A white paper on forgiveness shows the way

By Narayani Ganesh

Psychologist Everett Worthington, till recently with Virginia Commonwealth University, came up with a five-step forgiveness intervention plan that he and his students worked on for long years. They call it REACH, an acronym for the following: Recall the hurt, because to heal, you need to acknowledge the fact that you’ve been hurt; Empathise with your offender and replace negative emotions like hatred with positive emotions like love and compassion; Altruistic giving enables you to overcome the hesitation to forgive and will inspire you to wish well of the other person; Commit to the forgiveness experience and finally; Hold on to that experience.

The Templeton Foundation’s white paper on the Science of Forgiveness, authored by Worthington, says REACH is a therapeutic model that promotes good health and wellbeing. To be unforgiving is stressful; nursing grudges and negative feelings towards an offender can seriously impact your physical and mental health and leaves little room for joy. To be forgiving lightens your burden; you feel free and loving, and you are rid of a lot of baggage that was weighing you down. Worthington says his life mission is: “To do all I can to promote forgiveness in every willing heart, home and homeland.”

Most of us struggle to be forgiving, as it requires a great deal of reflection, expansiveness, reasoning and compassion. And the ego has to be kept in check. Difficult to action, but once efforts are made in this direction, the benefits are too many to ignore; it is worth taking the trouble to overcome conflicting emotions before one finally is able to forgive.

Now flip the coin. The obverse of forgiveness is the ability to accept your mistake and say that you are sorry – not just say so, but feel truly sorry. Expressing remorse at having done something offensive requires a great deal of humility and courage, qualities very hard to come by, especially for one who fears loss of face and perhaps even punishment if the wrongdoing is grave. The first step is acknowledgement, as in the case of one who is the hurt party – to accept the fact that one has been at the receiving end of hurt or that one has done wrong. That’s the very first step to engendering peace and wellbeing.

The concluding weeks of a troubling year – when many across the world are experiencing the downside of a terrible pandemic that has not only been claiming lives and livelihoods but has thrown life as we knew it out of gear – is a good time to reflect on the virtues of forgiveness as well as the benefits of expressing one’s contriteness for wrongdoings.

This is not just about personal incidents, enmities and misunderstandings on the human plane; it is also about viewing our actions from a wider angle and looking at the many ways in which collective human transgressions have wrecked the environment and trampled on not just human rights but also, the rights of all beings.

We’ve had the opportunity during these long months of lockdowns to reset our priorities, both in our personal and public lives. The concluding weeks of the year of challenges is a good time to say goodbye to ghosts of the past and prepare for a new life, with more care and compassion.



Views expressed above are the author’s own.



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