by: Marianne Szegedy-Maszak


W hen psychiatrist Edward Hallowell heard about the funeral of a Boston sportswriter, he was told that one person was conspicuously missing from the congregation: the journalist’s former close friend. The two had quarreled several years before and had never been reconciled. NOW, one man was going to his grave without the reassurance of a old, dear friend, while another would be unable to ever properly grieve a friend’s passing. The story set Hallowell of on a two-year exploration of the phenomenon of human forgiveness. The result is “Dare to Forgive” (Health Communications), out this week, which examines forgiveness from its biological and psychological perspectives and offers a road map for getting over grudges.

Just what is forgiveness?

Most people today would say forgiveness means turning the other cheek, or letting the other person get off scot-free. BUT, it means none of these things. For me, forgiveness means renouncing the hold anger and resentment have over YOU! Not that you will cease to feel anger and resentment, but you don’t allow them to rule you life.


Are there physical effects of forgiving?

F orgiving someone is at least as beneficial for your health as wearing a seat belt or taking vitamins or losing weight. Really!

Walking around with anger and resentment raises your blood pressure and your heart rate. It even reduces the potency of your immune system. Anger is good for you in the short run; you need to be angry at times just like you need to sneeze. BUT, prolonged anger is very bad.(very bad). Nature, with all her wisdom, wired us to do well in the jungle and did not anticipate a time when we would not be in constant danger. To date we have not learned just how to control these primitive impulses. I offer in the book a very good way to control them.

You mention empathy as a strategy.

YES! Empathy attaches you to a better part of the human condition. A Buddhist

monk who was tortured by the Chinese Communists said that the worst part of his torture was his fear that he would lose his empathy for his torturers. Now, most of us, myself definitely included, are not capable of such empathy. But this individual monk was advanced enough to know that he was at his best in this world when connected to his loving, empathizing function. AND, if he lost that, then he risked becoming like the people who inflicted torture.

What is the role of forgiveness in the larger world?

Since 9/11, the world seems saturated with vengeance and aggression. But forgiveness is much better because ,with it, we become much more clever and effective negotiators and peacemakers. Americans forgive so regularly in public life that we don’t realize how extraordinary it really is. For example, we are about to have a long hard-fought and nasty campaign. Yet the day after the election in November, we will accept whoever wins. We wouldn’t have a revolution. We can forgive when we want to, really WANT to.

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