“Christmas is traditionally a time for forgiveness, and that’s something I know rather a lot about. Through my work, I’ve seen many inspirational, shocking and moving stories of people who’ve been through tragic events and who still manage to find the strength to forgive the person who has caused them. With so many gatherings at Christmastime, it’s common to let emotions run rife. But while it’s easy to have a short fuse in such charged situations, it’s important to embrace the spirit of giving that comes with the season and to learn to let go of grudges. Christmas isn’t all about giving material gifts – the gift of forgiveness is one that a price can’t be put on, and it is worth everything.
As a freelance journalist, I was always coming across extraordinary stories. One day, I was sitting on my sofa watching TV when I saw a tale about a father whose daughter had been accidentally killed by her doctor. I watched as the father crossed the hospital room and walked over to the doctor, who was overcome with grief and regret for what he had done. As the father approached the doctor, I thought he would hit him – but instead, he hugged the doctor and said he forgave him, as they both broke down. I was so moved by his acceptance of the doctor’s humanity, I couldn’t get it off my mind. In a time where we are so inundated with sad stories about retribution and tragedy, it was refreshing to see a story that ended with forgiveness instead.
What happened next began as a personal project. I began collecting stories of those who had been through something seemingly unforgivable, yet somehow managed to forgive the person who had been the cause of their hurt. From victims of rape to kidnapping, I was in awe of what they had all been through. A photographer friend took photos of all the storytellers, and one day, I chanced upon a meeting with the human rights activist (and The Body Shop founder), Anita Roddick. She saw the stories and was so moved that before I knew it, our project was being featured as an exhibition in London with her help. The exhibition, The F Word, blew people away – even today, as it travels around the world, people tell us it leaves a lasting impression on them.
Forgiveness is deeply personal. It can take years, and what it means to each person can vary vastly depending on the situation. To forgive is never easy – it can be costly, time consuming and exhausting, and of course its nature will depend on the situation and the attitude of the individual trying to forgive. But it is always healing. Once you find yourself able to cease feeling resentment, it can set you free. We received a letter from an NHS worker saying that our exhibition had really struck a chord with her because as someone working in the medical profession, specifically with trauma victims, she could really see the physical effect forgiveness can have on a person’s wellbeing.
Some people wonder, ‘Why bother?’ But if we don’t learn to let go, it can leave us lost in a downward spiral, trapped in the past. Emotional wounds can’t ever fully heal until you’ve learned to move forward. Some people worry that by forgiving someone, you’re saying you don’t care about what happened and that you’re giving up. In fact, it’s quite the opposite – it’s giving yourself another chance at living. Allowing the past to swallow you up will only poison your mind forever, and you don’t want your life to be defined by what you’ve gone through. Choosing to forgive someone should always be just that – a choice. Forgiveness should never be an obligation, because the moment we feel like it’s something we have to do, that’s when we begin to resent it, and it loses the power it can achieve. People don’t always choose to forgive and that’s okay – they can simply choose to let go of the past and move on instead, recognising its value in saving you from yourself.
So how do we forgive? Acknowledge and accept what happened. Sit down and ask yourself if you really want to live like this and try to put yourself in the perpetrator’s shoes – no matter how much you might feel those shoes don’t fit. Think of your future and how much better life could be if you didn’t dwell on your hurt. Let go of your anger and resentment, choose not to think of yourself as a victim and let yourself be empowered by your decision. Eventually, you might even find compassion and understanding.
While I’ve been lucky enough to have never gone through any major traumas, I have had my fair share of hurt and have had to struggle to find it within myself to forgive. Sometimes, it’s the little things that help; take things one step at a time. If someone cuts you off in traffic or makes an irritating noise in the office, rather than get annoyed, take a minute to try and understand why they’re acting that way, then let it go. It’s a release, and your life will be all the better for it.”
INFO: To learn more, visit www.theforgivenessproject.com.