Wednesday, November 23, 2005

What can you not forgive?

I've just submitted a big think-piece on good and evil and fear and recovery - plus some other stuff - for the Sunday Times, it will be out this weekend. So I have been doing a lot of thinking.

And now I am interested to know what visitors to this blog think is not forgivable.

Rape? Murder? Torture? Imprisonment without trial? Terrorism?
Lying about why we went to war?
Preaching hatred and perverting a faith?
Planning mass murder?

Please, would you let me know? All suggestions welcome. Please link, if you can, the more answers, the better.

Over to you.
Thank you.

R x


Anonymous Jen said...

I think that we should aim to be capable of forgiving every wrong doing - but just because we forgive, does not mean that we forget, or feel any better about what has been done to us. Your blog has been inspirational to me - keep up the excellent writing.

November 23, 2005 3:39 am  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Hi Rachel,
I sort of go along with what Jen said, but before forgiveness can be given there must be an acknowledgement that one has done wrong, an apology and the wrong-doer must ask for forgiveness (otherwise the whole thing is meaningless).

I suppose on that basis Suicide Bombing can't be forgiven. The bomber can't acknowledge they've done wrong, can't apologise and can't ask for forgiveness.

What is important is that the Bomber's friends & family do not share any blame.

One must also consider whether a bomber's family apologising on their behalf is sufficient to earn forgiveness or whether the (7/7) suicide bomber's don't need forgiveness because they were "brainwashed" or "mislead" and that it is the teachers who need to be forgiven.

Maybe the bombers can be forgiven but not the bombings and not the organisers.

It's also important to distinguish between anger and lack of forgiveness.

But this is me talking and I've never been in a situation even remotely close to this & I don't know how I would feel if I were. Revenge is a very strong driving force...

An interesting choice of debate, Rachel. What are your thoughts, you've been there.

All the best,


November 23, 2005 9:28 am  
Anonymous Betty said...

I'd say that forgetting is unforgivable.

November 23, 2005 10:27 am  
Blogger Rachel said...

Thanks for the responses so far. I have written a big piece on it so you can read all about it in the Sunday Times News Review, think it will be out *this Sunday (*obvious plug) .

I don't try to forgive, because I am not religious, and it seems to me to be an intelectually forced position if you are not ready to forgive, to insist that you try to forgive regardless because it is 'better for you to do so'
( says who? why?). And I can't forget. What I try to do instead is to move past the pain and anger, to balance the actions of hate-filled individuals on a scale with the actions of the moderate millions. I have written many times about how my faith in humanity was strengthened not weakened after the events of July, and that is what I hold onto. If you do the maths, there is more good than evil in the world. I try to sidestep the evil, to understand why people turn to it - because of narcissism, fear, anger and alientation which destroy empathy and so, one's innate humanity. Instead I do what I can to defeat it - by saying when I am afraid, by not bugging my anger to myself but by letting it go and by not being alone or alienated - by being united with other humans.

November 23, 2005 11:20 am  
Blogger Ally said...

For me, forgivness comes with understanding. Everyone has motives for what they do, conscious or unconscious. But an acknowledgement of wrongdoing or an apology is probably necessary for most people to forgive.

I find individuals and private figures easier to forgive than public ones.

You can't forgive an institution - or I can't, anyway - there are too many people involved. Hence I don't find all the things that you list that are products of governments or organisations forgivable per se. But it is possible to forgive the individuals involved, particularly if they express regret.

I find things done to bolster people's sense of power the most difficult to forgive; hence I will never again vote for the Labour Party whilst Blair is their leader ... and maybe not even then, as I believe they have become corrupted with a sense of their own importance.

However, I have forgiven the guy who date raped me, as I was able to look behind the act and understand some of the issues that were affecting him. The same with a violent ex boyfriend.

Forgivness doesn't always come easily and it should not be confused with forgetting, excusing or validating.

Does that make sense? An off the cuff response that I probably need to think about a bit more ...

November 23, 2005 12:12 pm  
Anonymous Antipholus Papps said...

I would like to be able to forgive Tony Blair for: lying to the nation in order to plan and wage aggressive war; complicity in torture; the destruction of civil liberties; the merging of state and corporate power; the murder of Jean Charles de Menezes; the privatisation of the tube... I could go on. I find it impossible to forgive the man while he remains in power. Perhaps once he is safely behind bars in Nederland I'll be able to let it go.

November 23, 2005 12:24 pm  
Anonymous Dream said...

For me there is nothing which can not be forgiven. Yes, when something happens it shocks, it hurts, but tomorrow it will be gone. I can't dwell on things which aren't positive.

As Ally said forgiveness comes through understanding. Sometimes its hard to understand, and sometimes there is nothing to understand. But I give forgiveness freely and accept just because I do not understand doesn't mean there is noting to understand.

I am a great believer that we are individuals responsible for our own lives and actions, but for all our individuality we are part of society. We have responsibility to the wider group, our individual actions do effect others and we must acted in ways which are reasonable.

As such, I can forgive all things. It is hard. But if I am attacked on the street by a youth, who has been failed by education, his peers or parents. Shouldn't I forgive them, offer them a chance, because no one else has. Aren't I part of the society which has disenfranchised them, given them few options. Shouldn't I be responsible for them. And isn't my forgiveness going some way to be responsible, be up beat and positive.

And maybe, just maybe, they will forgive and see a different way forward in their lives.

November 23, 2005 12:35 pm  
Blogger Broken Verses said...

To err is human and to forgive 'divine'. Age old and a blase term. I think in today' world forgiving is something we all do in one way or the other. Only we dont forget,

ps: out of everything u mentioned I think Murder and Rape are the most unforgivable.

November 23, 2005 1:40 pm  
Blogger Rhys said...

I'm afraid I cannot answer that question, as fortunately I have never been in a situation where I have felt that something is unforgivable. I'm a tolerant person, and I've forgiven everything that has happened to me.

If anything, people are getting tired of my forgiveness, I have been told that I apologise to much, so much so that they've started to think that I don't mean my apologies. Forgiveness can work both ways....

November 23, 2005 2:14 pm  
Anonymous Nebojsa KOVACEVIC said...

Dear Rachel
Sorry to post a message that is actally not a comment but I tried to find your email on the site without succes. I hope that you have the comments forwarded to your email adress, I will post one on the first an last post.
I have read your history and I would like to ask you if I you would accept an interview with me. I am a freelance journalist based in Mexico and I ma writing in several newspapers in Latin America. One of the new pess agencies I work with focuses on events told by people that were present.
I started to be interested in politic subjects since the Yugoslavian war because I'm from Serbian Origin and some of the members of my family is involved. I assure you that the article will not be a morbid description of what happened to you but simply your story in your own words.
I hope that you will accept my request and thank you very much for your attention.
my email:

November 23, 2005 10:48 pm  
Blogger She Weevil said...

Hi Rachel I have read a couple of your things mailnly directed by Ally over at Ducking for Apples. For me forgiveness is a weird thing - after several years I managed to firgive a person who had abused me as a child (not to their face but in my head) and it gave me an enormous sense of relief and tranquility. The anger dissipated and I got a very real sense of well-being from it.

However, I find myself unable to forgive my mother-in-law for the lies she has told to others about things I have said and done and the reasons behind them. The anger is gnawing at the very bones of me and though I know that to forgive her would be the best thing for me, I am unable to do so.

Rationally, I believe that the child abuse was a more serious and damaging 'offence' but the slight and the fact that she has induced others to think ill of me has had a more permanent effect. Discuss.

November 24, 2005 11:38 am  
Blogger Jean said...

I will read your article on Sunday. I have only just found your blog, though I read your diary on the bbc news website and was grateful and appreciative of your courage in sharing your experience and your talent for writing about it.

I think forgiveness is an intention and a process, something we can all try to do in order to release ourselves from past pains and traumas, though it may take a long time and only ever be partial. It may seem impossible, but frequently repeated conscious intention is remarkably powerful. This is a traditional buddhist practice, and a lot of people down the ages have found it to be a powerful one. It is a process within the person who has been wronged. It doesn't necessarily imply any approach to the wrongdoer, although it may. It certainly doesn't imply excusing or condoning; even understanding may be impossible; but forgiveness is something else.

However, I have never been the victim of anything like a terrorist bomb attack. Who knows, how, could any of us know, how we'd feel? None of us can tell anyone else what to do or how to feel, only hold each others' feelngs in compassion. But if it is possible, in time - and of course it may be a long time, when you have suffered something terrible - to release anger and hatred, surely this must be something to aim for.

I'm not sure that what I mean by 'forgive' is much different from what you mean by 'moving past the pain and anger'. Much love to you, Rachel, as you try to do this.

November 24, 2005 2:19 pm  
Blogger Random Reflections said...

To me forgiveness is about not being beholden to someone or allowing them to somehow influence my life, particularly when I may not want them to.

If I don’t forgive and instead harbour thoughts about that person that make me angry or bitter or resentful I allow that person to continue to influence my life.

If my forgiveness is conditional on them being able to admit or acknowledge that they did something wrong then I am again allowing them to influence my life. If forgiveness is conditional on the actions of that other person, if they are dead then it seems that forgiveness would never be possible.

Instead I see forgiveness as something that I do because it is to my benefit. That sounds really selfish putting it as starkly as that, but I guess ultimately we can only truly control our own part in something and so that is what we have responsibility for. So if forgiveness is the issue then the only part of the process we have any control over is whether I as an individual forgive.

But to me this seems to leave two questions:

First, what is forgiveness?

Is it saying that what someone did was ok or does not matter? Does it mean that we have to forget what they did? Does it mean being reconciled to that person? To me the answer to all of those questions is no. Depending on what the ‘offence’ was reconciliation etc might be possible but I don’t see it as an integral part of the process. In a lot of ways I find it easier to say what I think forgiveness isn’t rather than what it is beyond finding a way to be at peace about something so that it no longer has a hold on me.

Second, how do you actually go about forgiving someone?

Another difficult question. As suggested by others, empathy could be part of that but you can end up excusing someone’s behaviour and making them purely a sum of their circumstances. I don’t think someone raping a woman ‘excusable’ because, for example, they themselves were abused as a child. It is still an act that violates another in one of the most extreme ways possible. And, of course, others who may also have been abused as a child don’t go on and rape. We take away any responsibility from the individual if we empathise too much.

However, empathy can perhaps take some of the ‘heat’ out of the situation and help us to understand it from their perspective a bit.

I think in someways it is about making an active decision to not allow something or someone to control you. Sounds so easy, doesn’t it? What if that person is continually making things difficult for you?

I don’t really know the answer but will continue to think about it. Forgiveness is a really difficult issue.

November 24, 2005 5:13 pm  
Blogger cheesemeister said...

I have trouble forgiving those who take the lives and wound the souls of others with no regard. Maybe my unconditional love chip has ceased to function. But with all the pain that certain people cause to others, I don't see it starting to function again anytime soon!
May we one day all rise above the strange need to harm each other and find peace.
Best wishes,

November 25, 2005 8:11 am  
Anonymous Vera said...

I think forgiveness to another human being is always possible for anything. If we try to understand what motivated a person to act - whether it be personal inadequacy(hello Mr Bush), mental illness, weak will - we will find some basis to at least explain it.

So I think that to forgive is actually easy. But to forget those actions is impossible, more so if it was the rape, murder, or terrible assault of a family member.

Continuing to live with a bad memory is the challenge we face.I think 'closure' is a myth. You just think less and less often of what happened. And I think that part of that is considering whether the murderer, rapist, whatever, regrets their actions, or even understands the impact of what they did. Not necessarily an apology, but it would help, if it was meant.

I don't want to have to be anonymous, but I don't have a blog or a website and I don't want to put my email address up. Sorry.

Vera J

November 26, 2005 12:28 pm  
Blogger The Social Worker said...

Who could grant forgiveness? Who should be forgiven?

November 27, 2005 5:24 am  
Anonymous annie said...

Rachel, I just read your piece in the Sunday Times and I was very moved by your courage, and I was also very impressed by your writing talent. I live in Israel and survived a bus bombing way back in 1978. Thank God I walked away with just superficial injuries. Your description of the bombing brought back all my suppressed memories.

As for who can we not forgive, firstly we can't forgive those who don't ask for forgiveness and who show no remorse for their act. That would include suicide bombers. I wouldn't dare to comment on forgiving rapists, having thankfully never been in your situation. I can only admire again your courage and fortitude in getting your life back on track.

November 27, 2005 10:01 am  
Anonymous Tess said...

Hi Rachel
Just wanted to say that I have just read your piece in the Times and it was absolutely brilliant!!!!!!!!!!It is a beautifully written piece.
On the forgiveness question, I tend to go on the belief that you should not judge a man till you have walked a mile in his moccasins. I think forgiveness is such a personal issue and is about coming to terms with what has happened, as you so wonderfully show in your article.
Thanks Rachel and please keep writting.

November 27, 2005 10:11 am  
Anonymous Tess said...

Hi me again, just wanted to say I have been reading more of your stuff and wanted to say that you are most definitely a writer. I am sure you are a very talented advertising director, but your writting is amazingly moving and your decriptions make it so vivid.

November 27, 2005 10:39 am  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Having read your article in the Sunday Times, we felt honoured to have made your acquaintance, even in this vicarious way. My wife and I were amazed at your calm courage, resolute forebearance and ability to see things logically, and without self-pity.
We hope that your new career involves counselling others, as we feel you have much more to give.
God Bless.

November 27, 2005 5:29 pm  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

I read your article in the Sunday Times - can we keep on forgiving - rape - bombings - murder - some time ago a palestinian boy was killed by israeli police - they thought he had a gun - it turned out to be a toy - he was taken to an israeli hospital - he died - his parents donated his organs knowing they would save the lives of israeli people - this resilience - this bravery is what counts - this forgiveness is what makes us human. To hate forever and to never forgive is like losing your life over and over and remaining a victim.

November 27, 2005 10:06 pm  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

I think you should try reading anything by Marianne Williamson - she is excellent on the subject of forgiveness.

November 28, 2005 11:04 am  
Blogger Cheryl said...

Hi Rachel
Thank you for starting this train of thought. Its a bit wordy (and unlikely to be read through by many!) but I blogged it and linked to you. Hope that's OK.

November 29, 2005 2:30 pm  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Thank you Rachel for what you wrote in the Sunday Times - You are an inspiration to us all.

I believe that whatever happens to us can be used for good or bad and you Rachel have certainly blessed many others through your experiences.


The bible says, “Forgive and you will be forgiven.” (Matthew 6:12) But I believe that there is more in these verses then is at first apparent. If we take a look at the context of the verses we read:

“And forgive us our debts, as we also have forgiven our debtors. And bring us not into temptation, but deliver us from the evil one.
For if ye forgive men their trespasses, your heavenly Father will also forgive you. But if ye forgive not men their trespasses, neither will your Father forgive your trespasses.”

The bible definitely tells us to forgive in these verses. We are also warned against temptation – the temptation of unforgiveness. All life works through sowing and reaping – springtime and harvest and so we must forgive in order to be forgiven…


Forgiveness is sometimes a very long process. God knows that. He also knows our weaknesses and our challenges. That is why He said “ deliver us from the evil one.” We do not always want to forgive. Someone suffering as Rachel did, may think that they have good grounds for being unforgiving.

It is a question of priorities. The first thing that Rachel needed was healing, not being forgiving, and that can take time. Forgiveness can only come after healing – not normally before so the whole question of forgiveness is not an easy one. It needs time, effort and guts.

Dear Rachel certainly has guts and is an encouragement to us all.

Roger Bulpitt

November 29, 2005 6:04 pm  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Dear Rachel,
I have read your article in the Sunday Times and found it to be so moving and full of clarity. Thank you for your words.
I and my family were in the Boxing Day Tsunami and although we all survived physically unharmed it has been a difficult year.
You wrote about the holding hands of strangers; where I was in Sri Lanka I remember every time us survivors walked past each other we would touch a hand or a shoulder, just a passing contact to convey our warmth and humanity and companionship.
We too have stayed in contact since for which I am so glad.
I have nothing to forgive, the Tsunami was a force of nature. That has relieved me of the need to face that path.
Thank you for the humanity you show in your article.

December 01, 2005 9:27 pm  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

The Tsunami was not a force of nature, it was caused by Man's interference with nature. It was not inevitable.

December 08, 2005 1:42 am  
Blogger Rachel said...

Thank you for all your thoughts. It is a fascinating subject and I'd love to see a TV series exploring the subject of forgiveness.

Your comments made me thing like mad over the last 2 weeks and have pushed me to engage further with the issue and so with my own healing.

Anon, the evidence is that the Tsunami was a natural disaster

I know that there is a conspiracy theory about drilling scientists but as I have said before, this website is not the place for conspiracy theories, please.

December 08, 2005 7:25 am  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

If someone does not acknowledge they did wrong, what ever that wrong is, AND would repeat that action they should NEVER be forgiven. Refusing to forgive with an unrepentative abusive person is therapeutic. Just knowing that you will not allow it to happen again is healing.

April 20, 2006 6:28 pm  

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