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Embodied: Deconstructing Forgiveness

Adhiti Bandlamudi


‘Tis the season for good food, celebration, and gratitude. But between carving the turkey and passing the cranberry sauce, some families are still harboring hurt, anger and resentment from events past. In hopes of salvaging this year’s festivities, host Anita Rao is joined by a team of experts who deconstruct forgiveness: how to do it, and how the act may impact your health. 

Charlotte vanOyen-Witvliet is a professor of psychology and department chair at Hope College in Michigan who has spent decades researching the emotional, physical and mental impact forgiveness has on human physiology. vanOyen-Witvliet joins host Anita Rao to share her research and offer comprehensive tools for achieving and understanding forgiveness.

Rev. Irene Monroe believes African Americans throwing around forgiveness like confetti. She looks at what the Bible tells Christians about forgiving people and compares it to the blind forgiveness sometimes offered by black Christians. She joins the conversation to discuss faith and forgiveness. Monroe is an ordained minister, lesbian feminist public theologian, co-host of the podcast “All Revv’d Up” on Boston Public Radio, and syndicated columnist.

Behavioral economist Dan Ariely talks about the power of the apology and how it not only works between friends and family, but when companies and leaders apologize as well. Ariely talks about revenge and tackles family forgiveness. He is a professor of psychology and behavioral economics at Duke University and the founder and director of the Center for Advanced Hindsight.


When victims forgive, they are resisting allowing the past to define their present or to define their future. - Charlotte vanOyen-Witvliet


vanOyen-Witvliet on what forgiveness is:
Forgiveness is one moral response to injustice that takes seriously the harm caused by events, and it doesn’t minimize, excuse or tolerate the injustice.

vanOyen-Witvliet on the power of being forgiven:
Receiving forgiveness from another and embracing forgiveness oneself, when rooted in humble repentance, are like fraternal twins. They are action packed with emotional and physiological side effects that really quiet down the negativity, the intensity and the stress.

Monroe on Judge Tammy Kemp offering Amber Guyger forgiveness:
That was problematic largely because she represents the state. And we try to make that distinction between church and state. By her doing that, there is an institutional forgiveness … 
The judge is representing the state. The young man [Brandt Jean] is representing himself.

Monroe on the way Christianity was taught to enslaved blacks:
We have to make this distinction between blind obedience versus reasoned faith. While Christianity is not a toxic religion, the form of Christianity taught to my ancestors was not to make us better Christians, but rather better slaves.

Ariely on how victims may choose revenge instead of forgiveness:
Revenge is not rational. Withdrawal is. Imagine you did something bad to me. Saying: I never want to see you again is reasonable. Saying: I want to invest time to punish you, that’s a crazy idea from a rational perspective.  

Ariely on his definition of forgiveness:
I’ve had this terrible experience. I can withdraw, [or I can get] revenge, or I can try to understand you … I can try to bypass this transgression. 

Dana is an award-winning producer who began as a personality at Rock 92. Once she started creating content for morning shows, she developed a love for producing. Dana has written and produced for local and syndicated commercial radio for over a decade. WUNC is her debut into public radio and she’s excited to tell deeper, richer stories.
Anita Rao is an award-winning journalist and the host and creator of "Embodied," a live, weekly radio show and seasonal podcast about sex, relationships & health. She's also the managing editor of WUNC's on-demand content.
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