Why It’s Big Of You To Forgive The Little Things

Amy Westervelt talked to professor Frederic Luskin, who has spent ten years leading forgiveness classes at Stanford, about the importance of pardoning everyday transgressions:

‘Even the stuff that forgiveness was supposed to be good for – stuff like murders … it’s so rare,’ he told me. ‘More important is can you forgive your brother-in-law for being annoying? Can you forgive traffic? Those things happen every day. Big things? They happen once in a lifetime, maybe twice. It’s a waste of forgiveness. That’s my perspective. But forgiveness is really important for smoothing over the normal, interpersonal things that rub everyone the wrong way.’

Part of what makes the word – and practice – tough for people, in Luskin’s view, is that it requires a degree of selflessness. ‘For me to say, “Even though you were a shithead, it’s not my problem; it’s your problem, and I’m not going to stay mad at you, because that’s you, not me,” that’s a huge renunciation of self,’ he said. ‘And I don’t know whether it’s our [Western] culture or a human thing, but it’s hard.’

Plus it requires acknowledgement of our fundamental human vulnerability, without getting angry or bitter about it. ‘A lot of times people start with this idea that “I shouldn’t have been harmed”,’ Luskin said. ‘Why not? We live on a planet where harm happens all the time, where children are murdered and horrible things happen; to think that you should escape that is a mammoth overstatement of your own importance and a lack of sensitivity to everyone else on the planet.’