Why is forgiveness so important?

Forgiveness is a gift that you give to yourself. Forgiveness is the thing that sets you free from the perpetrator. Forgiveness is the thing that allows you to write your own story of who you are, and forgiveness is really the only thing that gives us the possibility of a world without conflict.

Does forgiving someone condone their actions?

Absolutely not. Forgiveness does not condone any action; forgiveness does not subvert justice. Forgiveness says that I no longer have to be hitched to you, but you will have to bear whatever the consequences are of your actions.

How do you get to that point where you don’t want revenge; where you can hand it over to God?

In the book we describe the process of telling the story, naming the hurt, granting forgiveness and renewing or releasing the relationship. Each one of those steps is necessary. We want to say, ‘I’ve forgiven you’ and brush the hurt under the carpet, when in fact forgiveness requires that we tell the truth about what has happened to us. Real forgiveness requires real truth.

What’s the worst thing you’ve ever had to forgive someone for?

The thing that feels worst is always the most recent thing. But in the book we talk about the murder of my housekeeper Angela and the reverberations from that in my family. Sometimes what I’m forgiving is something that has arisen as a consequence of Angela’s murder. It’s always a journey. It’s always hard.

What advice would you give to someone involved in a family feud?

If you can reach out, reach out. You can try. Our online Forgiveness Challenge can give you some suggestions for how to do this. The forum also offers examples of people who have reached out to family members.

Is it a good idea to teach children the forgiveness process?

Absolutely. We often command children to forgive and expect that this is something that happens on demand, and in that way we almost dishonour the child’s experience and feelings. This gives them the impression that their feelings don’t count; the hurt doesn’t count. They’re supposed to just get over it and say ‘I’m sorry’ and move on.  

The habit of forgiving is one that we then carry into adulthood. We carry unresolved hurts into adulthood as well. If we teach children the process when they’re young, maybe our world will look like a very different place in years to come.  

Your book introduces a very 21st century approach to forgiveness. Tell us about that...

The message that we generally hear from the pulpit is: we must forgive, for whatever reason. But we’re not given any guidance as to how to get from the place of pain to the place of forgiveness. That was one of the reasons for writing the book.

The Book of Forgiving by Desmond and Mpho Tutu (William Collins) is available now

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