Panel discusses the meaning of forgiveness

In part of “The F Word: Stories of Forgiveness” exhibit at SCSU, a three-person panel discussed ideas of conflict resolution and forgiveness last Wednesday, April 8, in Atwood.

After March 30, anybody passing through Atwood could stop by and read any of the numerous panels that carried personal testimonies of conflict and forgiveness. The panels were displayed for nearly two weeks in light of United Kingdom-based charity, “The Forgiveness Project.”

To help expand on these stories, the three-person panel, titled “Forgiveness: What? Why? How?” gave perspectives on what forgiveness means, starting around 4:30 p.m. in the Oak room.

After introducing the panel, Roseanna Ross, the mediator of the panel and coordinator of the SCSU Mediation Program, asked the panel “why would anybody want to forgive?”

“Often times people don’t want to forgive, because they don’t want to let the other person off the hook,” said Karmit Bulman, executive director of the Conflict Resolution Center.

Bulman said that she’s found a correlation between forgiveness and one’s well-being.

“The negative responses for you, when you’re frustrated or angry, are meant to happen for a brief time,” Bulman said. “When you hold onto anger and you don’t forgive, that anger actually settles itself in your body…causing a physical illness for you.”

She said that people who are angry for long periods of time may run into a number of physical issues, including heart and immune system problems. Releasing that anger and forgiving can be like escaping from a “prison,” she said.

From there, approaching the subject from a more “traditional [and] religious” standpoint, Joseph Edelheit, director and professor of religious and Jewish studies, said that the “Hebrew bible has nothing to say about forgiveness, and a great deal to say about atonement and repentance.”

“There can’t really be forgiveness, unless you consider the unforgivable,” Edelheit said. “There has to be some point at which there’s a distinction.”

“Those panels are very moving, but they don’t tell you the process through which one reaches that point,” he said. In light of Dzhokhar Tsarnaev being found guilty, Edelheit explained that from the perspective of somebody that was affected by a situation like the Boston bombings, reaching forgiveness might not happen right away.

“The idea of forgiveness in my mind assumes contrition, remorse, repentance,” he said. “I don’t include justice.”

Stephen Jenkins, a psychologist with the SCSU Counseling Center and Psychological Service, gave his perspective of forgiveness based on his 10 years of experience at the Counseling Center.

He said that those who enter and go through the counseling process will eventually confront forgiveness. Not long after that, they’ll have to determine their “readiness” to forgive, he said.

“I think it’s a transaction between who’s been wronged, and the perceived offender,” he said.

The person that has been wronged has to be willing to forgive, and that they shouldn’t be pushed people to forgive, he said.

“To forgive somebody is not to say that you don’t feel the pain anymore,” he continued. “When you forgive, you’re saying that ‘I’m willing to acknowledge you hurt me, insofar as you’re willing to accept a certain procedure.”

He said the process takes work on both sides to complete, meaning that the person who’s wrong is affected by it too. And when people confront this process, he said there may be missed opportunities or there’s not a willingness from one side or the other.

Continuing from Jenkins, Bulman went onto explain that forgiveness can be one-sided. She said that by forgiving, the person who has been wronged can take back their “power,” knowing that they are not responsible for the “offender’s” actions.

“You cannot force somebody to forgive, but time after time, research shows that people get their life back after they forgive,” she said.

With the idea of a one-sided process in the air, Jenkins explained that “acceptance” carries this idea on. Acceptance for the acts that have happened, people can independently move on, he said.

“I think people are more complete after acceptance,” Edelheit said. He explained that while forgiveness requires a method of confrontation, while acceptance allows the person to have “safe space,” and may help a person move forward more so than the act of forgiving.

Ending the panel, Bulman explained that whether it’s called acceptance or forgiveness, “what you’re really after, is to find peace.”

Ross then opened up the floor, allowing for the audience to ask the panelist questions. The panel ended just after 5:30 p.m.

“It’s not a black and white issue, there’s a lot of gray around it,” Ross said.

When this topic comes into the picture, she said people get engaged in “stimulating conversations” about what forgiveness means to them.

“I thought this was an excellent discussion, each came from such unique perspectives,” Ross said. “They demonstrated how it’s not simple, it’s a complex issue.”

“There was overlap about how [forgiveness] restores and heals was clearly seen by all three of them, [but] the process might be different or the words they used might be different,” she continued. “But they are all about restoring and healing.”


Correction: The date was as “…Thursday, April 9…” in print. The correct date is Wednesday, April 8.

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