Let me begin with the end: no one ever reaches the final stage of their life and thinks “it feels great to still be so angry at him/her.” So how do you forgive someone when every fiber of your being resists? We will all inevitably be wronged multiple times by various degrees in our existence, and to dig deep into the well of forgiveness may prove to be our most challenging endeavor. But we all have the innate need to forgive those who hurt us, even when the harm has no remedy, because to allow it to fester within us can destroy us.
In a recent experiment, artist Karen Green created The Forgiveness Machine. It was a strange seven-foot-long plastic apparatus that allowed people to write down whatever they wanted to forgive or be forgiven for. You put the piece of paper with your forgiveness wish in at one end and it was sucked through the machine and shredded at the other end. Voilà! Instant forgiveness. People lined up for this and there were so many wishes submitted that the machine eventually broke down.
The machine was inspired by the mixed emotions Green felt about her late husband, author David Foster Wallace, who had committed suicide. She felt abandoned and struggled to forgive him so, like all great artists, she chose to channel her pain into her craft. It was obviously a personal catharsis, but imagine her reaction to the rush of people who all carried their own burdens of forgiveness to use her machine.
There is resounding scientific data that supports forgiving someone of their wrongdoing has the power to benefit us. The stress, anger and emotional toll can have a devastating effect on us physically and psychologically. We harbor destructive thoughts and feed on negative energy that descend us into a downward spiral. But we can help ourselves. To perform the act of forgiveness mitigates these health risks: it lowers blood pressure, increases our ability to concentrate and focus, and can positively change our entire outlook on life. It is a powerful gift and we are all empowered with the ability to let go of a long held grudge or let a loved one off the hook. But forgiveness is no easy task and it starts with a conscious decision: a choice to let go of resentment and thoughts of revenge; a commitment to a process of change by placing value on reconciliation.
Let’s turn the table and examine apology as this plays a big role in our ability to let go of a wrongdoing. A mea culpa, or any degree of shared responsibility, can go a long way to opening the door to forgiveness. Sharing the burden can grease the skids, offering a display of empathy and humility. Without it, the refusal to acknowledge that a wrong was committed can make the ability to forgive exponentially harder. Extending the olive branch is often the hardest step, albeit necessary, as the two parties have to engage to start the dialogue. Scars run deep and we can build up things in our mind that snowball out of control. Communication, without too much emotion, can sometimes break down those walls and gently set us on the path for reconciliation.
If you have forgiven in the past, recall how you felt after making amends. It feels good to let go of anger and resentment and frees you to focus on the positive aspects in your life. That’s because forgiveness is not something we only do for other people but rather we do it for ourselves, to get well and move on. It is a gift to ourselves. So step up to your own Forgiveness Machine and find a way to live to forgive.