I love listening to podcasts and have always dreamed of making a series of my own. So last year I started recording interviews with some of The Forgiveness Project storytellers, to try and dig a bit deeper into their lives and stories. At my core a writer, and having had a career in print journalism, it’s not surprising that The Forgiveness Project has always been weighted towards the written word. So here was a chance to use audio as a new and different way of sharing restorative narratives.
But first I had to skill up! So I went to podcasting classes at London’s City Lit, bought a half-decent microphone and started to record face-to-face interviews with ten remarkable people. And then came lockdown. A blessing in a way because for a complete novice the editing of these podcasts was taking forever. I needed literally hours and hours of spare time in order to be able to clean up dodgy sound quality, cut, edit and clarify. It became a totally absorbing project to be doing during the many weeks of being socially distanced from friends and colleagues.
The ten storytellers who feature in The F Word Podcast (series 1) are a random bunch in so far as they were chosen for the sole purpose that they just happened to be the people during 2019 and early 2020 who I bumped into on my travels or who were passing through London. Knowing from experience that everyone’s story is profound, meaningful and multi-layered, I was in no doubt that there would always be new and rich material to talk about. When it comes to trauma healing nothing ever stays exactly the same.
Above all I wanted The F Word Podcast to reflect the ethos of The Forgiveness Project charity while being distinct from it. I’ve always believed in the value of creating a culture of forgiveness – which is very different from imposing regulations about forgiveness and therefore nuance was vital. The Forgiveness Project has always sought to map a myriad of ways that forgiveness can manifest, demonstrating how this radical act may be a necessary alternative to hammering away at hate. It grew out of a conviction that people’s beliefs and biases, only shift when they hear the stories of others. With a new podcast series, here then was another way of reaching people and trying to show what Peter Harper and Mary Gray, so succinctly stated when they wrote: “a story told at the right time in someone’s life can shine a light sufficiently bright to illuminate the way ahead on the map of life.”
The conversations I had often revealed surprising twists and turns, but most of all they gave me an even greater understanding of the four qualities of forgiveness; qualities I’ve identified in order to answer the question – what does it take for people to line themselves up to forgive? From the many stories I’ve collected over the years it seems to me it requires four fundamental human skills or qualities to get to a place where someone who has suffered great harm, or indeed committed acts of great harm, might be in a position to forgive themselves or others.
The first quality is “curiosity”; this is a vital ingredient of forgiving because it fuels an inquiring, open mind. Wonder and curiosity keep us from behaving as if we have others entirely figured out. It’s the recognition that we don’t have the full story. Then there is “perspective taking” – having a broader perspective provides a wide angle view on life. Research has shown that forgivers are flexible, far-reaching thinkers who seek to understand others, recognising that good people do bad things, that bad things happen to good people and that the world is morally complicated. Thirdly there is “empathy” which requires you to stand in someone else’s shoes no matter how dirty or ill-fitting those shoes may be. This is about moving from a position of ‘why me?’ to ‘why them?’ So often it is a moment of empathy that shifts the narrative away from hate. And lastly comes the act of “relinquishing hate and resentment” which means giving up your hard-won sense of power, including the power of being morally superior or the position of being right. It means giving up the payoffs that go with being in the victim position. I agree with the distinguished American academic Dr Fred Luskin who after years of coming up with all sorts of definitions for forgiveness prefers now to put it down to one simple meaning – freedom!
And indeed all the people in this podcast series have found a form of liberation through the possibility of forgiveness despite having been tormented by often crippling pain or guilt. All have found a freedom that comes from the ability to use adversity for a greater good, to choose one’s attitude in any given circumstance. With the current world narrative being one of polarisation and separation I hope these podcast stories will build a bridge by cultivating a common humanity.