Evidence That It Works
In one study, participants instructed to think about a past offense in a compassionate way—to engage in what the researchers call “compassionate reappraisal”—reported greater empathy, forgiveness, positive emotions, and feelings of control, compared with participants instructed to ruminate on or suppress negative emotions about the offense. Compared with the rumination group, the compassionate reappraisal group also showed less eye muscle tension (which is associated with intense emotion) and lower heart rate.
Why Does It Matter?
Scientists who study forgiveness in organizations point out that conflict is inevitable in the workplace, including schools. Working closely with our colleagues on a daily basis gives us many opportunities to hurt or offend another person—whether we mean to or not. And yet rather than deal with the hurts directly, we sometimes choose to avoid the person, become defensive, or, as what often happens in the school staff break room, start backstabbing each other—all of which contribute to a negative classroom and/or school climate.
When we are hurt or betrayed by someone, it’s understandable to feel angry and view the person in a negative light. However, persistently dwelling on these painful feelings can keep us stuck in a grudge, which is highly stressful and wreaks havoc on our physical and mental health.
One way to loosen the grip of anger and hostility is to change the way we think about the person who hurt us. Research suggests that when people view offenders as fallible human beings who behaved badly but have the potential to change, they experience emotional and physiological benefits, such as increased positive emotions and a more stress-resilient cardiovascular system.