Life Science

By Everett L. Worthington Jr. | September 1, 2004 | 0 comments

The phone rang. My brother Mike’s voice was shaky on the other end of the line. “Mom’s been murdered.”

That morning, Mike had found our 78- year-old mother, Frances Worthington, bludgeoned to death in the doorway to her bedroom. She had apparently interrupted burglars in mid-robbery.

Rage grew inside of me during the seven hour drive to Tennessee. It swelled as my brother, sister, and I talked about the murder scene. That night I was so angry I couldn’t sleep. Around 3 a.m., I began to consider the irony of my situation. I had studied forgiveness scientifically for seven years, but all day the word “forgiveness” hadn’t even crossed my mind. I wondered, “Could the forgiveness methods I’ve taught other people actually help me?”

By this time in 1996, colleagues and I had helped about 1,000 people experience emotional forgiveness by replacing negative, unforgiving emotions with positive emotions like empathy, sympathy, compassion, and love. The last thing I wanted to do was feel anything positive about the murder, but I knew that my anger would solve nothing. Healing could only come from changing my emotions.

I systematically imagined who the perpetrator was and what he must have experienced. I tried to understand his fear and shame at being caught by my mother, and I tried to extend compassion toward him. My own rage was gradually replaced by empathy; my resentment gave way to emotional forgiveness.

Forgiveness is seldom a once-and-for-alltime event. My emotions were complicated when, in the following weeks, a youth confessed, then retracted, then was not arraigned after a grand jury determined that the evidence in the case had been contaminated.

I struggled with this news, but forgiveness held as I extended my empathy toward overworked and unappreciated police and courts. I replaced resentment toward the system with compassion. Years later, I learned that the youth had been killed in a fight, and I felt sad. If he had committed the murder but hadn’t repented, now he wouldn’t have the chance.

Tracker Pixel for Entry

Greater Good wants to know:
Do you think this article will influence your opinions or behavior?

  • Very Likely

  • Likely

  • Unlikely

  • Very Unlikely

  • Not sure

About The Author

Everett L. Worthington Jr., Ph.D., is a professor in the department of psychology at Virginia Commonwealth University. He is the author of Humility: The Quiet Virtue (Templeton Foundation Press, 2007).


Like this article?

Here's what you can do:

blog comments powered by Disqus



Greater Good Events

How Gratitude Can Improve Students and Schools: Educating Hearts and Minds in the 21st Century
February 23, 2017

How Gratitude Can Improve Students and Schools: Educating Hearts and Minds in the 21st Century

Gratitude expert Giacomo Bono, Ph.D., will present a webinar for educators on incorporating gratitude into their schools and classrooms.


Take a Greater Good Quiz!

How compassionate are you? How generous, grateful, or forgiving? Find out!


Watch Greater Good Videos

Jon Kabat-Zinn

Talks by inspiring speakers like Jon Kabat-Zinn, Dacher Keltner, and Barbara Fredrickson.


Greater Good Resources


Book of the Week

How Pleasure Works By Paul Bloom Bloom explores a broad range of human pleasures from food to sex to religion to music. Bloom argues that human pleasure is not purely an instinctive, superficial, sensory reaction; it has a hidden depth and complexity.

Is she flirting with you? Take the quiz and find out.
"It is a great good and a great gift, this Greater Good. I bow to you for your efforts to bring these uplifting and illuminating expressions of humanity, grounded in good science, to the attention of us all."  
Jon Kabat-Zinn

Best-selling author and founder of the Mindfulness-Based Stress Reduction program

thnx advertisement