Forgiveness – ideas about asking for it, giving it & why it can be so difficult for humans to forgive others & ourselves

Forgiveness – ideas about asking for it, giving it & why it can be so difficult for humans to forgive others & ourselves

– Discussion of 3 different cases (Stories of loss, violence and betrayal) involving personal stories of forgiveness

Case one: Sue Klebold, mother of Columbine shooter (US national tragedy)
– she discusses what it is like to be the mother of a mass killer
– Her sense of failure as a mother [People also asked her: What kind of a mother were you? How could you have not known? Did you ever tell your son you loved him? Did you ever hug him?]
– [People instantly assumed that she the parent was responsible – that they had a need to believe at it occurred as a result of negligence or poor parenting]
– She asks herself what could I have done?
– She notes all parents feel guilt about their parenting
– She notes that she still struggles to forgive herself
– For her, forgiveness is about empathy – The ability to put yourself in the other person’s shoes so as to understand them – What they are thinking, feeling and experiencing
– She reached out to the families impacted by the actions of her son – such as: Personal letters & advertisements in the newspaper
– She notes that there is no rule book about how to go about seeking forgiveness
– Everyone is different / individual

Case two: Otis (From Iceland) & Tom (From Australia) – about rape while they had a relationship together
– after the rape, he finished his exchange program & returned to Australia
– the issue between them was unresolved
– She blamed herself
– She noted that her culture told her: Girls get raped for a reason
– Her boyfriend says he did not see the deed for what it was – rape
– He notes that he tried to block it out – to not acknowledge or talk about it
– He repudiated the entire act – He says he disavowed the truth & convinced himself (for a time) that it was sex – not rape
– She notes that the silence around the act – Crushed her sense of self worth, & she hated & was angry with herself
– The trauma never left her and always returned in moments of stillness
– Nine years later she wrote a letter to Tom – And she noticed the words on the page: “I want to find forgiveness”
– For her, forgiveness was about finding peace for herself
– She also wanted Tom to be aware of the hurt and suffering he had caused her
– Tom notes – That upon receiving the letter –
– painful memories were triggered
– that he had unconsciously denied the occurrence of the event – That he had not wanted to own up to, or face the fact that, he had committed sexual violence/rape
– He notes it also took him a long time to realise the ramifications and depth of the pain that he had caused
– In her mind, forgiveness is not about giving your “blessing” to the hurt & suffering caused
– Forgiveness underlines the hurt that was caused
– She believes forgiveness is an act of self-interest, empowerment & release from negative emotions which take a toll on all relationships & psychological well-being
– She notes that other emotions can also be empowering for people – such as anger (it is a very personal process)
– Tom notes that he believed he should be punished by being jailed; however, legal issues in Iceland made this not possible
– the former couple wrote letters to each other about it for years
– however, Otis believed she needed something more – she therefore proposed to meet face to face half-way between Iceland & Australia – in South Africa
– They met there over the course of one week
– They spoke their life stories to each other
– She notes that she was riven with doubts
– she was scared about what pain from the past would be brought up by the process
– she also questioned the success or otherwise of the project
When they met she noted that:
– “16 years of history came rushing back” to her
– And there were times when she felt that this meeting was a mistake – as off they were speaking different languages & could not see each other’s point
– Nonetheless, they were able to find common ground and work through their issues
– Questions were able to be answered
– Something was able to be “constructed from the ruins”

– They talked as they walked – rather than sitting (she felt the “weight” of the past & this she believed helped)
– It provided her with physical relief
– it was also symbolic For her – That she was moving forward with her life – into a future less marked by the past

– The process of forgiveness was about placing responsibility for what had happened to where it belonged – Tom
– Forgiveness allowed her to let go of self blame and shame
[Note: Otis appeared on the ABC TC Q&A program earlier in 2017]

Case three: [two sisters who healed a rift following a cancer diagnosis for one of the sisters]
– the idea of having a fight, saying sorry & moving on is discussed
– It is noted that this rarely happens

the surviving sister argues the following:
– You need to think: what is it that I want in life?
– Do I want to move on from living in a state of blame and shame?
– Then you need to look at: What is unforgiven so you can start over
– Forgiveness is about you and the other person
– She believes: rifts are rarely just about one person
– She acknowledges that it is difficult to put aside your pride and your defences
– Both people need to ask for forgiveness
– Both people need to give forgiveness
– Sibling relationships are complex & involve love, friendship, protection & jealousy, competition, rejection & attack
– process of forgiveness & “cleaning up the relationship” – for her – was about: could we listen, could we learn, could we change?
– they examined what led to the rift – it was about a stressful situation for one sister (a marriage breakdown)
– they went together to a therapist – where they talked & listened to each other – where they stopped beating themselves up & trying to be perfect for each other
– her take-home message: you do not have to wait for a life-threatening condition to reconcile with loved ones – to take the courageous step of no longer rejecting
– you have to also reconcile with the issue: do you want to be right or do you want to be happy & to seek a true relationship
– forgiveness & “fixing” are not one & the same thing

Source: NPR TED Talk | Podcast date: 12 May 2017


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