Forgiving 

I’ve just finished Desmond and Mpho Tutu’s ‘The Book of Forgiving’, picked up (as all the best things are) at the local library. 

It’s a simple and powerful read, which is studded with some terrible stories of personal loss, sickening violence and genocide; and the remarkable power of forgiveness in the face of them.

The basic argument is forgiveness doesn’t excuse responsibility – it explicitly acknowledges and names it. Only once the ‘story’ is properly told, and the ‘hurt’ is ‘named’, is there the possibility to forgive. 

And doing so is the way to be freed from being a victim – including forgiving yourself if you were ever a perpetrator.

There is a straightforward path to forgiveness which helps people exit the alternative – a never-ending cycle of harm and revenge.

I saw this diagram the night before interviewing someone on a difficult HR standoff. It certainly helped me to listen for longer: to let the person ‘tell their story’ and ‘name their hurt’, which seemed to move things forward.

The final two steps – ‘granting forgiveness’ and ‘renewing or releasing the relationship’ are about seeing  ‘perpetrators’ as human beings – recognising none of us was born evil and we all have within us the capacity to do terrible things.

Easier said than done; but nobody said it was easy – and it’s the only path to forgiveness.

The ‘hurts’ Tutu has seen in South Africa and Rwanda – so many violent murders – seem too huge to ever forgive. But the Truth and Reconciliation commissions he oversaw all basically followed this fourfold path: tell the story, name the hurt, grant forgiveness and renew or release the relationship.

As both he and the Dalai Lama have said: forgiveness is both a source and a sign of true personal strength, 

Truisms iii) Dry stonewalling

Here are seven of Jenny Holzer’s Truisms I increasingly agree with:

Fake or real indifference is a powerful personal weapon

Expressing anger is necessary

Emotional responses are as valuable as intellectual responses

Giving free rein to your emotions is an honest way to live

Hiding your emotions is despicable

Humor is a release

Playing it safe can cause a lot of damage in the long run

For much of the last decade ‘stonewalling’ was a personal favourite of mine on the home and work front. I now see it was a form of emotional distancing I used to manage my reaction to people and situations. 

At one level it worked, but it drained my energy and at times frustrated people. Sometimes people would get cross with me. This was a quick route to me completely shutting down and quietly brooding, or more rarely reacting with excessively sharp-tongued vitriol. 

I’m learning that staying in touch with your feelings – although it feels risky sometimes – is important. Following my feelings can make me feel a bit ‘unbounded’, impulsive, eclectic, even a bit inappropriate sometimes. But often ‘in the moment’ I now do what needs doing or say what needs saying. And I have more laughs, with people I don’t know, as well as those I do. 

Constantly controlling my emotions was tiring, it drained my batteries and potentially prepared me to be hurt or hurtful. Better to be in tune and ready to speak up and speak out, flash a smile or crack up laughing. Life’s too short not to feel it.