Desmond Tutu’s Four Steps to Forgiving Others


Few religious voices need no introduction. Desmond Tutu is one of them. As the former Archbishop of Cape Town, Tutu became a leading human rights advocate who has championed causes such as poverty, racism, homophobia, sexism, HIV/AIDS and war. He received the Nobel Peace Prize in 1989 and the U.S. Presidential Medal of Freedom in 2009. In his newest work, The Book of Forgiving (co-authored with his daughter, Mpho Tutu), he offers four steps to forgiving and healing:

  1. Telling the Story
  2. Naming the Hurt
  3. Granting Forgiveness
  4. Renewing or Releasing the Relationship

Here, we discuss this process, how his experiences with apartheid relate to it, and how he answers those who've criticized it.

RNS: Your first step to forgiveness and healing is to "admit the wrong and acknowledge the harm." Doesn't that just dredge up old pain?

DT: For both the offender and the victim, the pain is there, often unacknowledged and that is when it can cause harm through festering. When I ignore a physical wound, it does not go away. No, it festers and goes bad. [tweetable]It may be initially painful to open up a wound, but then it can be cleaned out and cauterized.[/tweetable] And you can pour a healing balm.

RNS: Another step you list is "asking for...and granting forgiveness." How do you forgive someone who doesn't think they've done anything wrong?