Although the spiritual teachings surrounding forgiveness have been with us for many centuries, in all of the world’s great religions, it appears to be a concept that is coming into its day. Maybe it’s because Oprah Winfrey and the experts on her show referred to its importance again and again over 25 years. Maybe it’s because of the emergence of transpersonal psychology, and various holistic medicine modalities, increasing our awareness of the mind-body connection. Perhaps it’s because of a plethora of new medical and psychological studies about forgiveness and health were funded by the Templeton foundation at the end of the 90’s and throughout the following decade. These studies have found that there is definitely a connection between the emotional toxicity of stored resentments, and stress-related illnesses; they have also proven that forgiveness is a potent intervention that reduces stress.
In addition to the nearly 4000 new medical and psychology studies in these last 15 years, there is a growing field of theory, expertise and evidence around forgiveness: 26 models and methods, over a dozen books and experts.
What seems to be true now is that many more people are willing to entertain the importance of forgiveness to health and happiness, and the conversation has shifted from, “Why should I forgive?” to “How do you forgive?”. In the 25 years that The Midwest Institute has been bringing forgiveness trainings to the public, we have seen a definite sea change in the public awareness of forgiveness; we believe it is about to take its place in our collective viewpoint as an important life skill and a good health habit; it’s time to look at the toxic effects of hate and resentment as a public health issue.
There is still a point of confusion in our public conversation about forgiveness, however. Forgiveness is often confused with reconciliation, which is what happens when broken relationships are actively restored with a process of one person requesting to be forgiven, and the other party granting it. It is important that as we go forward, distinctions will be made between forgiveness, reconciliation, and restorative justice. Forgiveness, in the way it is taught by The Midwest Institute for Forgiveness Training, is a private, healing process that an individual performs, for their own peace and relief, and it does not necessarily involve communication or future relationship with the offender.