What is forgiveness?


Hispanic father and daughterForgiveness is not a one-time act or action. It is a permanent attitude ~ Martin Luther King Jr.

According to The Word Detective, the root of the word forgive is the Latin word perdonare – “to give completely, without reservation.” In modern English forgive has taken on the meanings of “to pardon for an offence,” “renounce anger at,” and “to abandon a claim on.”

Forgiveness is also the conscious action to reconcile with someone who is in physical or emotional pain because of one’s actions or inabilities:

  • A son seeking reconciliation with his mother when he acknowledges that he has broken her favourite porcelain vase; he apologizes by asking what he can do to repair the situation as an act of forgiveness.
  • The neighbour who seeks reconciliation when, inadvertently, his pet rabbit jumps the fence and eats part of his next-door neighbour’s vegetable garden; offering to help replant and look after his neighbour’s garden is another example of forgiveness.
  • The spouse who takes care of his sister’s needs while neglecting his wife and children seeks reconciliation with his wife by recognizing that his act of loyalty to his sister was also a break in the agreement to be loyal to his family, and apologizes, adopting an attitude of permanent attention to the interests of his wife and children.

Let’s look now at the story of Almir, the ice-cream man. Almir had a difficult childhood. His parents could not support him and abandoned him. He lived on the streets and in an orphanage, in the state of Sergipe, in northeastern Brazil. He left the orphanage in 1989, and went to live in a place called: The Misery Village. Today, Almir continues to work as an ice-cream man; however, he also supports a nursery for 50 children.

Forgiveness is part of Almir’s attitude. He does not question whether he should help those in need; he just helps. His generous attitude is a permanent attitude of forgiveness to a social system that failed him in childhood. According to Dr. Lewis Mehl-Madrona, Almir has chosen to release his past and to become the hero of his new story instead of a victim.

Written by Rosana Brasil, LMFT Full-time counsellor in Scarborough

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