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WWL: On Forgiveness
Where We Live - with John Dankosky
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In this episode:

"The forgiveness was for myself, first."  -Katy Hutchison


Episode Audio

48:59 minutes (23.51 MB)
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Most of us have needed forgiveness a time or two. And many of us have offered it—or at least attempted to. But what does it really mean to forgive?

Today we’ll continue with part two of the conversation we started yesterday about punishment and forgiveness. We’ll probe the meaning of forgiveness and the role it plays in peaceful societies. Philosopher Charles Griswold will help us examine when forgiveness might be appropriate, how forgiveness is most perfectly achieved, and whether or not there’s such a thing as the truly unforgiveable.

We’ll also talk with Naseem Rakha about her new novel, The Crying Tree and with Katy Hutchison, a writer from Canada, about her journey into forgiveness after the murder of her husband.

Leave your questions and comments below.

This episode originally aired July 15, 2009.

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Listener email from James

What I'm facing is an inability to forgive some people I thought were friends, who posed as friends as long as I could be of use to them, then revealed their true colors when I opposed their attempt to take money to which they were not entitled from someone doing good with that money. My belief is in forgiveness--theoretically; Jesus says to forgive even your enemies, without requiring their repentence. They say that true reconciliation causes the angels to rejoice. But without repentence, without their resolve to stop the offense, with a continuation of the hypocrisy, I don't get how forgiveness makes any sense. Sure, repentence and forgiveness; but forgiveness WITHOUT repentence? That I don't get, yet I can't help feeling that I'm missing something.

Listener email from Gordon

Forgiveness is for yourself. How long are you willing to live with and carry around the burden of your own anger towards the other person? It holds you back; keeps you from moving on in your own life. Ultimately, it is not even my business if the other person sees his or her wrong doing, apologizes or repents. I am responsible for my own peace of mind and they are responsible for their own. I have often heard stories of people carrying anger around for years and the other person was not even aware of the anger towards them.

Ms. Hutchinson's decisions

Ms. Hutchinson's decisions appear to be a series on non sequiturs. Although this may have been an appropriate decision for her, it does not follow that in order not to have her family be defined by the event, she would have to forgive. (Moreover – her family has been defined by the event, albeit differently.)


It is very difficult to concisely articulate one's choices and experiences around such a difficult concept in a brief radio interview.  I appreciate this listener's email which points to the complexity of the issue being discussed, and welcome an opportunity to more fully explain my decision to forgive the man who murdered my husband.  Of course my family would be to a certain extent defined by my husband's brutal and senseless death - how could they not.  However, I wanted to choose, to the extent possible, what "being defined" was going to look like.  Victims of violence of describe a sense of powerlessness and a lack of control in the aftermath of crime.  I was looking for ways to take back a sense of control after losing my husband and fought hard not to be swept away the anger and vengeance society expected of me.  There was an organic need for me to be present and effective in the role of my children's only surviving parent. Believing that we have a moral responsibility to do whatever we can to repair harm (regardless of what side of the harm we come from), I chose to focus on what was lacking in my community in general and more specifically in the life of the young man who killed my husband.  It was there I found a sense of purpose and an opportunity to salvage something of meaning as a legacy to my husband.  By asking for a  face to face reconciliation with Ryan Aldridge, my husband's killer I was able to hear first hand what was going on in his life to enable him to commit such a horrific act.  I was able to tell him in detail what the impact had been (and continues to be) for me and my children.  I was able to ask for a confession, for accountability and for him to do something good and respectable with his life after he did his time.  Taking what I learned I developed a presentation for youth on social responsibility.  I invited Ryan to work with me.  We have addressed thousands of young people and offered a first-hand account of how one senseless decision can change many, many lives forever. Restorative justice changed the trajectory of both of our lives.  Forgiveness was my way of letting go of the life I had and embracing the life I was living.  It quite simply set me free.

Forgivness and repentence

I am not comfortable with the idea that those who adhere to certain religions can repent or atone and feel that they are "off the hook" for whatever they have done. I have been seriously wronged by someone, and the person came to me one day and thought she was forgiven because she had atoned for her actions. Sorry - it's not that easy. It's my choice.