Yesterday, as I was driving home, it was announced on the news that Oskar Groening, a 94-year-old former guard at Auschwitz, had been sentenced to 4 years in jail for being an accessory to the murder of at least 300,000 Jews.
The announcement was followed by an incredibly moving interview with Eva Moses Kor, survivor of Auschwitz who lost 119 members of her family in the Holocaust and was experimented on by Dr Josef Mengele.
She has publicly forgiven Groening and, at his trial, she shook hands and accepted a kiss from him. She has also forgiven “all Nazis” for what they did. She notes that forgiving does not absolve the perpetrators of their own guilt or suffering but it set her free and enabled her to move beyond thinking of herself as a victim.
“I believe with every fibre of my being that every human being has the right to live without the pain of the past. For most people there is a big obstacle to forgiveness because society expects revenge. It seems we need to honour our victims but I always wonder if my dead loved ones would want me to live with pain and anger until the end of my life.”
“Forgiveness is really nothing more than an act of self-healing and self-empowerment. I call it a miracle medicine. It is free, it works and has no side effects.”
This is forgiveness on a humbling scale. Yet it serves as a great reminder of how forgiveness is a key factor in resilience – the effective recovery from difficulties so you can move forward positively.
Forgiveness is one of the 24 Character Strengths associated with life satisfaction, health and personal success.
Forgiveness actively undoes hatred and allows people to move forward successfully. For example, a research-based forgiveness training program in Rwanda was linked to reduced trauma and more positive attitudes between the Hutus and Tutsis there. A study of people who learned forgiveness skills in war-torn Sierra Leone found that they reported feeling less depressed, more grateful, more satisfied with life, and less stressed afterward.
Research suggests that forgiving others can make people feel happy, especially when they forgive someone to whom they feel close. It’s good for wellbeing too. When we forgive, our stress levels drop. This is the opposite of holding a grudge, which causes our blood pressure to increase and, according to some studies, compromises our immune system, making us less resistant to illness.
Forgiveness sustains relationships: If we feel hurt or disappointed, holding a grudge makes us less likely to sacrifice or cooperate with others, reducing trust and commitment, so driving us further apart. Studies suggest that forgiveness can stop this downward spiral and repair relationships before they dissolve.
And forgiveness elevates others; we are moved by the strength of the action and contact something deep longing within our own selves to be better and nobler.
Forgiveness is just one of the 24 Character Strengths that help people be more resilient. Nurturing Character Strengths leads to more personal fulfilment at work, better performance and stronger, more authentic organisations. Contact us to find out more about how you can achieve more success by building your strengths.
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