When I was in school a million and a half years ago, I breezed through all the Shakespeare work as quickly – and with as little attention – as possible. I got the plot points and knew the important quotes but I never fully appreciated his work at the time. Yesterday while driving to Augusta with the impending sunrise in front of me, I was listening to an episode of The American Life about an unlikely production of Hamlet that was put on in the Missouri Eastern Correctional Center years ago.

I recommend that you listen to the episode (Episode 218: Act V, August 9, 2002) even if you’re not a fan of that show or of podcasts in general. The story is a thought provoking one. One moment in particular grabbed my heart and squeezed; four words penned by the Bard himself stabbed themselves into me as though I was myself a part of the climactic death scene in Act V Scene 2.

“Exchange forgiveness with me, noble Hamlet: Mine and my father’s death come not upon thee, Nor thine on me!”

Exchange forgiveness with me. Damn, Bill. You said a mouthful in those four words, but it took me 49 years to appreciate them fully. Forgiveness is a complicated thing for us humans, and our relationship to the word and the concept is all-too-often strikingly one-sided. But the harsh truth is that true forgiveness – the act of letting go of anger, hostility, and resentment for another – is an exchange. Every interaction requires input from both parties, and in most situations, the responsibility for the output of those interactions is shared.

Put another way, it takes two to tango. We need to forgive each other for the mistakes and missteps of the people we were when we made them. I need you to exchange forgiveness with me so that we might both be fully free of the emotional and psychological bonds held taut by the anger, hostility, and resentment that holds us back from healing and growing from our past traumas.

There’s a meditation I was taught many years ago that has helped me to not only forgive others, but to actively seek and understand the need for forgiveness all the way around:

If anyone has hurt me or harmed me

knowingly or unknowingly

in thought, word or deed

I forgive them

I likewise ask forgiveness

if I have hurt anyone or harmed anyone

knowingly or unknowingly

in thought, word or deed

May I be happy

May I be peaceful

May I be free

May my friends be happy

May my friends be peaceful

May my friends be free

May my enemies be happy

May my enemies be peaceful

May my enemies be free

I used to believe that forgiveness was for me, but I have come to understand that it isn’t all about me. True, heartfelt forgiveness is an exchange. Today I encourage you to own your role in negative interactions and to take another look at them with an eye toward exchanging forgiveness instead of simply expecting it.

Categories: Emotional Wellness

About the Author

Michael Nolan

Michael is a Forensic Addiction Counselor and founder of Rediscovery Wellness. He is Executive Director of Just Love More, Inc., a nonprofit organization dedicated to providing compassionate support to people affected by addiction. A member of the National Alliance for Mental Health, he is an addiction, recovery, and crisis intervention specialist, a Red Cross certified First Aid & CPR instructor, and a Certified Anger Management Specialist.