Sometimes the most relevant lessons come from the pages of history. I have been watching a series of interviews of holocaust survivors recently. Packed with gut-wrenching and hard-hitting moments, one of them was survivor Eva Mozes Kor’s speech. Just a 10-year-old girl then, Eva and her twin Miriam were spared death only to be used for horrific medical experiments. Filled with anger and hatred, Eva silently pledged that they would not die at the hands of the doctors. They both survived, but Miriam always remained weak and passed away later due to kidney complications caused by the experiments.
Decades later at a seminar, Eva got an opportunity to closely interact with one of the doctors involved in the experiments. It was then that she finally decided to give him the ultimate gift — of forgiveness. As hard as it was to do, Eva felt a lifetime’s burden lifted off her shoulders that day. She wasn’t entangled with hatred anymore, and her memories were no longer tied to his. She felt free. In a world that expects revenge, Eva decided to honour herself, her family and the other victims with the gift of forgiveness. “I believe with every fibre of my being that every human being has the right to live without the pain of the past,” said Eva. Here’s someone who lost everything — family, her childhood, her identity, in the most tragic events of history — and still felt that there was more power in forgiving, so she could finally be free. What a powerful message to send down to generations.
We’ve all been wronged at some point of time, at varying levels of unfairness. It’s only natural and healthy to feel anger or to get even, but does anything ever truly get restored by holding it within? It’s like holding a ball of fire in your gut and hoping the other gets burned. Research has shown a decline in the mental and physical health of individuals who are unable to process such stress, along with increased levels of anxiety, depression and weakened immunity.
What forgiveness looks like
Forgiveness is not an act of weakness; it is in fact, the deepest symbol of self-healing and self-empowerment. It does not mean that you are overlooking the offense and letting the other ‘off the hook’. And it does not even mean that you will forget.
In relationships and even in the workplace, you can forgive someone, but still give them radically candid feedback about their actions. This can help to strengthen relationships (when delivered with kindness and respect). A direct communication is important for interpersonal relations, especially after conflict. It shows a way out of stagnancy, and a way forward.
Forgiveness requires awareness of self and society, as well as the capacity to move beyond one’s present emotions to a more expansive state. Forgiveness, although often quite challenging, is a step in taking your power back. It is also about claiming your personal boundaries.
Forgiveness to self
Forgiveness is also something you show to yourself. Why hold on to something you did years ago? Let it go, release the pain, process it. Work on self-awareness and focus on progress rather than perfection. Be kind to yourself. Meditate, journal, love, laugh, find a way to forgive your own misgivings, and you will see how much you can actually contribute to the world with those special gifts which only you have.
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