“Forgiveness had never been my forte, nor my aspiration. If I thought of forgiveness at all, I did so with disdain, as something weak and almost pathetic,” writes award-winning journalist Megan Feldman Bettencourt in this wide-ranging and revelatory exploration of forgiveness. Armed with a batch of serious and sobering questions, she travels throughout the United States and even to the heart of Africa.
Here are a few of the questions she asks: “Is forgiveness merely altruistic and self-sacrificial, or is it also motivated by self-interest? Is forgiveness possible after the most extreme of offenses, such as genocide? Is forgiveness natural, and does it provide health benefits? What are the roles, and the importance, of apology and redemption? How does forgiveness help sustain interpersonal relationships? Is forgiveness a onetime event, or a habit? And, if individuals can practice forgiveness, what about communities and even nations?”
The story that serves as a catalyst for her re-framing of forgiveness is the one of Azim Khamisa who befriended the youth who killed his son and then began with him an organization teaching nonviolence in public middle schools. Among the many other examples which follow are the Fetzer Institute’s study of love and forgiveness (with 43 scientific studies on the health impacts of this spiritual practice); the forgiveness therapy of Dr. Robert Enright; and Dr. Frederic Luskin’s ongoing workshops and research studies at Stanford University’s Forgiveness Project.
In addition to scholars and scientists who provide the author with input are individuals such as a burn surgeon, a recovering alcoholic, and a genocide survivor in Rwanda; programs that facilitate forgiveness in schools; and a mountain summer camp where Palestinian and Israeli teens came together to confront the obstacles to forgiveness and reconciliation.
Most surprising to Bettencourt is her discovery that meditation and compassion in the Buddhist tradition open hearts and serve as a spur to serving others. She closes with two inspiring segments on restorative justice and peacemaking as offshoots of the spiritual practices of forgiveness and empathy.