With the death and funeral of Nelson Mandela during the past 2 weeks, there has been much talk of the power of forgiveness, but many of us find it almost impossible to forgive quite minor transgressions against us. How often have you said ‘I’ll never forgive you’ in a moment of anger?

Mandela said

‘Courageous people do not fear forgiving, for the sake of peace.’

And also

‘Forgiveness liberates the soul, it removes fear. That’s why it’s such a powerful weapon.’

At the memorial service, South Africa’s Chief Rabbi Warren Goldstein spoke of Mandela’s ‘mighty power of forgiveness’ and how he was able  ‘to forgive and embrace his brothers and sisters who inflicted so much pain on him and millions of others.’

And yet I often hear people say that they are unable to forgive someone for the way they have behaved or for something they have said. Forgiving someone can be really liberating, an inability to forgive will only drag you down and probably have no effect at all on the object of your anger. Holding a grudge even has the power to make you unwell as the years of simmering resentment continue.

There is a concept in Africa of ‘ubuntu’ which is a Nguni Bantu term meaning literally, “human-ness” or roughly translates as “human kindness”; in Southern Africa (South Africa and Zimbabwe), it has come to be used as a term for a kind of humanist philosophy, ethic or ideology. There is no real Western equivalent, but it embraces the idea that we are all connected, all brothers and sisters and that what harms one of us harms us all and that we should all bMandela's cell at Robben Islande concerned with the welfare of others. The Western way of life is much more individualistic whereas in Africa the well-being of the group is more important. This concept enabled reconciliation when apartheid came to an end and in fact Archbishop Tutu titled his book about the reconciliation process, ‘No Future Without Forgiveness’.

Would your future be easier if you began to forgive? Or will your inability to forgive put you into a prison of your own making?

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