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COLUMN: The fine art of finding forgiveness

Chris McDonald

“As I walked out the door toward the gate that would lead to my freedom, I knew if I didn’t leave my bitterness and hatred behind, I’d still be in prison.” — Nelson Mandella

“My father asked, have you forgiven them? I told him that I have not ever felt angry toward them. Not even as small as an atom, or a nucleus or a proton or a quark. Never angry.” —Malala Yousafzai

Hello friends. As you begin to learn my writing style, you will find that I always like to set off my columns with an epigraph. Today, I felt that I needed two. So, here we go.

The first epigraph is attributed to former South African President Nelson Mandella in a response to a question from a reporter on the day he was released from Victor Verster Prison in Breede River DC, South Africa. The second is from Nobel Laureate Malala Yousafzai, the young Pakistani girl who on Oct. 9, 2012 was shot by two Taliban assassins in retaliation for her activism in bringing awareness to the lack of educational opportunities for women and children in her home of Swat, Pakistan where the Pakistani Taliban banned girls from attending school.

So, you may ask, “OK, McDonald, you’ve given us these quotes, so what’s your point?”

Well friends, my answer is this: these people forgave other humans for the atrocities that had been imposed upon them. Let me say that again, they forgave other humans for imprisoning them and for attempting to assassinate them.

What kind of level of faith and forgiveness does a person have to possess to grant forgiveness to those who have done wrong to them?

Forgiveness lets people out of prison. Hate, disenchantment, grudge, wrath and any other adjective you may attribute to Mr. Roget’s finest publication will eat a person alive. Forgiveness not only sets the person you are forgiving free from those bonds, it allows you to be freed from your own “prison.”


According to an article on PragerU.com by Dr. Stephen Marmer of the UCLA Medical School, there are three types of forgiveness: exoneration, forbearance and release.

Exoneration is wiping the slate entirely clean and restoring a relationship to the full state of innocence. Forbearance applies when the offender makes a partial apology or mingles their expression of sorrow with blame that you somehow caused them to behave badly (think gaslighting and narcissistic behavior). Release is removing your bad feelings and your preoccupation with the negative things that have happened to you.

I truly believe that release is the most important concept that Dr. Marmer puts forth. According to the article, “Release does something that is critically important: it allows you to let go of the burden, the ‘“’silent tax’”’ that is weighing you down and eating away at your chance for happiness. If you do not release the pain and anger and move past dwelling on old hurts and betrayals, you will be allowing the ones who hurt you to live, rent free, in your mind, reliving forever the persecution that the original incident started.”

Now think back to my two epigraphs, especially the Mandella quote. “…if I didn’t leave my bitterness behind, I’d still be in prison.” There are far too many divisions throughout this country today. There is far too much hurt. There is far too much pain. If we are to recover, if we are to reconnect, if we are to survive, we must learn forgiveness.

Our happiness is in the balance. Free your mind, leave the prison, learn to love and forgive.

Christopher McDonald is an accomplished educator and military veteran with experience in print and radio.

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