Why we find it hard to forgive and harbor resentment


Following his shooting in 1981 by a Turkish gunman, Pope John Paul II forgave his would-be assassin and asked people to “pray for my brother (Mehmet Ali Agca) whom I have sincerely forgiven”. In 1983, the pope visited the Rome prison where the terrorist who gravely wounded him was imprisoned and personally extended his mercy.

Like the injured pontiff, Kim Phuc had every reason to hate. Phuc was a young girl in 1972 when she was photographed running naked down a Vietnam street screaming in agony after a napalm bomb incinerated her village, her clothes and then her skin – one of the most iconic pictures of the 20th century. Phuc long ago forgave the man who co-ordinated the bomb attacks that changed her life forever.

These two events show that forgiveness can transcend tragedy. Ali Agca used bullets to make a statement while the pope used compassion. In the same way, the US military used force to stop the spread of communism while Kim Phuc used a charitable foundation which she established to spread her message of peace throughout the world. From the horrors of war, Phuc embraced forgiveness and learned to love her enemies.

Forgiveness is a choice that sets us free, but many of us struggle to forgive. For some, forgiveness comes with time as wounds heal. For others, forgiveness never arrives and is supplanted by a lifetime of bitterness. Those who cannot forgive carry around unresolved issues and become weighted down by emotional baggage. They ruminate on the negative aspects of life and are unable to move forward as they dwell on the hurt of the past.

To forgive is the ability to pardon an offence without holding resentment. That’s exactly what Pope John Paul II and Kim Phuc did. Neither sought revenge nor played the victim. They did not hold a grudge or get caught in a vortex of anger and vengeance, but forgave as quickly and fully as possible. They are both shining examples of the power of forgiveness. How many of us could have done what they did and let bygones be bygones?

Forgiveness is not easy, but it does make the world a better place. The virtues and benefits of forgiveness are well documented. Letting go of enmity makes us happier, healthier and more empathetic. Forgiving someone for a prior wrongdoing can make you feel better. In contrast, unforgiving people tend to be hateful, angry and hostile. Their preoccupation with a transgression or hostility towards another consumes them with negative emotions.

Forgiveness does not require you to forget the harm done to you or to reconcile with the person who caused the harm. Nor does forgiveness let someone off the hook or minimise a wrong. In the words of one expert:

Forgiveness is not releasing the offender for legal obligations. It’s not condoning or excusing, which implies there’s a justification. It’s not forgetting or refusing to remember the event. It’s not reconciling, which implies there’s restored trust and contact. And it’s not pretending that everything is fine.

In explaining the actual process of forgiving, health writer Jessica Cassity states:

… you may never say the words “I forgive you” out loud. Instead, forgiveness is an internal process, something you do to help come to terms with a past experience and end your suffering, pain, anger, and resentment around the event. You simply decide to stop focusing on blame and instead move forward in a more positive direction.

To be clear, forgiving does not excuse the evil, trivialise the wrong or erase the yearning for justice. But it does bring internal peace and this helps us get on with life. Not surprisingly, forgiveness has been central to the lives of some of the most admired and inspiring people throughout history – from Mother Teresa to Mahatma Gandhi and Nelson Mandela to Martin Luther King Jr.

All of us have been hurt by the actions or words of another and while we can choose to forgive, it requires strength. As Gandhi asserted: “The weak can never forgive. Forgiveness is the attribute of the strong”. Nelson Mandela displayed fortitude when he chose to forgive his jailers. After spending 27 years imprisoned by his political enemies, he did not become embittered but devoted his life to securing peace in South Africa.

Contrast Mandela’s behaviour in rejecting recrimination with those who become consumed by road rage. Anger behind the wheel occurs with frightening regularity with an increasing number of drivers wanting to exact vengeance for another’s actions. To be irritated by another driver is understandable, but to respond with obscene gestures, yelling, honking, tailgating or even running another motorist off the road is unacceptable.

Such impulsive behavior stems from a lack of emotional intelligence. A core emotional intelligence skill is self-awareness – the ability to accurately perceive your emotions and stay aware of them as they happen. Understanding and controlling your moods and emotions can seem a daunting skill to cultivate, but the effort is worthwhile. Self-awareness enhances your relationship with yourself and others and this facilitates forgiveness.

Forgiveness should be a way of life for everyone because it’s more important to be happy than right. Forgiveness is a gift that you give to yourself – it’s not about the other person. Indeed, holding a grudge in your heart only hurts you and not the person you’re stewing over. So, don’t let pride stop you from being a forgiving person. Put aside the barriers that prevent you from experiencing the joy of forgiveness. Help make the world a better place.

As Gandhi observed: “An eye for an eye leaves the whole world blind”.


Paul J. Thomas
Chief Executive Officer
Ductus Consulting

Why we are all liars and consistently tell mistruths

Presidents do it, judges do it and even cardinals do it.

We humans have a propensity to lie when caught doing the wrong thing. US president, Bill Clinton, lied about his affair with Monica Lewinsky. Australian judge, Marcus Einfeld, claimed he was not the driver of a car which was speeding. Catholic cardinal, George Pell, denied he abused two choirboys.

When caught red-handed, businesses also attempt to lie their way out of trouble. Boeing initially defended the reliability of its 737 MAX aircraft after two of its jets crashed. Volkswagen initially covered up the emissions scandal but eventually confessed to its misdemeanours. BP initially hid the size of the oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico before revealing the full environmental impact.

The truth about lying is that we all do it – and not just when we are in hot water. Research reveals that the average person lies at least once a day. Some lies are harmless little fibs while others represent serious whopping deceit. It would be a rare individual indeed who could honestly claim that he/she is always completely truthful.

Just about everyone you know tells low-stakes lies. These lies lack malicious intent and are trivial white lies like saying “I’m fine” to a colleague when you are actually having a terrible day. White lies are said to be justifiable when they are told out of kindness to spare another’s feelings. That’s why many of us would not respond truthfully if a friend asked us if he/she was overweight.

Some people tell lies which are a tad more deceitful. They call in sick when they are well. They say they will be in touch when they have no intention of doing so. They tell a romantic partner they love them when they don’t. They exaggerate their accomplishments during a job interview. Whether these lies are an innocent part of everyday interactions is subject to debate.

When it comes to high-stakes lies, it’s clear that these are not garden-variety falsehoods. There’s a big difference between a person who tells an occasional porky and someone who is a compulsive liar. Such crafty and seasoned deceivers misrepresent the truth to hide a mistake, deliberately hurt others or secure personal gain.

The rogues’ gallery of bald-faced liars includes politicians who daily twist the truth, fudge the numbers and manipulate the facts. While dishonesty in politics is nothing new, Donald Trump’s litany of blatant lies and smears have put him in a league of his own. An article in The Guardian on 30 April 2019 titled Lies, damned lies and Donald Trump stated that Trump undeniably:

… has just become one of the most prolific liars in the history of American governance, passing the 10,000th lie of his administration this week – meaning an average of almost 17 lies a day over 604 days. Not all of his lies were created equally. Some have been harmless … (while) others are downright horrifying and dangerous, about serious issues such as immigration and abortion.

Trump is a compulsive liar with a penchant for false and outrageous utterances which take the form of exaggeration, omission, distortion, accusation, conspiracy and outright doozies. Some believe that he is a deranged lunatic who has a tenuous grip on reality. His reality consists of “alternative facts” and many believe that his alternative view of the world is pathological.

Bizarrely, Trump’s invented facts do not faze his supporters who simply shrug off his lies or turn a blind eye. It seems that no evidence to the contrary can shake their faith in the president – even when his false claims are debunked by credible sources. According to conventional wisdom, there is supposed to be a penalty for lying, but in the president’s case, his lies trump the truth!

Humans are hardwired to lie – it’s part of our DNA – which is why fibbing comes naturally. Our capacity for dishonesty is an innate skill which has been enhanced by social media platforms such as Facebook. Deception in the digital age is rife with online lying giving rise to fake news. Many social media users deliberately fabricate things about their lives to project a more desirable image.

It’s difficult to separate fact from fiction when online users post made-up or exaggerated stories in order to secure likes, comments and followers. It’s not uncommon for people on Internet dating sites to lie about their looks, height and weight. And the pressure to project a cool online persona drives some to use photo apps, like Instagram, to make their pictures more flattering.

Like every other human on this Earth, I’ve told my fair share of mistruths. I deliberately lied to my children when they were toddlers by telling them that there was a Santa Clause, Easter Bunny and Tooth Fairy. I now tell the same lies to my grandchildren in order to bring some happy and harmless make-believe into their lives and make no apology for that.

I also do not apologise for the other mundane white lies that I have told in my life. I understand that there are times when a situation demands that you be a straight-shooter. However, if I am able to sugar-coat something in order to spare someone’s feelings, I will do so. Therefore, I will continue “cooing” over every new born baby even if the occasional infant is dead ugly!

Of course, some lies are not acceptable and should fall into the forbidden basket. These cover lies which are told with malicious intent to benefit the liar or hurt another. This self-serving category of deception is never justified and is populated by con artists, cheats, fraudsters and scammers who constantly lie through their teeth.

I put a premium on being truthful. However, committing to tell the truth, the whole truth and nothing but the truth every second of every day is not plausible. Dishonesty is not my calling card, nor should it be yours. But white lies oil the wheels of human interaction, protect us from the harsh unvarnished truth and help make life smoother.

And that, Pinocchio, is the God damn truth!


Paul J. Thomas
Chief Executive Officer
Ductus Consulting