The Art of Forgiveness

This article tells you why you should teach your child the art of forgiveness. After all, 'to err is human; to forgive, divine.'

By Akshaya Ganesh

The Art of Forgiveness

According to posts circulating on social media, a friendship that lasts longer than seven years, lasts a lifetime. Looking back, I wonder how things would have turned out if I had forgiven my best friend in school. We’d probably still be the thickest of friends, and inseparable, considering we’d have completed over seven years of friendship. Alas, that wasn’t meant to be, because I did not forgive him.

Do you forgive your friends?

Before we move on, I want you to ask yourself, “Have I truly forgiven the friends who have hurt me?” Pause for a moment and ponder.

I went around conducting an informal poll to understand if parents are setting good examples for their children. My two questions, to begin with, were:

  1. Did they still feel hurt whenever they thought about any incident involving a fight with a friend?
  2. Did they ‘truly’ forgive him/her?

I was surprised to note that nearly 70 per cent of the parents I surveyed admitted that they still thought about that incident. When I probed further, nearly 45 per cent of 70 per cent parents admitted that they still thought ‘quite often’ about the incident and around 45 per cent felt either ‘quite sad’ or ‘extremely sad’ when they thought about it even today.

While the time period between the poll and the incident, and the intensity of the quarrel can also affect the results, I was surprised to note that many parents hadn’t ‘truly’ forgiven their friends.

Counselling psychologist, Mrs Saras Bhaskar, from Chennai says, “Forgiveness is not forgetting. You will know you have forgiven someone when you are able to recall or have a flashback, but only as a memory recall and not as a stressful or traumatic situation.”

As I was pondering about forgiveness, I met Ashwini, a third year student at SSN College of Engineering, Chennai. When I asked her about what forgiveness meant to her, she said, “Forgiveness is when I want to repair bonds with someone because that person means a lot to me. I've not had too many major fights with any of my friends, except one or two. And, in most cases, we have patched up. When I forgive someone, I usually feel a lot better, but the relationship is still strained.”

‘Resentment can damage your brain’

Forgiveness is not just about forgetting. It’s also about giving up on resentment - on all those repressed feelings that have been slowly making their way into your subconscious mind. In her TEDx talk at Boulder, Colorado, US, award-winning writer and author of the book, Triumph of the Heart: Forgiveness in an unforgiving world, Megan Feldman describes the harm resentment can inflict upon a person. She says, “Nelson Mandela said that resentment is like swallowing poison and waiting for your enemy to die. It turns out that it is true. Resentment can damage your brain. It can increase the stress chemicals in your brain and affect your ability to problem-solve and make you more depressed. On the other hand, studies show that forgiveness can lower depression, blood pressure and anxiety.”

Over a period of time, I have come to realise that it takes a great deal of courage to master the art of forgiveness. And, the first step towards forgiving someone is to forgive oneself. Says Mrs Bhaskar, “Forgiveness is a virtue by itself. It is not easy to develop the art of forgiveness. It requires some element of dignity, integrity and honest introspection. We would all have hurt someone knowingly or unknowingly; but, if we can forgive ourselves, then we will know how to forgive others.”

Be a role model

According to a study titled, ‘Children’s Concept of Forgiveness,’ presented during the International Conference on Studies in Humanities and Social Sciences, Phuket, Thailand, 2015, children forgive differently based on familial and social context. The study states that attachment plays a key role for children when it comes to forgiveness. Children tend to forgive their parents more than their friends because of the closeness in the relationship. And when it comes to friends, children are more willing to forgive friends who admit to their faults and apologise.

Also, children tend to pick up on the habits of their parents. So, if you don’t forgive someone easily, how can you expect your child to?

Mrs Bhaskar says, “Children need to be taught about forgiveness in a simple way. When your child makes a mistake, don’t keep taunting him about what happened. This will indicate that you haven’t forgiven your child, and he will pick up on this habit. So, the first step is for parents to be positive role models when it comes to forgiving their children.” She adds, “Children also need to be taught about patience and resilience, as resilience will bring down one’s hurt level and one won’t be enforced by pain to not forgive the other person.”

Set an example for your child by forgiving yourself and your friends for all the animosity that the past holds with it. You can also teach your child about forgiveness through stories and videos. Collette Veigas, teacher, Udayachal High School, Mumbai, says, “So many times children have petty fights in school. In such cases, we ask them to immediately say ‘sorry’, give a hug and forgive each other. Children learn about forgiveness when they are young since they are like sponges at this stage. We try and teach children about forgiveness through demonstrations and cute little videos.” She also talks about the story of rotten potatoes, which teaches children the concept of forgiveness. According to her, the story conveys - “If you harbour hatred against someone and are unforgiving towards them that feeling of hatred will spread like the stench of rotten potatoes into all areas of your life.”

Embracing forgiveness

Forgiveness has to start from oneself. How many times have we committed mistakes, big or small, and not forgiven ourselves for it? “You are the sufferer, if you don’t forgive someone. You have a choice - whether you want to lead a life wallowing in grief or to come out of that grief and enjoy the gifts of life,” concedes Mrs Bhaskar.

Hence, starting today, let’s pledge to forgive ourselves and others, and ask our children to adopt the same. Change begins with oneself and I shall let it start with me.

To all my friends and everyone else – I forgive you…

For all those times you breached my trust, I forgive you.

For all those times you hurt my feelings, I forgive you.

For all those times you broke my heart, I forgive you.

For everything, I forgive you.

For you are my friend,

My companion, my fellow-human.

For we all err; but, very few forgive

And, I - I forgive you; I forgive me.