Extraordinary Stories and Scientific Benefits of Forgiveness

 

Story 1: Sahr & Nyumah from Sierra Leone.

Nyumah: I was a small boy when the war entered my village.

Everyone packed their bags and began to flee to Guinea. We met the rebels on the road. They looked at me keenly and said, no. They would not let me pass. I was captured. While I was with them, they also captured my friend by the name of Sahr. I knew Sahr very well. We grew up together.

Sahr: This war really destroyed me. When the rebels invaded, they captured me in the bush and my father too.

Nyumah: They commanded me to beat Sahr up. I refused and said, this is my friend; I won’t do it.

But the rebels weren’t making a request. They were issuing a command. A rebel fighter raised his gun and aimed it at me.

Then they shot me.

The bullet pierced me on right side, just at the hip. I felt I had no option. I turned on my childhood friend.

I beat him.

Sahr: The rebels handed me a knife.

They told me to kill my father. But I told them I wouldn’t kill my own father.

The rebels handed the knife to Nyumah. At gunpoint, they ordered him to kill my father. Fearing for his own life, Nyumah took the knife. He slit the throat of my father.

Nyumah: But in my mind, I thought my friend would not blame me. I was forced to do it.

After the war was over, a nonprofit group named Fambul Tok began to organize reconciliation ceremonies in different villages.

Fambul Tok is Creole for family talk. And it’s an old tradition. It’s as old as Sierra Leone itself.

The reconciliation ceremonies call for community members to confront one another in a public setting, admit to wrongdoing and seek forgiveness from people they have hurt.

Myself and Sahr attended a Fambul Tok gathering. By now, we were young adults.

Sahr: The man that did this to me is here. I saw him. The man that beat me and killed my father is here. The man who did this to me is here. He is right there. This is the man.

I pointed to Nyumah.

At the time that I said, the person who did this, he’s here in the audience, I became quite emotional. And he actually approached the other boy seemingly in a kind of moment of anger. And one of the others in the village stepped forward, pulled me back a little bit to ensure that we didn’t actually engage in some sort of, you know, physical tussle. So there was a very tense moment where we were very close to each other. And the boy who had actually committed this crime then admitted.

Nyumah: They gave me a knife to kill his father. I took that knife and cut his father’s throat. But what I did was not my choice. Please forgive me.

Sahr: I have accepted, and I have agreed to forgive him.

They reconciled more than five years ago. What happened afterwards? Did Nyumah and Sahr remain friends? Anthony Mansaray at Innovations for Poverty Action tracked down Nyumah and Sahr. A few weeks ago, he went to their hometown in Kailahun district in eastern Sierra Leone. Anthony found that Nyumah and Sahr have not only stayed in touch, but they have remained friends.

The friend who killed the father now occasionally helps the boy whose father was killed doing some farming and some other activities because he’s not able to do this very well given the injury to his leg.

What we do know is that Nyumah helps Sahr plant cassava. They attend church together. Sometimes they joke with one another. They are, after all, old friends.

Story 2: Chris Carrier

When Chris Carrier was 10 years old, he was abducted near his Florida home, taken into the swamps, stabbed repeatedly in the chest and abdomen with an ice pick, and then shot through the temple with a handgun. Remarkably, hours after being shot, he awoke with a headache, unable to see out of one eye. He stumbled to the highway and stopped a car, which took him to the hospital.

Years later, a police officer told Chris that the man suspected of his abduction lay close to death. “Confront him,” suggested the officer. Chris did more than that. He comforted his attacker during the man’s final weeks of life and ultimately forgave him, bringing peace to them both.

What Science Says About Forgiveness:

In one study, Charlotte vanOyen Witvliet, a psychologist at Hope College, asked people to think about someone who had hurt, mistreated, or offended them. While they thought about this person and his or her past offense, she monitored their blood pressure, heart rate, facial muscle tension, and sweat gland activity. To ruminate on an old transgression is to practice unforgiveness. Sure enough, in Witvliet’s research, when people recalled a grudge, their physical arousal soared. Their blood pressure and heart rate increased, and they sweated more. Ruminating about their grudges was stressful, and subjects found the rumination unpleasant. It made them feel angry, sad, anxious, and less in control. Witvliet also asked her subjects to try to empathize with their offenders or imagine forgiving them. When they practiced forgiveness, their physical arousal coasted downward. They showed no more of a stress reaction than normal wakefulness produces.

A national survey of nearly 1,500 Americans, asking the degree to which each person practiced and experienced forgiveness (of others, of self, and even if they thought they had experienced forgiveness by God). Participants also reported on their physical and mental health. Toussaint and his colleagues found that older and middle-aged people forgave others more often than did young adults and also felt more forgiven by God. What’s more, they found a significant relationship between forgiving others and positive health among middle-aged and older Americans. People over 45 years of age who had forgiven others reported greater satisfaction with their lives and were less likely to report symptoms of psychological distress, such as feelings of nervousness, restlessness, and sadness.

Letting go of grudges and bitterness can make way for happiness, health and peace. Forgiveness can lead to:

* Healthier relationships
* Greater spiritual and psychological well-being
* Less anxiety, stress and hostility
* Lower blood pressure and improved heart health
* Fewer symptoms of depression
* Higher self-esteem

Are you willing to forgive someone, for the sake of your own well-being? What do you think?

Source of The Story: Chris Carrier
Source of The Story: Nyumah & Sahr

Mrugank Patel
mrugank.patel@gmail.com