Review of Evening Talk, Thinking about Forgiveness, with Peter Gregory on Monday February 8th, 2016

Peter set the scene for the subject of Forgiveness by considering the balance of good and evil and how the world would look like without shadows. The three main components of “Forgiveness” he presented as the victim, the offence and the offender. The room was asked to consider in their groups what Forgiveness actually meant for them. This felt a very productive use of the audience and fielded words and consideration of words like relief, acceptance, acknowledgement, peace of mind, self-healing, release, letting go, putting aside, and also letting of the hook, compassion, responsibility, duality, forgivee and forgiver then “no longer a victim”.

The concept of forgiveness was then considered from a religious and cultural aspect. The earliest mention was at least 4000 years ago, ideas for it being the right of gods, or adding change to karma. Peter went on to help the room consider the implications with respect to community and relationship. Starting to look at the changes or influence forgiveness may have, bringing the possibility of pity, mercy, reconciliation and reparation righting what was wrong. From a counter point of view, the room was encouraged to consider retribution, contrition, penance, “removal of threat”, sincerity and breaking the cycle of hatred.  How much is forgiveness present in the consulting room was considered and which cultures and ideologies allow forgiveness.

Peter considered the connection of Forgiveness and health. He reported that there was only limited published research on the field, some evidence for the positive effects of forgiveness but cited a paper on the impact on health of not forgiving. Recent studies have been published have suggested positive improvements in mental health for those who forgive.

Freud did not use the word forgiveness he did use words such as trauma, anger, guilt, shame and punishment. Current research on forgiveness mainly appeared in the 1990; linked to conflict resolution and restorative justice. According to Derrida “forgiveness is mad, and it must remain the madness of the impossible”. Modern dictionaries attempt to define forgiveness using verbs like “to forgive” or “to pardon”. Peter spoke in trying to move towards a definition of “letting go of negative responses to offender” and “replacing negatives with compassion or magnanimity”. Towards communities he spoke of “aiming for group harmony”, “healing social rifts” and towards offenders the consideration of love and understanding.

Forgiveness is not actually defined in any dictionaries.  Peter asked whether the “eye for an eye” is the only approach and asked it can only be understood through the law of retribution and retaliation. Peter asked the room to consider what forgiveness meant for us as therapists. Is forgiving a virtue or non-forgiving pathological? Is everything forgivable and everyone forgivable?

In outlining the Desmond & Mpho Tutu, Model Peter spoke of telling the story, naming the hurt, granting forgiveness and renewing or releasing the relationship. Peter spoke of not tending to the hurt and going back to the same way of relating but finding a new way of relating. He spoke of the possibility of releasing the burden of hurt from the aggrieved and leaving victimhood.

In conclusion the main themes were notions of action, justice fairness, whether something has to be done i.e. resolution. Are there trust issues and does there need to be time to forgive and recover?

Peter presented the subject that was enjoyed by everyone on the room. All participated in the group work and discussions. Someone on my table reported “he hadn’t expected to be challenged so much by the presentation and that they had come away with a lot to consider”.

Rosswell Gadsden