Episode 152: Forgiveness expert Loren L. Toussaint on the health benefits of forgiving
Luther College professor joins Church News podcast, shares benefits of answering President Russell M. Nelson’s call to forgive
Episode 152: Forgiveness expert Loren L. Toussaint on the health benefits of forgiving
Luther College professor joins Church News podcast, shares benefits of answering President Russell M. Nelson’s call to forgive
President Russell M. Nelson has spoken repeatedly about forgiveness — pleading with Latter-day Saints to end personal conflicts, free themselves from a grudge they may be harboring and forgive someone who has wronged them.
“There is nothing easy about forgiving those who have disappointed us, hurt us, cheated us or spread false rumors about us,” President Nelson said. “However, not forgiving others is poison for us. Grudges weigh us down. Angry disagreements separate us. Animosity and hatred can divide families.
“And yet, the Savior’s counsel is clear: ‘If ye forgive men their trespasses, your Heavenly Father will also forgive you’” (Matthew 6:14).
While forgiveness is important spiritually, a growing body of research shows how forgiveness also affects mental and physical health. Loren L. Toussaint is a professor of psychology at Luther College, the chair of the Discover Forgiveness Advisory Council for the Templeton World Charity Foundation and president of The Forgiveness Foundation. He joins this episode of the Church News podcast to discuss the benefits of forgiveness.
Loren L. Toussaint: Forgiveness just touches us in ways that I don’t think we’ve even begun to fully capture. There are so many positives. We’ve talked about mental and physical health, improvements in quality of life, the ability to help reduce the weight of trauma. And it certainly isn’t the only reason to do it. And being a Christian myself, you know, there’s many reasons to want to forgive. But my belief is that our great Creator provided these mechanisms that help us do better. And so, that’s my hope and prayer for everyone, is that they consider forgiveness, they value it and they experience the true benefits of forgiveness.
Sarah Jane Weaver: I’m Sarah Jane Weaver, editor of the Church News. Welcome to the Church News podcast. We are taking you on a journey of connection as we discuss news and events of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints.
Sarah Jane Weaver: In recent months, President Russell M. Nelson, leader of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, has spoken repeatedly about forgiveness, pleading with Latter-day Saints to end personal conflict, free themselves from a grudge they may be harboring and forgive someone who has wronged them. Quote, “There is nothing easy about forgiving those who have disappointed us, hurt us, cheated us or spread false rumors about us,” President Nelson said. “However, not forgiving others is poison for us. Grudges weigh us down. Angry disagreements separate us. Animosity and hatred can divide families. And yet, the Savior’s counsel is clear: ‘If ye forgive men their trespasses, your heavenly Father will also forgive you’ (Matthew 6:14).” While forgiveness is important to us spiritually, a growing body of research shows how forgiveness also affects our mental and physical health.
Loren L. Toussaint, a forgiveness and health expert, is a professor of psychology at Luther College, the chair of the Discover Forgiveness Advisory Council for Templeton World Charity Foundation, and president of the Forgiveness Foundation. He joins this episode of The Church News podcast to discuss the scientifically validated benefits of forgiveness. Welcome, Dr. Toussaint.
Loren L. Toussaint: Well, thank you for having me. This is a real treat, and I’ve been looking forward to this for a long time. Glad to be here.
Sarah Jane Weaver: Well, I’m so grateful that you would do this. Forgiveness is obviously an important topic to members of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints as well as other faith communities. And over the last few decades, forgiveness has also gained a lot of attention from social scientists. Why do you think researchers are so interested in forgiveness right now?
Loren L. Toussaint: That’s a really good question. And sometimes, we just have to look around us for the answers. And I really think that it’s a growing concern for many people that the levels of hatred and animosity and discord on virtually every level of our human experience — from closest, most intimate relationships with our spouses and children and families, to our interactions at work, to the people that we, you know, go to church with and live and pray with, and all the way up to our community, mayors and governors and leaders of nations — we just find, everywhere we turn, it seems, especially in the last few years, there’s just hatred and vitriol everywhere.
And I think that sometimes people get to a place where things get so bad that they finally come around to considering things that maybe aren’t always the first option. They’re hard to think about. But eventually, you know, we always seem to have this phenomenon where, you know, you kind of finally — the buck has to stop somewhere, and it resides in all of us. It’s all of our responsibility to, you know, create a civil, pleasant place to live. And I think that’s what’s happening. I think that we have gone so far in the direction of expressing our hatred and that people are finally — there’s almost maybe a little bit of a hate backlash that’s developing. And I hope that’s the case.
But it’s also the case that, you know, forgiveness is just an incredibly interesting topic for people of all kinds, but especially for social scientists. And so, I think that’s some part of it. It’s a collection of cultural factors and just the inherent, interesting nature of the topic.
Sarah Jane Weaver: Well, and in the Latter-day Saint faith, our leader has asked us to remove conflict from our life. And as I started to explore what that would take, I started to see conflict in more places, and I started to realize, “Oh, I probably am not forgiving enough.” Do you think this is a hard thing for people to do?
Loren L. Toussaint: Yeah, I think it was — I don’t know if I’ll get the source attributed here correctly; I want to say it was Archbishop Desmond Tutu, who said that forgiveness is easy, but the process is hard. And I always chuckle a little bit whatever I say that, because it seems so true, that really, if you think about forgiveness, it’s really little more than just saying, “I’m done with this. I’m moving on. This is no longer worth my time and energy.” And that’s pretty simple.
I’ve had to, you know, drive through some cities in the U.S. that are a lot more complicated than the simplicity of simply saying, “I’m done with this. I’m going to move on,” and I’m not following multiple directions and changing lanes in several different, you know, interstate systems. And there’s lots of things in life that are very complicated, that require, you know, many, many steps. And yet, the reality is, you know, the process of kind of working through whatever it is you’re dealing with to get to that point that leads to that place where you say, “You know what, this is it. I’m done. I’m no longer going to be wrapped up in this,” that process, I think, can be pretty challenging for lots of people. It’s just not an easy thing to do.
Sarah Jane Weaver: Well, and for our listeners’ sake, I’d love for you to define how you understand and define forgiveness, especially as you approach it as a social science.
Loren L. Toussaint: To say that it’s hard to do is one thing, but then to think about, you know, why is it hard to do — and I think that a good part of that is that so many people are confused or just share different ideas about what forgiveness is. And so, as a psychologist studying this topic, psychological scientists really value the ability to precisely define something, and so when I think about forgiveness, I really think about two things. And sometimes we elaborate on each of these things, but really, it is simply put, letting go of hatred toward someone who has hurt you, and ideally — but maybe not always — ideally, replacing that hatred with something that probably grows from the seed of a loving perspective on someone.
And that is really, at its core, in the simplest terms that I can put it, what forgiveness is; it’s just letting go of hatred, and hatred, oftentimes, it’s filled with all kinds of negative emotions and motivations to want to do harm and thoughts that diminish someone’s value as a human being. But we let go of that, and we try to, you know, in the best cases, we try to replace that with the recognition that the person has some human dignity; we try to empathize with, you know, their broken, fallen state, just like our own; we have some compassion for people that hurt us; maybe we try to think of them in a more positive light. And that’s really the best version of forgiveness.
So sometimes, just to clarify, if you’re cut off in traffic on the way to work and someone kind of rudely gestures at you or something, and by the time you get to work, you’ve kind of just let that go, that’s maybe success, and that’s all you need to worry about. You probably don’t need to replace that hatred that you had for that person with some sort of love-based perspective; you’re probably never going to see him again, and you didn’t know him to begin with. But when it comes to closer relationships, you know, family and friends, you’d probably like to say more than it’s just that you don’t hate your spouse or you don’t hate your kids, right? That’s a pretty low bar. So, you’d like to be able to say that not only do you not hate them for what they might have done that hurt you, but you’ve also returned to a place of being able to love them. And so, that’s how I think about forgiveness: It’s, you know, kind of like an exchange, you know; you’re exchanging the bad for the good in most cases.
Sarah Jane Weaver: Well, and I think your research is so interesting. It’s featured right now in a three-part series that the Church News is running in print and on our website on forgiveness. And I’m hoping you can detail what you’ve learned about how forgiveness affects our physical well-being.
Loren L. Toussaint: Yeah, that’s a really important point. You know, 25 years ago, we knew virtually nothing about this question. And today, I’m able to say that forgiveness is good for your physical health. And it certainly isn’t the only reason to do it. And being a Christian myself, you know, there’s many reasons to want to forgive. But, you know, my belief is that our great Creator provided these mechanisms that help us do better and live happier, fuller, you know, more fulfilling lives, and certainly a good physical health is a key part of that.
And one of the things that we know about the circumstances that we’re talking about here today is that when we get offended, we get hurt. When somebody commits a transgression against us, it really inflames our sense of injustice, and anger is a very common response to injustice. In many ways, you might say it’s a normal response to injustice. But anger is really hard on our physical status. In particular, it’s really hard on our heart. And we’re not really designed to live in this consistently angry state. And so, chronic anger is even worse because it’s kind of exposing you to the toxins of anger on kind of a daily basis. So what happens is that you start to see those consequences of those negative emotions in your physical health; you have higher levels of stress hormones that do harmful things for us.
There’s nothing wrong with stress; it’s an adaptive response. It’s actually good for us, it’s just not meant to be something that’s always getting activated. And so, being, you know, kind of stubbornly angry about something that happened 10 years ago between you and someone else exposes your body to a lot of the kind of just ongoing stress that we don’t really need, stress — not only does it increase, you know, the stress hormones, but it also does things like it changes kind of the way in which your heart is functioning and changes the way in which a lot of organs are functioning. It creates kind of additional muscular tension. It does things in our brain that’s not particularly helpful for us.
And what we find is that forgiveness seems to have its strongest connection to our physical health through its ability to help us cope with stress. And that’s the thing that’s oftentimes overlooked, is people think, “Well, if I could just get back at this person, I’d feel so much better,” but oftentimes, you just can’t do that. There’s all kinds of obstacles to being able to get back at someone, and even if you did — I oftentimes ask people, like, “Even if you were able to just exact perfect revenge here, tell me, how long would you feel really good about that?” And you know, it’s kind of a momentary, savory experience, and then you feel terrible about it.
And so, the idea of forgiveness being connected to our physical health largely has to do with our ability to reduce our stressful responses to being hurt. And forgiveness is really good at that. It’s a calming response to being hurt that helps us soothe those negative emotions, helps us cope effectively with a stressful experience and really attenuates, it dials down, the intensity of those negative responses that have such a toll on our physical well-being.
Sarah Jane Weaver: Well, I have so many thoughts about everything you’ve just articulated. The leader of our Church, President Nelson, he’s a former heart surgeon, a pioneering heart surgeon. I think it would give him the greatest amount of joy to know that forgiveness also physically helps the heart. And this idea that sometimes when we want to go after someone and get revenge, it actually leaves us a little empty and not fulfilled like we think it will, I think is fascinating. Expand on — it feels like as you were talking about the physical benefits, that there’s also great benefits to our mental health.
Loren L. Toussaint: Yeah, absolutely. And before I go there, I’m going to say one thing that I think you just commented on that I’ll maybe just add a bit of detail to. And that is that to be a little bit more specific, we had a very, very large sample of U.S. adults, over 40,000 people, who we asked two simple questions about regarding their kind of tendencies to be unforgiving, to kind of get stuck in feeling unforgiving about things that have gone wrong. And we were able to connect to cardiovascular health problems. And these were both problems reported by the respondents themselves, and then we also asked a follow-up about whether or not those things had been diagnosed by a physician. And sure enough, people that had the most struggles with being kind of unforgiving and being kind of stubbornly grudge-holding, those folks had about a, let’s say about a roughly 25 to 50% increased risk of also having had some sort of cardiovascular health problem in the past year.
And that’s a whole collection of things, not any one in particular thing. But, you know, they were more likely to report having had hypertension or having had a heart attack or other kinds of, you know, there’s a whole list of things that can go wrong with your cardiovascular system. But the unforgiving folks were more likely to report having had those problems. And so, I just wanted to make a quick follow-up about that, because it seems quite relevant here.
But you are correct, that it’s not only your physical health; your mental health and your physical health are intimately tied together. And so you wouldn’t be surprised to find that, if there’s benefits to physical health, there’s also benefits to mental health of forgiveness. And I think we’ve identified that one of the key things we have learned here is that when you are offended and hurt by someone, it is really hard to get your mind off that topic. And I know for myself, that when something else happens to me at work, or, you know — I ride my bike back and forth, as a good professor should, you know, to work — and somebody cuts me off in traffic or kind of honks at me or something, boy, it’s just, the rest of my ride is ruined. And I just don’t like that, because I enjoy riding my bike so much. And I just can’t get off that experience.
Now, my bike ride usually takes me somewhere between 15 and 30 minutes to get to work. And sometimes, something might happen in the first couple minutes, and somebody honks at me and, you know, kind of shakes their fist as they’re driving by, and boy, the next half hour is just ruined for me, even though I’m doing what I love. And part of the problem is that we have these kind of offensive experiences, and then we can’t get off them. We get stuck mentally, and we’re just kind of replaying and rerunning. And if you’ve ever had the experience, and most of us have, of half an hour later, I get to work, and as I’m getting off my bike, I’m walking into my building, and I’m saying, “Boy, that’s what I should have done. I should have, you know, XYZ and said this or that,” I’ve been kind of trying to come up with a plan of perfect revenge there the whole time. And in most cases, I’m probably not ever going to see this person again, and it’s just silly, but what we call this is rumination.
In psychological science, we call this the process of rumination, that we get hooked on kind of a negative thing that happened, and we can’t seem to get past it. We just keep thinking and rethinking and overthinking and reanalyzing. You know, it just becomes this kind of vortex that we get sucked into. And through that process, we end up having some pretty negative impacts on our mental health. A key one, of course, is that you feel really bad when you do that. You keep thinking about this bad thing. Well, it was bad enough that it happened to you earlier, and now you’ve stretched it out into sometimes the entire day that you keep rethinking this thing and overthinking it, and now you’ve brought yourself to a place where your mental health is not doing really well.
And so, the interesting thing about forgiveness is that it helps us to kind of quiet that tendency to keep ruminating and to keep going over this again and again and overanalyzing it. And that means that we’re kind of breaking that mechanism that carries us to this kind of bad place. If you say, “Hey, listen, I’m not doing this. I don’t have energy for this today. I’m just going to decide” — and one of the things we talk about in forgiveness intervention work often is the decision to forgive is a really big one, is — “I’m going to decide. My intention is not to get hung up on this. I’m not doing this today. I’m going to just let this go. And as much as I might have been angry in the moment, I’m not going to let that carry through.” And that is really beneficial for our mental health, for obvious reasons, because you’re not carrying the weight of that thing and thinking about it all day long, and by the time you get home, you’re very grumpy and upset and in a very bad mood. Mental health is really benefited by forgiveness because it helps us avoid those kind of ruminative tendencies.
The thing that I mentioned earlier about stress is another thing that plays into this, that when you forgive people, you experience far less stress about that instance. And stress is one of the strongest correlates of poor mental health that we know of, that anytime we experience stress in our lives, our mental health tends to suffer. And a few years ago, we did a study where we looked at the connection between stress and depressive symptoms, and then we also looked at forgiveness. And we divided people into the most-forgiving folks, the kind of middle-forgiving folks and the least-forgiving folks.
And we looked at the relationship between stress and depression for the least-forgiving people, and we said, “Aha! That’s exactly what we expect.” Stress is strongly related to depression in the least-forgiving folks; that makes sense. And in the moderately forgiving folks, we said the same thing: “Yep, stress is connected to depression.” And in the most-forgiving people, we found that stress was not connected to depression at all. It was statistically zero. There was no connection between stress and depression. And so in that regard, forgiveness can provide kind of a beneficial short-circuiting of these, you know, kind of common connections between stress and rumination and poor mental health. It helps to extinguish some of these things that cause us bad mental health.
Sarah Jane Weaver: Well, and you’ve taught me a whole new concept here. I had never calculated or thought much about this idea of rumination. You know, it’s — we have a conversation that may be filled with conflict, and then I have two more conversations in my mind after, reliving what I should have said, and I think I’ve heard this before, when people use the phrase, you know, “When you choose to take offense, that’s an action. You are choosing to be offended.”
So, what you’re saying is we have a lot of choices, and one is to sort of let things go at the front end right when they happen so we don’t have to deal with them on the back end. Am I understanding you correctly?
Loren L. Toussaint: Yeah, I think so. I think we have to be a little careful here. Some people are in the midst of really terrible circumstances that are not really something they can make a choice about. And if they’ve been systemically oppressed for decades or, you know, years or centuries, you might say there is no choice there. And you’re probably right about that. But in many, many cases, you do have a choice. Yes, absolutely.
And it’s really hard, and especially in the moment, it’s even harder. And nobody’s perfect, but, you know, if you can say a prayer and ask for a big enough heart to see with a compassionate eye the person that maybe just hurt you, said something really negative and critical about your work in the office. And maybe they’re having a really bad day; maybe their children are sick, maybe they have a chronically ill parent that they’re caring for, maybe their finances are really tight right now. Maybe some compassion is due to all of us, right?
Instead of cooking up a story of how you’re going to get back at them and ruminating on that for the next two or three hours, maybe if we could, you know, try to go in a different direction, sooner rather than later, right? These things are like so many things, you know; a small amount of prevention can be worth a whole lot of cure later on.
Sarah Jane Weaver: Well, and I also appreciate this idea that there are some circumstances that are just terribly, terribly hard, when you’re dealing with broken families or deep hurt or betrayal. And those things may just take a little time to work through. Is that right?
Loren L. Toussaint: Yeah. I mean, there’s a really interesting part to that conversation that involves the notion of justice and also kind of invokes a little bit of the concept of reconciliation. And forgiveness, reconciliation and justice are often kind of talked about in the same breath, even though sometimes people don’t even know it. So, part of the way that I think about forgiveness is that it’s not reconciliation. Reconciliation is relationship repair and kind of getting back together with someone, whether that be in a family, a friend or a romantic type of relationship.
And, you know, forgiveness is about kind of cleansing your heart and letting go of the hatred, and you can do that without getting back with someone. And if someone’s hurt you, especially physically or emotionally abused you, you probably don’t want to get back with those people and make them part of your lives and develop relationships. It’s probably not good advice, right? And so I certainly wouldn’t want to encourage that. But it doesn’t mean you have to hate them for the rest of your life. You might eventually be able to move to, at very minimum, a place of neutrality, and just say, you know, “I’m kind of indifferent, you know, toward them at this point,” you know. And hopefully, maybe at some point, you might even be able to see them as being human, and you might have a little bit of generosity toward them at very least.
And so, you know, I think justice is also a key issue here, that some things are wrong, they need to be made right. But justice is a justice system. They’re built into societies, into civilizations, and oftentimes, justice and forgiveness can overlap, but they don’t always overlap. And so, just because you haven’t gotten justice doesn’t mean you can’t forgive. And likewise, just because you get justice doesn’t mean you will forgive. And I think it’s really important as we think about some of these, especially larger social issues.
Some people have been harmed in ways that may never be able to be made right. You know, hundreds of years of harm have transpired, and, you know, we might all be at a loss at how to fix that, especially in any immediate term. But that doesn’t mean that people have to hold hatred for — there’s a concept of generational transmission of trauma, but there’s also a notion of generational transmission of hatred. And we certainly don’t need to, you know, take that as a given. There is a way to break the cycle, and I think forgiveness is a really big part of that equation.
Sarah Jane Weaver: Well, and now your research has expanded way beyond your academic circles and even the United States. What have you learned about forgiveness in other countries and in other cultures?
Loren L. Toussaint: Yeah, a couple of studies that we’ve done recently here come quickly to mind. I was talking about this link between rumination and forgiveness, and we did a cross-cultural study between U.S. citizens and citizens of Korea. And the interesting thing about, you know, folks in that area, in Korea, in that part of the world, is they have a very different worldview, often. It’s what we call collectivistic and kind of highly prizes the family, the group, the community.
And of course, in the United States, we have a very individualistic perspective, where it’s kind of, you know, “Me first. I think about myself first and others second.” And so we weren’t exactly sure — I mean, forgiveness as we think about it is really kind of something that happens within you. We think of it as kind of a change of heart, and it might not translate real well to other collectivistic cultures where maybe you’re more focused on group dynamics. But sure enough, what we found is that forgiveness is related to less rumination in U.S. and in Korean citizens. And that decrease in rumination is linked to better mental health in both cultures. And so, that was kind of an interesting finding.
Likewise, we’ve done studies in the U.S., looking at ways to teach forgiveness, kind of like a forgiveness intervention, a little workbook intervention. And we found that when you teach people a few things about how to kind of help them forgive other people, they become more forgiving, and they also feel better; they have better mental health and so forth. And so we took that intervention to India — again, a distinctly different collectivistic type of society — and did that same intervention there, again, you know, with the question about whether or not it would translate real well. But the answer was, again, affirming because the effects of a forgiveness intervention in India are very much like the effects of a forgiveness intervention in the U.S.
And so, I certainly wouldn’t want to say that forgiveness is a universal, but I kind of do. I mean, it certainly does have cultural aspects to it, and folks in collectivistic cultures think about it differently than folks in individualistic cultures. But, that said, I think there is a very high value placed on forgiveness around the world. And certainly the world’s major religions all value forgiveness. There is no doubt about that.
To the extent that religion has influence on culture, it certainly does. Forgiveness is one of those things that’s a high standard for many people. And, you know, kind of irrespective of borders or your location, it’s something that’s very highly valued by most people. And it seems that the ways to get there — the ways to help people become more forgiving — and the benefits of forgiveness seem to hold across, you know, many different locations and across many different borders.
So, in a nutshell, I think what we’re learning is that there’s probably more — and this is probably true for many things, right? There’s probably more alike about us around the globe than there is different. And we all value forgiveness. We all want to be able to practice it. And when we do, it kind of unlocks ways of being able to flourish better in our world.
Sarah Jane Weaver: And I’m interested in your personal journey, because, you know, your resume is very impressive, especially when it comes to this topic. And you’re involved in charitable foundation work as well as research. How did you come to decide forgiveness is an important topic for you, it’s something you wanted to study?
Loren L. Toussaint: Yeah, I think I can say I had great models of forgiveness growing up in my family and in my community, and I had a very, very strong upbringing in Christian values. And so my formation as a young person was to value forgiveness, and really to understand it as a requirement of Christianity. And so I’ve been interested in it personally, from a very young age. And it’s been important for me to get forgiveness and also to give it when necessary.
But my kind of trajectory as an adult, it really developed, it kind of crystallized for me, as I was — this is probably, some people might think that maybe there was an aha moment somewhere along the line, but that really isn’t the case. I did all of my doctoral training and earned my Ph.D. and then had something of a, not really a crisis, but a moment where I had to answer the question “What do you want to do with your career? You’ve had all of this really great training and, you know, fortunate to be able to develop these skills and have all this education,” and I’m very, very blessed in that regard. And I felt a certain — I’m sure it was a prompting of the Holy Spirit and some, you know, vocational quest to kind of help point me in the right direction. But I had this moment where I had to figure out what my contribution would be.
And I had a couple of different opportunities. I think, in some part, the field of positive psychology was just beginning as I was earning my doctoral degree, and I had a couple of opportunities to do postdoctoral research. And they both involved studying at the very earliest stages the topic of forgiveness, and I thought about it, and I prayed about it a little bit and talked to my wife about it. And we kind of agreed that forgiveness would be something that would be really worthwhile pursuing and trying to understand better and putting the tools that I had developed and the skills that I had been given to use in some way that would really benefit humanity. It would be meaningful and impactful and helpful for people.
And so I went to the University of Michigan, I did a postdoctoral research fellowship with an incredibly brilliant man, Dr. David R. Williams, who’s now at Harvard and has been a longtime mentor and friend of mine. And that was the kind of beginnings of it all, is that I kind of learned how to study forgiveness with him, and once I got started with this, I couldn’t let go of it. And I still can’t. It’s something that drives me every day.
I want to know more about forgiveness, I want to be able to understand it better so that I can share better with others, doing things — like this very discussion this morning — that hopefully resonate with people. If there’s even just one or two things that someone takes away and says, “Wow, that’s really — never thought of it that way,” or “This is helpful to me,” or “This is something that maybe I should consider, I should do,” that’s what I’m all about. That has been the thing that has driven me for the last 25 years, and I don’t see — I certainly hope I don’t stop. And you know, with the blessings of good health and energy, that’s what I plan to do for the foreseeable future.
Sarah Jane Weaver: Well, I can’t imagine a better topic to devote your life to research to than this one. So please accept our thanks for the work you do. I also wonder if you have advice, you know, when you think of people who are just down and desperate and have found themselves in a place where either through own actions or through the actions of others, they need to figure out how to make a change. I’m intrigued that in many 12-step programs, you have an amends or something where you need to go to people and try and make things right as part of your own personal healing.
So, what advice do you have for anyone who either needs to seek or give forgiveness?
Loren L. Toussaint: Yeah, my advice in that regard is — I think the word that comes to mind is “openness.” Remain open to the possibility that you can be forgiven, No. 1, and remain open to the possibility that you can forgive. And I think that’s sometimes the hardest part of forgiveness, is that it is just hard. And often, people just don’t have the stamina. It’s a really difficult thing to hold on to. And I oftentimes liken it to things like, you know, people say, “Well, I want to eat better, or I want to exercise, or I want to get more sleep or be more organized.” And those are always great intentions, and I always applaud, you know, people — I’m around a lot of students often, so I say, “Oh, that’s great, you know, good for you to make these positive changes. But, you know, what specifically are you going to do?”
And that usually stops people kind of cold in their tracks; they just came to me with all this enthusiasm about how they’re going to, you know, eat better or exercise more or sleep more, or whatever. And I said, “Oh, that’s wonderful. What exactly are you going to do?” And they hesitate and think, “You know, I guess I hadn’t thought about that.” So, remain open to forgiveness, but also think specifically about “What could you do? What specific thing could you do to make that more of a reality?” right? Is there one thing that you might try? I mean, simple as, you know, could you consider apologizing? You know, maybe you don’t even feel like you’re all that much in the wrong, but offering some form of apology might be helpful, right? That might be the key that turns the lock.
Or, you know, if you’re thinking in the reverse way, you know, “How can I forgive this person?” Like, could you even consider a reality in which something like this could have happened and you might have been the offender that did this? You know, like, could you empathize with someone who has hurt you in such a way? And that could be the thing. So I think it’s just a matter of staying with it, the stick-with-it-ness is really important, remaining open to the possibility of growth and change in this regard. And then, you know, just thinking about, specifically, what steps can you take, what things can you do to move forward in forgiveness?
Sarah Jane Weaver: Well, and we do have a tradition at the Church News podcast, where we always ask our guests the same question, and we always give them the last word. And so today, as we draw this conversation to a close, you’ve spent 25 years documenting the benefits of forgiveness. What do you know now about forgiveness that you didn’t know before?
Loren L. Toussaint: Yeah, another great question, and thank you for the opportunity to respond. I think what I know now that I didn’t know before is, No. 1, I think everyone is innately interested and in need of forgiveness in some way, shape or form. It applies to all of us. It is perhaps one of those things that, you know, is just part of the very fabric of our humanity, is that we both need forgiveness and we need to give it, and we need to do so freely. I think in the, you know, in the years that I’ve spent studying and teaching about forgiveness, that has become immensely clear; it is truly a human experience that applies to all of us.
And the other thing that I’ve learned is that forgiveness just touches us in ways that I don’t think we’ve even begun to fully capture. There are so many positives. You know, we’ve talked about mental and physical health. But we haven’t mentioned the benefits to happiness and improvements in quality of life, the help that it offers people who are in both physical and emotional pain, the ability to help reduce the weight of trauma.
Forgiveness is just one of these things that goes hand in hand with really living your fullest life and flourishing wherever you are at, whatever you’re doing, whoever you’re with. And so, that’s my hope and prayer for everyone, is that they consider forgiveness, they value it and they experience the true benefits of forgiveness.
Sarah Jane Weaver: You have been listening to the Church News podcast. I’m your host, Church News editor Sarah Jane Weaver. I hope you have learned something today about The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints by peering with me through the Church News window. Please remember to subscribe, rate and review this podcast so it can be accessible to more people. And if you enjoyed the messages we shared today, please make sure you share the podcast with others. Thanks to our guests; my producer, KellieAnn Halvorsen; and others who make this podcast possible. Join us every week for a new episode. Find us on your favorite podcasting channels or with other news and updates of the Church on TheChurchNews.com.