THINK Education

Forgive and let go

Your best friend starts cold shouldering you, all of a sudden. A professor grades you unfairly because you corrected her in class. Your parents make a big deal of your sister’s achievements, but when you do well, they barely seem to notice. You find out that your fiancé is cheating on you and you break off the engagement. A colleague, who is vying for your position, spreads false rumours that slander your character, in the office.

Each one of these involves a transgression, albeit to varying degrees. It is a fact of life that people let us down. When we have been wronged, we may experience a smorgasbord of emotions. While we may feel hurt, angry or violated soon after the offense, these feelings may simmer down to a pervasive state of bitterness or resentment, depending on the perceived degree of wrongdoing. But harbouring rancour or hostility, on a long-term basis, exacts a toll on our physical and mental well-being. So, when others injure us, we are doubly stung; first by the misdemeanor inflicted on us and second, by the cauldron of negative emotions that stew inside us. However, this need not be the case.

Faster healing

Psychological research indicates that when we learn to forgive, our bodies and mind heal faster. In a study conducted by Robert Enright and colleagues, the researchers provided forgiveness therapy to men who were admitted in the cardiac ward of a hospital. The men who were selected to participate in the study were also deeply angry with another person for a perceived injustice, and were asked to narrate the story of the unfair treatment they were subjected to, while the blood flow to their hearts was measured. Before forgiveness therapy, blood flow to their hearts reduced when they were talking about their hurt; whereas following therapy, when the men recounted the same story, the blood flow remain unchanged.

In another study, middle-school students who were doing poorly in academics, due to inattention, were selected. Children’s “level of anger and dissatisfaction in life” were assessed, using psychological scales. Then, they were given forgiveness counselling. Subsequently, their ability to focus, grades, and relationship with others improved.

So, what exactly does forgiveness entail? First, it goes beyond words, and can be done without thoughts being verbalised. It does not, in anyway, condone the offense or crime, but instead, allows you to see the offender “as fully human, in spite of what he or she did.” Further, the person forgiving has to do so voluntarily.

Even if your offer of reconciliation is spurned by the other party, Enright says that you may “willingly and deliberately offer goodness to those who have been unfair” to you.

Like any other skill, learning to forgive also takes practice. Initially, it may be tough for you to feel anything other than loathing for the person who offended you. But, if you persist in trying to let go of your malice, bit and bit, and gradually substitute negative thoughts with positive ones, you will find that forgiveness gets easier with time. No matter what the crime, forgiveness makes you recognise that “You share a common personhood with the one who hurt you.”

Further, we are all culpable of hurting others. While we may feel that we would never inflict the kind of harm that was meted out to us, perhaps, we can’t be so sure if we were born and raised under entirely different circumstances.

This outlook will probably allow you to forgive those who have perpetrated more heinous injuries.

A reporter once asked the Dalai Lama if he was angry with the Chinese for having taken over Tibet. The Dalai Lama responded, “They have taken everything from us, should I let them take my mind as well?”

The author is Director, PRAYATNA. arunasankara@gmail.com


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Printable version | May 20, 2022 1:42:56 pm | https://www.thehindu.com/education/forgive-and-let-go/article26160033.ece