You are on page 1of 10


Brenda Tanjani
The power of forgiveness

Forgiveness is set to be one of the hardest virtues to perfect. But once conquered,
forgiveness can [set a nation free], dissipate built up anger, bitterness and animosity, releasing an
enormous amount of pent up energy that can be used in much more constructive ways. (The art
of Forgiveness: Differentiating Transformational Leaders, Kets de Vries M. F.R., 2013, pg. 3)
This is one of the many definitions of forgiveness, the majority of which are derived from
religious, cultural and political principles. The common thread that runs through all of them is
freedom, choice and change. In each situation where forgiveness is involved, whether personal,
professional or spiritual, there will always be a tipping point, where the choice we make will
either enslave us or liberate us, instill trust or insecurities, bring respect or disdain, improve
feelings of resentment or love and tolerance.
Using the approach of an inverted pyramid, I will start by comparing three countries in
Africa, that were faces with choosing forgiveness in order to bring change and progress, the
outcomes of their decisions, and how those three countries can be likened to us. I will discuss the
importance of forgiveness in a work environment, share a story of forgiveness between brother
sister and how the knowledge of the gospel is the key to unleash the power of forgive.
Forgiveness can break the chains of oppression and bring freedom. In my mind there has
never been a better example than that of my people, the South Africans. The year 1994, when we
tastes freedom. I remember the day like it was yesterday. I spent the whole day queuing up for
my mother to vote for the first time. I was too young to vote, but not too young to understand

what was actually happening. History was been made, a new dispensation was about to begin,
and I was part of it. The world watched, wondering and anticipating that chaos was about to
erupt. Blood would be shed and the oppressor would finally be punished for his transgressions.
(Tutu, 2007). I cannot say that the thought did not cross most black South Africans minds. I
believe that most of us thought that this was an opportunity to avenge the past, but that did not
happen. Instead the world thrilled as they witnessed change. Change that proud peace and hope.
A new South Africa, were forgives and reconciliation was possible. Nearly everyone described
what they were witnessing as a virtually bloodless, reasonably peaceful transition from injustice
and oppression to freedom and democracy as a miracle. This would have never happen if
forgiveness did not play its [liberating role].(Tutu 2007).
Forgiveness may bring liberation but the lack thereof may even wipe out a country. On 6
May 1994, exactly 1 month before the first elections in South Africa, on the same continent, the
complete worst happened. Over 800,000 men, women, and children perished in the Rwandan
genocide, perhaps as many as three quarters of the Tutsi population. This was the result of the
conscious choice of the elite [Hutus] to promote hatred and fear to keep itself in power. Hatred, anger and
bitterness has the power destroy a nation, wipe it off the face of the earth. It can also turn the
good into evil, freedom into slavery, happiness into sadness, it can turn a country once called
the bread basket of Africa into a hallow shelf of hunger and desperation, Zimbabwe. The
president of Zimbabwe, Robert Mugabe made a decision to evict all white farmers from their
land through violence, intimidation and some farmers lost their lives. The results of that decision
almost wipe out a whole nation, the economy crashed completely, basic resources like water and

lectricity became a luxury. Disease and poverty swept through the country. Life in Zimbabwe
changed forever.
South Africa chose to forgive. If a nation can forgive endless years of abuse, oppression
and racial injustice, what about you? How do you react when someone hurts you? Is the first
thing that comes to your mind revenge? Do you want to make that person feel what you are
feeling? Are you going to hold a grudge for the rest of your life? These are some of the questions
that de Vreis (2013) asked in his article. These are mind provoking questions and I would like to
add this question. When you take a long look at your life, are you more like Nelson Mandela, a
Hutu or Robert Mugabe?
You may think that forgiveness is only necessary in situations I have described above but
forgiveness is necessary everywhere theres human interaction, even in the workplace. Most of
us have some appreciation for the healing nature of forgiveness in our personal lives, even if we
do not always practice it. But, in the world of work it is an act even more rare than the expression
of authentic gratitude and appreciation. (Michael Stone, 2002, pg. 278). The workplace can be
viewed as that part of our lives where everything has to be structured, our emotions have to be
aligned with company rules and regulations, or so it seems. We feel that we have to be perfect,
we cannot make mistakes and if we do, we feel that we have failed and there might not be any
way we can redeem ourselves. In his article Forgiveness in the workplace Stone sets the record
straight. In this economy which is characterized by escalating speed of change, increasing
alienation and a growing search for meaning, it makes good business to practice the art of
forgiveness. (pg.278). Businesses cannot afford to lose good employees it has invested time and
money to train in order to improve skills, because of contention in the workplace. The effects can
be dire. Stone continues to add that forgiveness allows for greater creativity and innovation,

leads to increased profitability and generates greater flexibility in adapting to changing market
conditions. (pg. 278). I would have never thought that forgiveness could have such a rippling
effect on business. I have witnessed that lack of forgives can also kill the moral of the
department and hope for improvement may be lost. I worked in a department with six ladies and
2 gentlemen. Unfortunately is has become common knowledge that this can become a recipe for
disaster. In her article I Cant Believe She Did That: Why Women Betray Other Women at
Work, author Nan Mooney notes that women, attack underground while continuing to appear
warm and friendly on the surface. This became evident in our department. Yolanda joined our
team towards the end of 2013. She was excited and eager to learn and improve herself. She
realized after a couple of incidents that all was not a well. She addressed the issue with HR
department to her detriment. Our supervisor and her close friend and co-worker started
victimizing her. All her little mistakes became huge to a point where there was constant shouting
and screaming. The whole department was affected. I tried to help her, but that upset the
supervisor even more. The situation escalated to a point where she was depressed, miserable and
hated her job. She eventually decided to resign, without notice.
The Holy Spirit does not dwell in a place where there is contention. Yolandas experience
was a true testimony of this statement. The Lord said He that hath the spirit of contention is not
of me, but is of the devil, who is the father of contention, and he stirreth up the hearts of men to
contend with anger, one with another (3 Ne. 11:29). How does the devil use contention as a tool
to draw us away from the Lord? Thornock, (1980) gives a perfect answer to this question. He
knows that contention feeds the selfish feelings that surface, enlarging themthus creating
distance between our real selves and our ideal selves, between our actions and our beliefs. (pg).

The supervisor knew that she did not treat Yolanda appropriately but she was convinced that the
situation warranted it. She was selfish in her approach.
Forgiveness brings peace of mind and liberates the heart. Yolanda was treated unfairly
and the situation forces her to resign. In South African labor law this is called a Constructive
Dismissal. It is defined in Section 186(e) of the Labour Relations Act, 66/1995, as :(e) an
employee terminated a contract of employment with or without notice because the employer
made continued employment intolerable for the employee. An employer who coerces an
employee to resign may well find that the Commission of Conciliation, Mediation and
Arbitration (CCMA) makes a sizeable financial award to the employee, as much as 12 months
pay ( Yolanda had an option and a right to pursue this route, but she
opted not to. She chose the path of forgiveness, to rid herself of the anger, pain, frustration and
depression. But does this mean that her choice to forgive is a reflection of the supervisors
repentance? Her decision was based solely to benefit her. What about the perpetrator? What part
does she play in this process of forgiveness? President Spencer W. Kimbal (1969) has this to say
about the offender The plaster must be as wide as the sore (pg. 353). Her repentance
should be equal to the pain she caused in order for true forgiveness to take place.
On the other hand Jesse Couenhoven (2013) in his article Focus of Forgiveness has
this to say about this type of forgiveness, where the offender does not even apologize or
acknowledge the magnitude of their involvement in influencing someones life. it drains the
idea of forgiveness of its significance, undermines the sense of meaning and inspiration the term
still widely stirs...(pg. 378). Couenhoven believes that using the word forgive to describe what
you have decided to do about the persons that has wronged you is not appropriate. He say the
best words to use may be overlook or getting over, which would seem to serve just as

well. He says that forgiveness has a deeper meaning, it is a rich concept, There is no one
meaning for forgiveness He goes on to say that most discussions about forgiveness has been on
what we all agree on and this has only served as a defending front. So, what else is there to
know about forgiveness? Is there something we are missing? Is it not as straight forward as
following an outlined list of steps on how to forgive? The answer may lie in the motive behind
There may be different motives behind the reason to forgive. Enright, Robert D (1998) in
his article The Psychology of Interpersonal Forgiveness highlights the following motivations
of forgiveness, It is a wiping out of the wrong, a making undone what has been done. Another
one is forgoing of punishment [of the transgressor] and excusing the wrong doer. These
summarized definitions view forgiveness at different angles. It seems that the context,
relationship, type of offense, background, culture, religious influence and the gravity of the
transgression somehow defines the motive behind forgiveness. I will discuss one of those
motivations, relationships.
Relationships are the binding cord of society, especially in families. We are social beings,
we need to associate with others in order to exist. We cannot live in isolation. De Vries (2013)
views forgiveness as a three dimensional interactive process. It includes the person who
forgives (and must in the process forgive themselves), the person forgiven and the relationship
between the two. (pg. 14). This ties up perfectly with an interview I had with a friend. She was
physically and emotionally abused by her brother for many years. She hid the truth from her
parents and friends until she witnessed one boy hitting another boy the same way her brother
used to hit her, at a boys camp. All the memories of her brother hitting her came flooding back
and she realized that she had been grossly abused by her own brother. She went through a

process of acceptance, talking to her parents and her brother. She is now going through
professional counselling to help her overcome her emotions. One thing that puzzled me about her
story is that she blames herself for her brothers appalling behavior. She feels that she could have
stopped him somehow. Why does she blame herself? Will she ever be able to truly forgive him if
she cannot forgive herself? What does is say about her personality?
The ability to forgive may lie in our genes, our personality. Based on a research by Costa
& McCrae, (1992), de Vries (2013) states that people scoring high of neuroticism more
hostility are more likely to engage in revenge and avoidance motivation. Those with higher
levels of extraversion and conscientiousness have sometimes been found to correlate
significantly with higher levels of forgiveness and people with scoring higher on the
agreeableness dimension are likely to be more forging and the openness to change. (pg. 16)
Our personality traits can also be influenced by religious background and principles. In
the case of my friend and her brother, she mentioned that the only way she could exercise
forgiveness was through her understanding of the atonement of Jesus Christ. In Alma 7: 11 it
reads Now the Spirit knoweth all things; nevertheless the Son of God suffereth according to the
flesh that he might take upon him the sins of his people, that he might blot out their
transgressions according to the power of his deliverance; and now behold, this is the testimony
which is in me. In trying to understand the meaning of the atonement and the scripture above in
relation to my friend and her brother, would I be correct in saying that the atonement means that
the Savior Jesus Christ has already paid the price, the full price for the brothers sins and has felt
the physical and emotional pain that my friend has felt and continues to feel as she is sometimes
reminded of the past, and thus this understand will bring to her mind peace and ability to forgive
and to the brother knowledge and willingness to repent? What do you think?

I have learned that there is power in forgiveness and that power lies in the decision to let
go in order to bring about change mind, attitude and in the people that have wrong us. This
change can in turn bring freedom to exist without burdens of past transgressions. Is it wrong to
expect the other party to acknowledge what they have done? Because "to every forgiveness there
is a condition. The fasting, the prayer, the humility must be equal to or greater that the sin. There
must be a broken heart and a contrite spirit. There must be "sackcloth and ashes. There must be
tears and genuine change of heart..." (The Miracle of Forgiveness, Spence W. Kimball [1969],
This sounds really great but it is not always what people do. Yes, they might say they are
sorry but how do you know if they really meant it? I think that the most important thing to do is
forgive them anyway not for them but for yourself. I have learned that it is best to pray for
strength to handle the things that are within your control - like your emotions - and to leave the
rest to the Lord. Seeking true forgiveness may prove to be a futile exercise. Forgiveness brings
peace of mind, rests the heart and opens the eyes to many beautiful things that they may not
otherwise see. The benefits of forgiveness more than outweighs holding a grudge, seeking
revenge or retribution.
I have suffered the pains of not forgiving. I know how it feels to allow anger to dictate
your every move, what you say, how you react to children, when and how to smile and your day
is decided before it begins because of not being to let go. It is not worth it.

Book of Mormon, Alma 7:11
Contention and how to eliminate it, A. Lavar Thornock, 1980
Costa and McCrae, 1992
Desmond Tutu (
Elder Jeffrey R. Holland, 2008
Forgiveness in the workplace, Michael Stone, 2002, pp. 278-286
Focus of Forgiveness, Jesse Couenhoven, 2013, Journal of Religious Ethics, Inc
I Cant Believe She Did That: Why Women Betray Other Women at Work, author Nan Mooney
The Miracle of Forgiveness, Spence W. Kimball [1969], 353)
The art of Forgiveness: differentiating transformational leaders, Mandred F.R Kets de Vries,


The Psychology of Interpersonal Forgiveness, Enright, Robert D, 1998