Ethical Wills 101: Part Five ~ Expressing Forgiveness

It’s appropriate that this week’s ethical will article is about forgiveness. At sundown on Monday, September 22nd, Rosh Hashanah began, one of Judaism’s High Holidays. It’s a ten day observation that amongst other things is a time for introspection, asking for forgiveness and giving forgiveness.

All of the world’s major faith’s include forgiveness as a principle tenet.

Buddhism ~ To understand everything is to forgive everything. (Buddha)

Christianity ~ Be kind and compassionate to one another, forgiving each other, just as in Christ God forgave you.” (Ephesians 4:32)

Islam ~ Keep to forgiveness, and enjoin kindness. ( Qur’an 7:199-200)

Judaism ~ When asked by an offender for forgiveness, one should forgive with a sincere mind and a willing spirit. . . forgiveness is natural to the seed of Israel. (w:Mishneh Torah, w:Teshuvah 2:10)

Implicit in these admonitions is the realization that an important foundation of a healthy individual and society is an avoidance of anger and revenge. Today ‘s medical researchers are also discovering that forgiveness has positive health benefits. Katherine M. Piderman, Ph.D., staff chaplain at Mayo Clinic, Rochester, Minnesota, lists thirteen benefits from practicing forgiveness.

  1. Lower blood pressure
  2. Stress reduction
  3. Less hostility
  4. Better anger management skills
  5. Lower heart rate
  6. Lower risk of alcohol or substance abuse
  7. Fewer depression symptoms
  8. Fewer anxiety symptoms
  9. Reduction in chronic pain
  10. More friendships
  11. Healthier relationships
  12. Greater religious or spiritual well-being
  13. Improved psychological well-being

It’s important to remember that forgiveness is not forgetting or condoning bad behavior. You may never be able to forget someone’s unwarranted actions. But forgiveness can release you from the grip of resentment and thoughts of revenge.

An ethical will is a place where you can not only forgive others but can also ask forgiveness for hurtful actions on your part. Forgiveness is not easy. It is a slow process that begins by reflecting on how a particular action has made you feel and your commitment to work toward forgiveness. You can find out more about this process at Learning to Forgive and The Forgiveness Institute

Exercise One: Take your ethical will notebook and turn to a blank page. At the top write “Forgiveness”. It may strengthen your “forgiveness muscle” by doing a little warm up exercising. For the next seven days, at the end of each day, write down a list of incidents that occurred to you that you’ll forgive. They can be trivial or serious. And don’t forget to forgive yourself for mistakes you might make. Here’s a sample list:

Day One –

* I forgive the driver that tailgated me.

* I forgive the rude clerk in the grocery store.

* I forgive myself for being late for an appointment.

* I forgive my friend for forgetting my birthday.

As you write down each of your forgiveness items, take a deep breath and as you exhale let go of any lingering anger or judgment. Remind yourself that the past has passed. Focus on the present knowing that clinging to old grievances will do nothing but keep you unhappy.

Exercise two: Make a list of all the times you can think of where you have wronged various people in your life. Now at the bottom of your list write the following, “I’m not perfect. I make mistakes. With the wisdom of hindsight I would have behaved differently. That was the past. Now I forgive myself for my actions and move on.”

Exercise three: Take time to reflect on the years you’ve known the person to whom your writing your ethical will. Recall any incidents where you still harbor some grievance towards that person for something that was done to you. Now write the following, “With all my heart I want to express my forgiveness for the time when…….” For example, “With all my heart I want to express my forgiveness for the time when you challenged my decision to leave my corporate job and become self-employed.”

As well as giving forgiveness you may wish to seek forgiveness from this same individual. Again think of times when you may have wronged that person. Now write, “Please forgive me for the time(s) when……..” For example, “Please forgive me for the times when I’ve not acknowledged your help with my parents. I’m truly sorry.”

Check out the following books for more help.

Forgive for Good by Dr. Fred Luskin

Forgive and Forget by Lewis B. Smedes

The Art of Forgiveness, Lovingkindness and Peace by Jack Kornfield

Next week in our Ethical Will series, Part Six ~ Regrets, Achievements and Hopes.

Photo by Hamed Saber

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