Authored by: Louise Pelletier
I recently attended an advanced training session on Forgiveness and Reconciliation in Mediation with Kenneth Cloke. In the mediation world, Ken is known as a guru so I was fairly confident that the sessions would be valuable. If I can walk away with one ‘nugget’ of information that is going to help me improve as a mediator and as a person then, in my view, the conference is worth it. I wanted to share one of those ‘nuggets’ with you.
Forgiveness can be a troubling concept for some people. I grew up in a culture where if someone hurt you, they were ‘expected’ to apologize and you were ‘expected’ to forgive them. The way I understood it, the reason to forgive others was to ‘release’ them from the ‘burden’ of their ‘transgressions’. Wow! That’s a lot of responsibility thrust on the forgiver.
Ken Cloke shared a different definition of forgiveness that was more in line with my beliefs:
Forgiveness is about releasing yourself from the burden of your own false expectations.
I immediately connected with the word “false” (whereas others in the group struggled with it). Is it ‘false’ to expect that we are going to be treated fairly, with compassion, with respect, etc.? Of course not! What connected for me and what I think Ken was pointing out was that we can’t expect that others are going to treat us well or meet all of our expectations at all times. If we are in relationship with others, it’s inevitable that they are going to say or do something at some point that doesn’t meet our expectations and that may even be hurtful. To expect otherwise would be unrealistic or ‘false’. Furthermore, if we have experienced multiple hurtful moments with someone, it can be difficult to let those moments go especially if we feel we’ve tried but haven’t been able to find resolution. Holding on to unresolved conflict can affect our lives and lead to unpredictable consequences that range from minor to drastic.
Ken shared the following Five Steps to Forgiveness as one way of letting go:
- Remember exactly what happened in your conflict with the other person, and how it made you feel.
- Imagine vividly what must have happened for the other person and how it felt for them.
- Identify all your expectations that the other person didn’t meet and identify all the reasons for not forgiving them.
- Choose to:
- Release yourself from the burden of hanging on to your expectations and the reasons for not forgiving them, or
- Identify what it is going to cost you (emotionally, physically, healthwise, to your well-being) to hold on to those expectations and the reasons for not forgiving them.
- Design and execute a ritual of release.
If forgiveness is about unburdening ourselves, it’s hard to find the downside in that!