The dictionary definition of “Forgiveness” is the action or process of renunciation or cessation of resentment or indignation against someone who has wronged you. In simple terms, to forgive is stop the feeling of anger or resentment against one who has annoyed, insulted or caused you injury or harm irrespective of the circumstances. There are many dimensions to the concept of forgiveness. As a measure of its relevance, the concept of forgiveness has common interface in Religion, Philosophy and Ethics, Medicine, Psychology among others fields of human activity and learning.
Psychologists see forgiveness as a “conscious, deliberate decision to release feelings of resentment or vengeance towards a person or group who has harmed you regardless of whether they deserve it or not.” Thus, genuine forgiveness is usually unconditional; it’s about letting go of grudges and bitterness, without expectation of restorative justice. Genuine forgiveness is usually emotionally experienced rather than verbally expressed.
So, forgiveness implies substituting the negative emotions with positive attitudes that would preclude any ill-feeling towards the offender. It does not necessarily mean condoning or excusing wrong doing neither does it mean forgetting the wrong done to you nor glossing over or denying the gravity of the offense committed against you. Essentially, it is a show of empathy, by putting oneself in the place of the one who offended you, and a show of humility and an acknowledgement of your own imperfection as a human being.
It is recommended that for reconciliation and peace, offenders should apologise to the one offended and seek forgiveness. However, the person offended must not necessarily wait for apologies before forgiveness. It is important to note that forgiveness is not granted because a person deserves to be forgiven. Religiously, it is an act of love, mercy, and charity.
At the national level, forgiveness may mean granting conditional or unconditional pardon to those who have committed felony against the state.
In contrast, un-forgiveness may appear in the form of holding grudges, malice, hostility and some other negative emotions. In another extreme, un-forgiveness may be a prelude to vengeful acts. Some people erroneously believe that revenge is measure of strength and see those who forgive as weaklings. In actuality, those who forgive are morally and emotionally stronger than those seeking revenge. Indeed, there is greater strength in letting-go than in holding grudges or seeking revenge.
In religion, medical sciences and psychology, it is believed that un-forgiveness or bearing grudges hurts the one bearing grudges more than the offender. Forgiveness gives the forgiver peace of mind and frees him from corrosive or destructive anger. Some experts believe that bearing grudges is like one picking live coal with his bare hands with the intention of throwing it at someone else. The one bearing the live coal will first have his hands scald or burnt. Psychologically, it is said that when one holds grudges, it beclouds ones’ mind and drives out the aura of positivity. It produces negative thoughts that hinder creativity and productivity. Again, holding grudges or deep resentment against an offender is like dwelling in the past but letting go releases you and propels you to move forward.
Revenge on the other hand, could trigger off a train of anti-social events that may have dire consequences. Where there is no forgiveness there is no reconciliation. There will be mutual recrimination and spiraling conflict.
There is also self-forgiveness especially when one has committed an act that is considered “abominable” or infra-dignity. If one did not forgive oneself, the negative emotions associated with wrong doing such as guilt, remorse, shame, self-hatred and self-rejection can lead to low self-esteem, alcoholism, drug-addiction, depression or even suicide.
From experience, I can say unequivocally that forgiveness has immense benefit to the forgiver. It gives the forgiver inner peace of mind and removes the tension or anxiety that surface whenever one remembers or sees the offender.
Clearly, forgiveness apart from its moral advantages has psychological, health and social benefits. Genuine forgiveness can lead to genuine reconciliation. Forgiveness heals refreshes, restores and strengthens healthier relationships. It has therapeutic effect on the forgiver. Forgiveness brings less anxiety, stress and hostility. Medical researches have shown that those who forgive live healthier happier lives; they have improved mental health, lower blood pressure and fewer symptoms of depression. In work place, forgiveness is necessary for effective relationship management and for group synergy.
The major religions teach that God is merciful and forgiver of sinners and admonish adherents to forgive one another. Personal vendetta and communal conflicts can be avoided through forgiveness. Forgiveness heals wounds and literally erases the scars of injuries and hurts. Granted, forgiveness may not come very easy especially if the wrong done is grievous. But with time one can overcome. It is always advisable to tread the path of peace rather justice if the wrong done is inadvertent or when the offender has acknowledged and apologized for the offence.
As we celebrate our Sallah, there is no better time to reflect on the power of forgiveness than now. I am not a moralist or a religious cleric but as one who has experientially felt the effects of forgiveness in my live, I will not hesitate to recommend it to everybody. Forgiveness is a great tool for conflict resolution or management in the society. We need forgiveness individually, collectively and nationally so that our country can move forward peacefully and progressively.
Willingness to forgive is a virtue that everyone should imbibe. It takes strength to forgive that is why it is said that the strong forgive but the weak do not. But unfortunately in our world today the reverse is the case. Many erroneously think it is a virtue to revenge. The power and the impact of forgiveness can be soothing and reassuring in our lives.
On this note, I enjoin all to forgive and forget all wrong done to you in order to have inner peace and to engender unity and peaceful co-existence in our communities and in our nation.
Hajia Hadiza Mohammed,