blog, is that the people here seem to be “regular joe’s and jill’s”. Its a blog about bringing the mind under your control and yet living your life outside of a cave. It also seems that there are people who comment here that are on similar journeys, some further along than others, and I think a web community where people could help each other out would be very handy. Teaching is often the best way to really learn something. So it would probably benefit those further along to help beginners as well. A win/win We already see some good discussion in the comments, so it tells me that people are hungry for discussion. Having a quality “tea shop” where people could come together reliably and share ideas is also a good way to keep readership high.

    With all that said, perhaps there is already such a place online that I’ve not found yet. If there is, and all the commenters tend to go there already then perhaps there’s no point. But if there isn’t, I’d say its a potential niche to be filled, which is what the web is all about, finding that niche and filling it. Who better to do it than the Minder? The trick is keeping a meaningful place that isn’t overrun by idiots like many forums can become. The comments haven’t been though, so I imagine the forum would stay pretty good as well.

    For me I guess, the web is full of forums already, so in order to be useful, it has to be purpose driven, I think that your blog fills that niche, and an accompanying forum would season it that much more. Hey plus, it could be an incubator for ideas for your next postings. Hehe, using your readers for ideas for your own posts. That’s almost diabolical *cue evil genius laugh here*

    So there’s my two cents on it πŸ™‚

    ~Mickey

  7. I can personally attest that forgiveness, and being forgiving, is very rewarding.
    In our teenage years, I had a friend who hurt me very badly. It was easy to be angry with her, and I nurtured the pain in my heart. Soon, though, I realized how much I missed her, and wanted to continue our friendship despite the hurt. I knew that her actions did not necessarily reflect on her essential nature – she had just made a poor decision. We spoke; we cried; I forgave her actions.
    Nearly ten years later, I can not imagine my life without this friend in it. We have grown together spiritually and been there for each other in hard times. She is a soul sister, and I am grateful to share a path with her. Had I allowed our paths to diverge at that time, I wouldn’t be quite the same person that I am to this day.
    Forgiveness is and art, and not always easy. However, it is always rewarding, always. Anger, heartache – these emotions can be apprpriate for a time. But they are not meant to be carried with us, weighing us down. They are meant to be released. To forgive another is to lay your own burden down…

    TDM, I have long enjoyed your posts. Thank you for sharing your wisdom with us. I am glad I finally took the time to comment. I send my gratitude to you.

  8. Wonderful post – forgiveness should be part of every school curriculum (as should respect). I read a fantastic book years ago that I highly recommend: “Forgiveness,” by Dr. Sidney B. Simon and Suzanne Simon. I hope others find it as enlightening and helpful as I did. Live, love, learn, forgive…

  9. BJ that is a great point about forgiveness being part of the school curriculum. I have often thought ethics needs to be taught in junior and middle school more than it is.

    I’ll check that book out. I have to confess I haven’t heard of it!

    Thanks BJ.

  10. This was great and just what I needed. In two weeks, a very good friend has wronged me and lied to me. I accepted his apology, but hadn’t forgiven him. As I read this, I began texting him to explain that I hadn’t forgiven him and in all honesty, it was making me sick. I hadn’t really eaten well and had lost plenty of sleep. I read one part of this that stated, maybe no one was wrong and maybe it was simply a mistake and that’s what I shared with him. He knew that he had hurt me and from what I’d heard, he looked like hell and no one knew why. Anyway, he just called and we talked it all over and decided to let it go. No one is perfect afterall, and I’m sure that I’ve done someone wrong unintentionally and may not even realize it.

  11. Forgiveness? What happened to ‘an eye for an eye?’

    Why is ‘What goes around comes around’ an excellent saying. Lots of things happen to good people every day and careless bad people get away with nasty deeds all the time.

    What about psychopaths who feel no remorse? They ain’t going to be worried about whether they are smiling on their death bed or not.

    The world is full of power mad snakes in suits, wanker bankers and corrupt hypocritical politicians. Are you saying we should forgive them all their misdemeanors?

  12. I recently hurt a really good friend and betrayed her trust. I asked for her forgiveness and she said that I will never be forgiven. She also went as far as to post what had happened on a social site. Now I have to explain myself to all of our mutual friends. The embarassment and shame is killing me. I dont know what to do and don’t know if I can forgive myself. I need advice. Please.

  13. sir
    i heartly congratulate you for such a “instant awakening thoughts”. one can hardly find a better suggesions and thoughts to get rid of acidic feelings of revenge. when we do not forget and forgive a person who hurted us , we want revenge in deep of our heart and it starts bringing a hoard of other allies to make us feel living in a horrible mental hell. some where i read ” jealousy is a poison that we drink in the hope that someone else ( to whom we hate), will die”
    thank you so much.

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