If you don’t forgive, you harm yourself

August 29, 2015

Vijaya Lakshmi Pandit, one of Jawaharlal Nehru’s sisters, went to meet Mahatma Gandhi before leaving for a conference in America. She was passing through a period of anguish after her husband’s death. As a widow without a son, she was denied the right to her husband’s property. She did not fight with her in-laws but felt cheated and was bitter towards them. Aware of the situation, asked Gandhi “Have you made peace with your relatives?” She replied, “I refuse to have anything to do with those who take advantage of an outworn law to create a difficult and humiliating situation for me.”

Gandhi advised her to say good-bye to her relatives because courtesy and decency demanded this. When she said she will not go to those who wish to harm her, Gandhi said, “No one can harm you except yourself.” And then, he added, “I see enough bitterness in your heart to cause you injury unless you check it. Can you escape from yourself? Will you find happiness outside when there is bitterness in your heart?”

After some days of severe struggle with herself, Mrs. Pandit met with her in laws, sought their blessings before leaving India and felt immensely relieved. She later wrote that ‘No one can harm you but yourself” was the best advice she had ever received from someone.

Everyone wants to be happy but most are not despite their wealth, possessions and achievements. This is primarily because they are bitter from inside. They remember all nasty things that people did to them. They hold on to their grudges, and don’t let them go. In the process, they only harm themselves as rightly pointed out by Gandhi.

How I wish we all adhere to Gandhi’s advice and make peace with the people we feel angry with. Developing an attitude of forgiveness will make us happy. Now, it is much simpler. It may just take a phone call, a short message or an email if personal meeting is not possible. We must act fast because life is short. We may not live another day to seek or give forgiveness. We must make the first move even if we know we have been right.  It is not a sign of weakness but strength of character. In Gandhi’s own words, “The weak can never forgive. Forgiveness is the attribute of the strong.”