#81—Forgiveness, with Mpho Tutu van Furth [MIPodcast]
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BLAIR HODGES: This episode includes brief descriptions of abuse and violence. Please listen with discretion.
It’s the Maxwell Institute Podcast. I’m Blair Hodges. Forgiveness seems like such a simple concept, but it can be one of the most difficult things we ever do. Maybe someone in your life has hurt you and you’ve never been able to forgive them. Maybe you’ve hurt someone else and they haven’t forgiven you. Maybe it’s time to see if that can change.
Mpho Tutu van Furth joins us to talk about a book she co-wrote with her father Desmond Tutu. It’s called The Book of Forgiving. It’s an invitation and a step-by-step guide to walk what the Tutu’s call the four-fold path of forgiveness.
Mpho recently visited Brigham Young University to speak at the Maxwell Institute’s symposium, “Forgiveness & Reconciliation.” The Institute’s own Dr. Deidre Green was the visionary of this truly remarkable gathering. If you missed it, you can watch several of the presentations on the Institute’s YouTube channel.
Questions and comments about this and other episodes of the Maxwell Institute Podcast can be sent to me at MIPodcast@byu.edu.
BLAIR HODGES: I’m here today with Mpho Tutu van Furth. She’s co-author of a book called The Book of Forgiving: The Four-Fold Path for Healing Ourselves and Our World. Mpho, thanks for visiting us here at the Maxwell Institute.
MPHO TUTU VAN FURTH: Thank you.
HODGES: You wrote this book with your father Desmond Tutu, and the book says that you’ve pursued graduate work on the subject of forgiving. You also have very personal stories pertaining to forgiveness that you bring to your research. So you’ve done academic work on an extremely personal subject. Talk a little bit about what that’s like.
TUTU VAN FURTH: I think that we all bring the whole of ourselves to our academic work, otherwise it doesn’t engage us, it doesn’t hold us there. The work of forgiveness is work that is very personal for me, and in the book I describe a harrowing experience for my family.
We live in a world in which there is always much to forgive and it has been helpful to me to have the opportunity to really think about forgiveness. It’s a term that is so much used very particularly in the Christian faith. We’re always telling people to, you know, go off and forgive—
HODGES: Seventy times seven.
TUTU VAN FURTH: Yes, and on and on. But we never tell people how to. So that’s where The Book of Forgiving came from, was from really trying to think “Well, what actually is the process?” I went backwards from the process into looking at forgiveness as an academic discipline and as a theological discipline. Why do we have to forgive? What are we doing when we forgive? What is in it for us, yes, but what is in it for the world? Because ultimately theology is a discipline that is always looking beyond ourselves and beyond our own narrow interests to looking at, how does forgiveness and how does forgiveness and reconciliation create that just community, that community of “shalom,” that whole and healthy community for which we all yearn, and for which some of us strive.
HODGES: It really stood out to me when you made that point in the book as well that we talk about the importance of forgiveness, but how often have people sat down and read a book about forgiveness or studied forgiveness—the process of it, why we do it, why it can be hard, some of the difficulties that people might encounter. It’s such an important and fundamental part of human life that a lot of times we don’t spend, I think, enough time thinking about it. I think that speaks to the value of this book.
It’s striking to me at the outset of this book about forgiveness you have to start by making a case that people should be forgiving. Talk about beginning the book that way.
TUTU VAN FURTH: Well, I think that the challenge for some people is the sense that if I forgive I am somehow letting the other person off the hook. I somehow either absolve them of responsibility for the harm that they’ve caused; I absolve them of the requirement to atone for what they’ve done or that they don’t have to pay for what they’ve done; I absolve them of any consequence for their action. So there is something in us that feels like that doesn’t sound fair. There’s something that seems either unfair or unjust about the action of forgiving and of granting forgiveness. Or people get stuck because they feel the person who I have to forgive is no longer alive, is no longer present for me to forgive them. Or the person who I have to forgive hasn’t even asked for my forgiveness.
So there are all kinds of ways of getting stuck and what we come to recognize as we go through the process of forgiveness is that we think of it as something that we’re handing to somebody else, but it’s actually a gift that we give to ourselves. That forgiveness is ultimately—I think it’s Antje Crog, a South African theologian who describes it as that process of releasing ourselves from resentment and bitterness and anger and from the burden of having been victims and allows us to—and here I depart from Antje, I’m adding on my own—that it allows us to reclaim ourselves, our power, and our identity.
HODGES: One of the things the also book mentions is that there can be self-interest in forgiveness. There can be a sort of sticking up for yourself or maintaining your own personal health by seeking forgiveness. You even talk about some of the scientifically proven benefits of being forgiving.
TUTU VAN FURTH: Well, we know it intuitively. We know intuitively that walking around with a sense of resentment is a feeling of being closed down. There’s an intuitive sense that there is a way I’m closed down around this person or around this issue. If you’re in a conflict with somebody who’s in your space, in your workspace or in your home space, you can feel in yourself that every time they come into the room they irritate you or they say something and it kind of pushes you over the edge. And if you checked yourself you would notice that your blood pressure is doing something and your heart rate is doing something else, and neither of those are particularly good things or desirable things that your blood pressure and your heart rate are doing. And once you’re able to forgive then that person no longer exerts a kind of control over your physiology. And that’s very real. It’s demonstrable and very real.
HODGES: One of the things that you talk about is a “revenge cycle” that people can go into. So when someone is hurt or when someone is wronged there are different paths they can go down. This book recommends the path of forgiveness, but there’s also a path of revenge. You mentioned a very personal story that you brought to this book, and it regards Angela who was I believe a housekeeper—
TUTU VAN FURTH: Yes.
HODGES: And very close to your family, who was brutally killed.
TUTU VAN FURTH: Yes.
HODGES: Talk about that personal experience in relation to these paths of the revenge cycle or the path of forgiveness.
TUTU VAN FURTH: So we—well, my father actually drew a sketch, which is probably the extent of his artwork; two circles, really good. [laughter] And the revenge cycle is a circle, that you begin with an injury and you retaliate for the injury and then the person against whom you have retaliated in turn retaliates, and so you keep going, walking this circle of revenge, counter-retribution, and on and on and on ad infinitum.
Or you have the forgiveness cycle, which is where you are injured, you acknowledge that you have been hurt, and you go through this fourfold path of telling the story, naming the hurt, offering forgiveness, and either reconciling or releasing the relationship. That means that you then have a way out of this vicious circle, out of a vicious cycle and into something that is more open and liberating.
HODGES: You make a difference in the book by bringing up this personal story of Angela because you show that these basic cycles, the circle or escaping that cycle, can be complicated. You at first weren’t even sure exactly what happened to Angela—
TUTU VAN FURTH: No.
HODGES: But because of that event you still carried this pain; you still carried this trauma. And how do you reckon with that in a case where you don’t even know who to direct that anger at?
TUTU VAN FURTH: Well, let me describe briefly. Angela was our housekeeper. She lived with us in the house in our home in Cape Town. She was delightful. Very smart and very capable and very amazingly helpful with the children. She had a real knack for particularly my youngest daughter can be quite grumpy in the morning. Angela seemed to manage to un-grumpify her and help us get on with the day. [laughter]
I came home one afternoon, and I’d been trying to reach Angela, I had been phoning the house and no answer, no answer, which was really strange because usually she would pick up her phone and just let me know where she was. I came home and found her in my daughter’s bedroom and she had been murdered.
Of course, for several weeks we didn’t know who it was who had murdered her, but we eventually discovered that it was somebody who had been working in our home as a gardener and he was later convicted of the murder.
I had the good fortune of being part of a faith community that allowed me and my children to rehearse the story just over and over again, were willing to hear us tell the story to the community and tell the story to each other as a family, to say what it was that had happened. And that process actually brought me to a place of… Yes, initially I was angry and afraid; angry for the loss of life, and angry because it felt as though this person hadn’t just stolen Angela’s life and stolen this woman from her family and from us as well. But also it was as though they had literally stolen our home, because we couldn’t go back there. It was just too traumatizing to go back there. And that was excruciatingly painful as well.
In telling the story and retelling the story we came to a place of feeling, not anger, but just an infinite sadness for the person who could take a life in that way. I can’t think what there was that anyone could steal that was worth a life. But I think that I was really grateful for that community that allowed us to walk towards forgiveness.
HODGES: One of the main themes, it seems to me, of the book is the South African concept that you introduce in the introduction. Am I pronouncing this correctly, Ubuntu?
TUTU VAN FURTH: Ubuntu, yes.
HODGES: Okay, so this literally means “humanity.” It seems that this concept is really the thrust of the entire book. Because as you mention, how could a person take someone else’s life? How could this happen? Sometimes we look at terrible acts that people commit and we are tempted to say “that person’s a monster, they’re a monster!”
TUTU VAN FURTH: Right.
HODGES: In this book you challenge that thinking with this concept of Ubuntu.
TUTU VAN FURTH: Well yes. A monster has no responsibility for their action and so once you account someone a monster then you’ve written them off. You’ve written off their responsibility for what they have done. You’ve written off the possibility that they can recover their full humanity. You’ve written off the reality of whatever it was that they’ve experienced that brought them to this place. You’ve written off the possibility of reconciliation.
I think, particularly for people of faith, it’s an obscenity to call a person a monster because it is to say that they are beyond redemption. That here is someone who is out of God’s reach. And particularly for Christians who speak about God’s redeeming love and for those of us who believe in a God who takes us seriously and loves us passionately and reaches out for us infinitely, how dare we ever say that someone is a monster?
HODGES: I think this might be, maybe, the most challenging part of the book. Do you find people have difficulty with that? It is so much easier to write someone off. I can’t imagine what I would do, really, if something happened to one of my children for example. How if someone hurt them… how I would be able to see the image of God in that person. That seems very difficult.
TUTU VAN FURTH: Oh it’s almost impossible. It’s almost impossible if we rely on our own resources, if we depend on ourselves to be able to see the humanity in another. That’s actually not the requirement. It’s never the requirement. As people of faith we are—and as Christians—we are called to be members of the community, and it is that community that upholds us, it is that community that challenges us, it is that community that moves us forward when we would rather stand still.
I’m not sure that I think forgiving what feels like the huge and unforgiveable is the most difficult. I think what is the most challenging for most people is forgiving what feels like a betrayal. When I feel that we have an agreement, when you act counter to our agreement—whatever that agreement is—when you act counter to our perceived agreement, that’s when it feels really hard to forgive.
HODGES: Interesting. It’s like we’re more vulnerable the closer we are to someone.
TUTU VAN FURTH: Exactly.
HODGES: One of the things you talk about before you get into the actual fourfold path of forgiveness is you debunk some myths. You talk about some things that forgiveness isn’t, some misperceptions about forgiveness that might be common.
So forgiveness is something that is so important to human flourishing; there are a lot of unhealthy ideas about how forgiveness should work. What are some examples of those that come to mind? You’ve mentioned a few already, but what are some things that people might get wrong about it?
TUTU VAN FURTH: Right, that forgiveness is subversive of justice and that actually there’s a parallel process. I had a nice conversation with my dad about God’s forgiveness, and my father saying “well, you know, God’s forgiveness doesn’t mean that we don’t have to live with the consequences of our actions. God forgives us, in eternity we are forgiven, but we still have to live with the consequences of what we have done. So we don’t go un-forgiven into the grave, but we do have to face up with the temporal consequences of our actions.
So if I’ve been a lifelong alcoholic, cirrhosis of the liver is going to be one of the consequences that I have to live with. It doesn’t mean that I don’t get forgiven for being an alcoholic; it does mean that I have to live with cirrhosis. But you know, I think that even in our simple household ways that forgiveness is actually a practice that we engage in order for our households to remain whole. It’s a process that we engage on an everyday basis, but we sometimes short-circuit the process. We short-circuit it with our children. “No, Johnny, give Peter the ball back. Johnny, say sorry to Peter.” “I’m sorry.”
HODGES: [laughs] With arms folded. Sorry!
TUTU VAN FURTH: “Peter, say you forgive him.” “Yes, I forgive you.” Yeah, that worked. [laughing] Johnny and Peter walk away feeling like there’s something missing here. There’s something that didn’t happen here, there’s something the feels unresolved or incomplete. And they’re right. There is. We can’t require forgiveness and we can’t set a timetable for forgiveness. There isn’t actually a “should” attached to forgiveness.
It is that being able to forgive is good for you, is good for your health and well-being, but it is as I said, it’s not letting the other person off the hook, it’s not short circuiting justice, it’s not absolving the other of the consequences of what they have done. It is liberating.
HODGES: Another myth would be that forgiveness requires a person to continue to put themselves into harm’s way. For example, I know an example of a woman who had a spiritual advise who told her, “Your husband beats you; that’s wrong, but if you stay in the relationship and forgive him you might be able to help him change and everything. Maybe he won’t, but you should still stay in that situation and forgive.”
What about a situation like that? You talked a little bit about this in the book, about—
TUTU VAN FURTH: I did. That forgiveness doesn’t require that you endanger yourself; that you can forgive and for your own safety and well-being get out of there.
The end of the process, which we don’t talk really deeply or in great length about reconciliation, but reconciliation is the partner to forgiveness. And reconciliation is that thing of God saying, “Behold, I make all things new.” I will make a new relationship on just terms, on terms of love and wholeness and justice. So when you have forgiven it doesn’t mean you go back to what was before. That when you have forgiven you have opened the door for a new and different and just relationship to occur.
That’s where reconciliation requires the other person, requires the perpetrator to be part of the story. But reconciliation isn’t the job of the victim. It is, again, where we speak about being the body of Christ—not one of us alone, but all of us together are the body of Christ. So that the task of becoming reconciled can’t rest only on the shoulders of the one who was previously victimized, but it must be that the community holds the perpetrator to account and says, “okay, this person has now opened the door for a more just dispensation, a more just way of being, what is your role? How do you show up here?”
I think that, again, that’s a place where we as faith communities have really fallen short, because it’s really nice, in a way—I mean I saw recently a pastor who had had sexual extramarital relationships and came to his congregation to apologize, and there was a great tearful apology, and the congregation forgave him, but didn’t hold him to account. To say “We as a congregation are willing to forgive you, but there is a right-making that you have to do with the other people, with the people whom you have been involved with, your spouse, with the other woman or other women; that you have work to do there and you haven’t finished. This is just where you start.”
HODGES: That’s the Reverend Mpho Tutu van Furth and we’re talking about The Book of Forgiving: The Fourfold Path for Healing Ourselves and Our World.
Let’s talk about that fourfold path. We’ll talk about each step real quickly here, but this is a process that can happen in a matter of hours, in a matter of weeks, in a matter of years. It can take a lifetime.
TUT FAN FURTH: Yes.
HODGES: It really depends. You, in the book, give no exact timeline. There’s no sense in which people need to follow this path on a set schedule.
TUTU VAN FURTH: No, and we set the path out and offer tools, sort of a kitbag, a forgiveness kitbag. You can only go as fast as you can go. You can’t push yourself through a process of forgiveness because then it’s not a real process.
HODGES: By the way, the cover of this book is beautiful. It shows the image of a flower growing and I think that viewing forgiveness organically that way is useful in the sense that you’re a gardener that’s cultivating a garden where forgiveness can happen, but you can’t make the seeds sprout yourself. There’s a process that you can take to help facilitate that, but you can’t make them grow. You can’t say, “I want this tomorrow.”
TUTU VAN FURTH: [laughs] Yes. Well you can want it tomorrow! Whether or not you get it tomorrow is another story!
HODGES: Yeah, say it all you want! [laughs]
So step one, speaking of saying, step one is to tell the story. Why is that the beginning? Why begin with telling the story?
TUTU VAN FURTH: Because it is important to lay down what is it that happened. What happened that has brought us to a place where we need forgiveness to happen. So tell the story. Tell the story as clearly as you can. Tell the story as often as you need to. Write it down. Find someone to tell. Whatever it is that you feel is necessary for you to feel that you have finished telling the story, that you’ve told a story that is as complete as you can tell.
And sometimes that is the most difficult part of the process. For some people, just to be able to say “this is what happened to me,” because sometimes there is so much shame attached to the injury that has been committed.
I was reading in the submissions to the Truth and Reconciliation Commission as part of some research that I was doing, women who had been sexually abused as political prisoners, and some of the women were now Parliamentarians in the new South Africa. And in fact at the Truth and Reconciliation Commission sexual victimization was really under-reported because often what would be told would be, “I know that it happened to somebody else,” or “I heard that…,” and reported in that way.
HODGES: Because there was stigma attached to that? You didn’t want to be a person who experienced that?
TUTU VAN FURTH: Yeah, you didn’t want to be the person who experienced that. Sexual violation is always an incredibly traumatic kind of violence because for women somebody invades your body and where do you go with that? Some of the women who were Parliamentarians in the new South Africa say, “I couldn’t say that this had happened to me. How would my colleagues around me look at me if they knew that I had had this experience?”
And so just the stigma and the shame attached to the injury, and sexual violence is a very particular kind of violence because in all other kinds of injury the shame accrues to the perpetrator, and in sexual violence the shame accrues to the victim or the survivor. So that can be the steepest climb for someone to make, is to be able to tell the story, to say, “Yeah, this actually happened to me.”
HODGES: So you say it begins there. People need to tell the story and find a way to tell that story to different people in different circumstances—as you said some people need to do it repeatedly. And the idea there is to be able to bring it out. It’s almost like flushing a wound and getting it out there, and not to get stuck at that level. You talk about the next step then, which is “naming the hurt.” How is naming the hurt different from telling the story?
TUTU VAN FURTH: Naming the hurt is to say what the impact of the event was on me. So I think I give the example in a very facile daily example of your child knocks over your favorite vase and you say, “Johnny, I’m so irritated that you knocked over my vase. It was my favorite vase from my great-aunt Gertrude.”
HODGES: Let’s say your son breaks your new Blu-ray player…
TUTU VAN FURTH: [laughs] Not mentioning names, not speaking about anyone in particular.
HODGES: Yes, yes…
TUTU VAN FURTH: But you know, “I told you not to do that, you directly disobeyed me, I felt dishonored by what you had done, and also that I’m really annoyed that I have to fork out another whatever it is to replace a new Blu-ray player—”
HODGES: Or a vase that’s irreplaceable.
TUTU VAN FURTH: Exactly. That might be all it takes. “I felt annoyed,” or “I felt angry,” or dishonored, or disobeyed, or “You’re challenging my authority in some way,” or whatever it is. But naming the hurt is to put a word on the feeling and using feeling words that can help the person hearing you kind of get access to, “Oh, that’s how what I did impacted you.”
HODGES: It requires a certain kind of emotional intelligence. I noticed in some of the references that you referred to Dan Siegel, he’s is one of the people whose work you cited, whose work I’ve found to be helpful as a parent in sort of learning how important it is to actually name and label certain emotions and feelings and help kids learn how to do that too. Naming the hurt is a supplement to telling the story.
TUTU VAN FURTH: Yeah, yeah.
HODGES: What about when you’re telling a story and naming the hurt, you also have some suggestions for people who are listening when people do that. What are some suggestions about how to hear people who are telling the story or naming the hurt?
TUTU VAN FURTH: So the idea as a hearer or as a listener is to hold the space open. So you’re not fixing, you’re not solving, you’re not offering a running commentary [laughs]—
HODGES: That’s my problem by the way. [laughs]
TUTU VAN FURTH: Yeah, and I find one of the things that can drive me over the edge is when someone else gives a name to my feeling. It’s like, “no you don’t know what I feel until I tell you what I’m feeling! So don’t tell me what I’m feeling, let me tell you.”
HODGES: Sometimes people want to do that because it’s uncomfortable sometimes to listen to this. “Let me rush you through that. This must be what you’re feeling…” Well, that may be part of it but it’s not their place to tell you that, and also like you said you need to be the one who is naming that.
But I think it’s natural to want to do that because it can be hard to listen, it can be hard to sit with and create space for people.
TUTU VAN FURTH: Yeah. It actually can be quite excruciating.
HODGES: Especially if you’re the one who did the hurt.
TUTU VAN FURTH: Yes. Especially if you’re the one who did the hurt. But the gift of listening when you’re the one who did the hurt is that it’s much less likely that you will inflict the same hurt again because you have heard and taken in how it impacted the other person, and that it does open up the empathetic space within you.
HODGES: Right. So we have tell the story, name the hurt, the third step on the path is granting forgiveness. What does that actually look like when you get to that point in the process?
TUTU VAN FURTH: It has, maybe, some different appearances, but it’s usually a release. That, you know, “I’m not going to hold onto this hurt any longer. I no longer reserve the right to exact retribution for what you did. I’m no longer hooked into you and hooked into your behavior in that way.”
HODGES: There’s a certain kind of control that someone who has hurt you can exert over you when you hold this grudge—It’s really hard to preach that message though, right? It’s almost like blaming the victim a little bit. How do you avoid blaming the victim in that case of saying, “Listen, by holding onto this grudge or by not being able to grant forgiveness you’re hurting yourself. So get to this place of being able to forgive”? That’s a sermon that I can better preach to myself than to other people, I guess is what I’m saying. What are your thoughts about that?
TUTU VAN FURTH: I always frame forgiveness as an invitation. There is an invitation that is there for you to forgive the other person.
HODGES: Instead of a “should.”
TUTU VAN FURTH: Oh, absolutely. Absolutely. The “should” is incredibly unhelpful. A “should” is a burden. An invitation is an opportunity. You can always take up the opportunity whenever you’re ready to do so, but you know that it’s always there for you.
HODGES: One of the suggestions you make is that people can really try to exercise some empathy at this stage in granting forgiveness and recognizing common humanity, and recognizing your own fallibility. It doesn’t necessarily have to be on the same level as someone who has hurt you, but getting back to the Ubuntu concept, we’re all human, that we’re all connected to God, but we’re all also fallible. There are some exercises that you recommend in sort of recognizing your own fallibility as a tool to help you be able to forgive.
TUTU VAN FURTH: Well, and in most of our relationships there isn’t a clear cut, “you’re entirely in the wrong and I’m entirely in the right.” It’s usually shades of “you’re wronger than I am, but I’m not entirely unblemished.” [laughing]
HODGES: Yes indeed.
TUTU VAN FURTH: So it does help to be able to recognize and acknowledge that I have a part here. Even when I don’t have a part in this particular experience or injury, I can see that it’s not impossible for me to have inflicted harm as well.
HODGES: So tell the story, name the hurt, grant forgiveness—and again there’s no timeline on this, this is something that can happen quickly, that can happen slowly. The final step is renewing or releasing the relationship. Describe that.
TUTU VAN FURTH: So renewing the relationship would be exactly that frame of reconciliation, and quite deliberately renewing, meaning going for a new and more just relationship. So even in the small interaction with the vase that the new relationship is of “yes, I am the child who kicked over the vase and now I know why it is that you didn’t want me to play with the ball in the house.” So there’s a marker underneath that relationship that says, okay, we can move into a new relationship of being a child who no longer plays with a ball inside the house. I can figure out other places to play. [laughs] That is kind of the reconciliatory move and you have both grown through the encounter.
HODGES: How about with releasing? What is there about that that isn’t sort of perpetuating negative feelings? Like finding a way to release that’s not like, “I still have really bad feelings about this person.” What does releasing look like in a healthy way?
TUTU VAN FURTH: Releasing in a healthy way looks like, “I know longer wish you ill. In fact I may even wish good things for you, but I also recognize that it’s not healthy for me to be in the same environment as you.” That is release. I’m not going looking for you.
I had a conversation with Justice Albie Sachs who is one of the Justices from our constitutional court, which is sort of the equivalent of the U.S. Supreme Court, but for South Africa. He was injured by a parcel bomb that was sent to him. He was in exile in Maputo, Mozambique, and the South African government sent him a parcel bomb and he ended up facing the man who had constructed and sent him this parcel bomb during the TRC here. And he forgave him and he said, “Yes, I forgive him. No, I no longer carry any resentment towards him.” The bomb blast blew off his arm and blinded him in one eye, but he said, “I forgive him. I have no animosity towards him. If I see him in the street I can say hi, but he’s not the person who I want to go and have popcorn at the movies, that’s not going to be our story together.” So release is, you’re no longer on my radar screen in that way.
HODGES: Speaking of that person who—Albie Sachs—who was hurt, it reminded me again with the situation with Angela where you had been going through the fourfold path; tell the story, name the hurt, granting forgiveness, renewing or releasing. You’re going through this process and you discovered it’s not necessarily once and for all. You worked with other people, I remember I believe a couple whose child was killed by a drunk driver, and now they speak about forgiveness. It’s not that they went through the process and that’s what did it once and for all.
TUTU VAN FURTH: Yeah. I remember having a conversation with Linda Biehl. Linda’s daughter Amy was killed in a township in South Africa in 1993 and Amy was an American and a full-ride scholar in Cape Town, I think she was killed a couple of days before she was due to return home. And when the Truth and Reconciliation Commission was impaneled, the three young men who had been found guilty of Amy’s murder—had been found guilty, tried, and were imprisoned—and when the Truth and Reconciliation Commission was impaneled, they applied for amnesty.
Amy’s parents flew to South Africa to support the amnesty application. That was incredible in and of itself. They then established a foundation in that township in Amy’s honor to continue the work that Amy had started. They employed the young men in the foundation. Linda said, “For part of the year I’m in South Africa and on most days I’m seeing these young men who killed my daughter and on some days I have to forgive them all over again. Every day I wake up and my daughter is dead. Some days I have to forgive them again.”
Even to a process that you have in your body, if you break a limb or you have a cut, the healing isn’t on a single straight trajectory. Sometimes there’s a twinge. Is it healing? Yes, it’s healing. But sometimes it’s like, “oh yeah, I remember I did that.”
HODGES: That’s the Reverend Mpho Tutu van Furth. We’re talking about The Book of Forgiving: The Fourfold Path for Healing Ourselves and Our World.
Mpho, the book also has a chapter on what to do when you need forgiveness. Seeking forgiveness from other people, depending on the nature of the hurt, depending on who you hurt, it can take different shapes. But you give a general outline which is similar to the fourfold path. It’s kind of coming down the other side of the path. You’re kind of telling the story. You admit the wrong, you state it openly, you don’t justify, and then you have to… The part that, before I had read this book I think I was circumventing, was the need to witness the anguish and hear the other person out. I’ve been quick to forgive, but haven’t always sat with another person’s pain or let them name it. That’s a difficult one. Then to directly ask for forgiveness, then make amends. You give this great process and I encourage people to check the book out.
What do you say to someone who goes through those steps and the other person can’t find it within themselves to forgive you. What about that? In a way you’re still hurting them then, too, because you’ve caused that pain and now they’re going to be internalizing that, they’re going to be dealing with negative effects of that. What about when people just can’t forgive you?
TUTU VAN FURTH: Well when people just can’t forgive you…yet [laughs]—
HODGES: Yeah, you say “yet,” right? I think in the book you say that word “yet.” It’s a powerful word.
TUTU VAN FURTH: Yeah. When they can’t forgive you yet, they can’t forgive you yet. You have to honor their process. You committed the injury and you have to sit with the process that they have to go through and endure.
And yet—and yet [laughs]—you also engage a process faithfully; of hearing out, of making amends, of asking “okay, what is it that you need for us to be restored?” And maybe that need is for you to be out of their orbit for a while. But I think it is important to engage that process faithfully as well. You can’t demand forgiveness. That’s not yours to demand.
HODGES: How about in the case of a group that’s hurt someone? So for example, let’s say a government or a business or church or something. How does seeking reconciliation and forgiveness work on a corporate level? Is it similar to how it works on a personal level?
TUTU VAN FURTH: It is similar to how it works on a personal level. I think, again, we’re very quick and very able to say I’m sorry—and even as governments and corporate entities to say we’re sorry and now let’s move on. And the reality is that that’s a way of not taking accountability, not taking responsibility, not being accountable for, not taking responsibility for the harm that we’ve caused. And also not enduring the pain of sitting with, of witnessing the other’s pain of, “Okay, I’ve said I’m sorry. That’s half the story. The other half of the story is I am willing to bear what you have to say to me about how you have experienced what has been done to you.”
HODGES: Before we go I just have a few other quick questions, maybe a little self-indulgent, but what was it like writing a book with your father? [laughs] Was the process difficult at all? I mean, it’s your dad, so was that difficult at all? Were there any frictions there? Did either of you have to seek forgiveness during the process?
TUTU VAN FURTH: [laughs] No, actually, I have a lot of fun writing with my dad. He is very thoughtful. So when we came to our writing time, we’d go through a series of conversations so I’d outline and then we’d have a conversation about what we were talking about and what stories he wanted to share and tell, and we’d share insights. I really found that to be enjoyable. I had written a previous book with him, Made for Goodness, and the experience for me was almost like having a personal retreat with my dad and I really enjoyed it.
HODGES: Were there any points of disagreement as you worked through concepts about anything about the four-fold path? OR something else? Do you remember anything? Sometimes authors have to negotiate when you’re co-authoring something. Or was it more organic than that and you just felt of one accord as it unrolled?
TUTU VAN FURTH: I felt it to be much more organic. Plus, because I did most of the actual writing. So I just got to put words in his mouth. [laughs] That worked really well!
HODGES: Yeah, that makes it easy! [laughing]
HODGES: One more thing I wanted to mention too, and you hinted at this earlier, but the book includes—It’s not just giving descriptions and possibilities, each chapter also includes rituals. It includes writing prompts for journaling, it includes actual rituals using a stone and doing different things. Talk about how those ended up being included.
TUTU VAN FURTH: Well I had done a course on forgiveness during Lent one year and I really found that people found tactile experiences and the opportunity to journal and to share to be really helpful for processing. So I thought, these are tools to put into the book and tools that I have used and have had some feedback on, that people have said “this is really helpful, and this really worked for me,” and the stuff people didn’t feel particularly engaging didn’t get included.
HODGES: I think they’re quite lovely. I recommend people use this book, The Book of Forgiving. I think not only do you make the case for the importance of forgiveness; you describe how it can work, and you do it as an invitation as you said, and you talk about the importance of the word “yet” when someone says “I can’t forgive that person,” and you always say “yet.” You can put that “yet” on the end of it. Then it has these different meditations people can do and the rituals they can go through. It’s quite a remarkable book. I strongly recommend that people pick it up.
What are you working on now?
TUTU VAN FURTH: Well I’m now working on a few things [laughs], because why not? A. I am painting. B. I am in a new and blended family, which is very exciting, with teenagers.
HODGES: So the forgiveness book will come in handy with that.
TUTU VAN FURTH: The book is really useful. [laughs]
HODGES: Do you feel pressure because of that? You’re supposed to be an expert on forgiving. Do you feel pressure like, “Oh boy, I’ve got to get this right”?
TUTU VAN FURTH: No, I don’t. Yeah, I hope that the book is written in a way that we get to be gentle with ourselves.
HODGES: Oh yes, there’s a chapter on self-forgiveness, yes.
TUTU VAN FURTH: Yes. Cut yourself a little bit of slack.
HODGES: Okay. So you’re working with the blended family stuff, you’re painting—
TUTU VAN FURTH: I’m painting. And my wife and I are also working on a book together, so I’m looking forward to that—
HODGES: What’s the book’s subject?
TUTU VAN FURTH: It’s our life together. So writing about that and about our marriage and union and the challenges of that.
HODGES: Is that still early on in the process or is that—
TUTU VAN FURTH: Let’s say halfway. If it was up to her it would be closer to the end, [laughs] but since I get most of the editing task we’re not quite so close to the end.
HODGES: [laughs] Okay, yes. Well, good. Again, Mpho, thank you so much for being here. It’s been very personally enriching for me to read this book and to meet with you.
TUTU VAN FURTH: Thank you so much for taking the time and God bless you.
BLAIR HODGES: Hey, before we go, I wanted to take a quick second to thank all the people so far who have taken the time to rate and review the show in iTunes. It’s one of the most important ways you can help our audience grow. Here’s a review submitted by friend-of-the-Institute Patrick Mason, so you’ll have to take it with a grain of salt.
Patrick says, “I generally don’t listen to podcasts, but I make a point of listening to this one. Blair brings the best out of his guests and every episode offers a slightly different lens on the dynamic relationship of the life of the mind and the life of the spirit. This podcast is a model for the intellectual curiosity and generosity that ‘disciple-scholars’ should seek to foster. And having Adam Miller read his 1-star reviews was laugh-out-loud funny.”
Thank you, Patrick, this review gave me all of the good feelings.
If you would like to rate and review the show, you can do that in iTunes. You can also send questions and comments to me about this and other episodes to MIPodcast@byu.edu. See you next time.
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