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Who Could You Forgive Today?

                            Years ago, I found myself carefully counting my dog-eared dollars and placing them into a clearly disinterested clerk’s hands to pay for one package of hot dogs and buns. As I glanced at the towels in the backseat of my old Chevy, I excitedly thought how much fun this afternoon would be. First, we’d go swimming at my neighborhood pool. Then we'd grill lunch. Great plan, one problem: The two young brothers I'd arranged to take out of the city and into the country for the day never showed up at our agreed-upon pickup place. Calls from a nearby telephone booth went unanswered. I waited for an hour and a half, then dejectedly drove home. I was so disappointed. As I racked my brain to understand what happened, my sadness turned to anger. How dare they blow me off? Their disappearing act turned personal. All I could think of was confronting them. Then something happened: I forgave them. A conscious mind-set of forgiveness slipped in and took over. Actually, it started with forgiving myself. Instead of blaming them and myself, I let it go. While forgiveness is a powerful individual act, it can also lead a community to a deeper level of awareness. The recent death of Nelson Mandela and the dialogue that followed about his decision to leave behind the pain of 27 years of suffering in prison began with one word: forgiveness. “I had given [them] enough…I couldn’t give them my mind and my heart,” he said. Mandela used his personal convictions to lead a divided nation to truth and reconciliation. Teaching our children to forgive may be one of the best lessons we can give them. Instead of fostering destructive competitive practices, think about the power of forgiveness. As an alternative to time-outs and harsh disciplinary words or actions, perhaps we should teach our children about expressing empathy—feeling what others are feeling. Maybe we can educate them on the art of offering an apology and accepting one with a sincere "I forgive you." We often hold on to old pain and negativity like an invisible shield to protect us from future hurts. What we don’t understand is that our power doesn’t emerge from the past. It comes from the ability to be fully present and say, “It really is okay. I forgive you." Is there someone—even yourself—you could forgive today? Post a comment below and tell me who it is. Janet Taylor, MD, MPH, is a mother of four, a psychiatrist in New York City and director of guest support for The Jeremy Kyle Show. Follow her on Twitter @drjanet. Got a question for Dr. Janet? Email her at askdrjanet@familycircle.com.

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