Guilt and forgiveness – Part 1

Paulo Coelho

During his pilgrimage to Mecca, a holy man was suddenly aware of God’s presence beside him. He fell into a trance, knelt down, hid his face and prayed:

‘Lord, I ask only one thing in my life, that You give me the grace never to offend You.’

‘I cannot give you that grace,’ replied the Almighty.

Surprised, the man asked why.

‘If you never offend me, I will have no reason to forgive you,’ he heard the Lord say. ‘And if I have no need to forgive you, you will soon forget the importance of being merciful to others. Therefore, continue on your way with Love, and allow me to forgive you now and then, so that you do not forget this virtue either.’

The story clearly illustrates our own problems with guilt and forgiveness. When we were children, we would often overhear our mother saying: ‘My child only behaved foolishly because he got into bad company. He’s a very good boy really.’

And so we never took responsibility for our actions, never asked for forgiveness and ended up forgetting that we must also be generous with those who offend us. The act of forgiveness has nothing to do with feelings of guilt or cowardice: we all make mistakes and it is only by occasionally stumbling that we can improve and progress. On the other hand, if we are too tolerant of our own behaviour – especially when this hurts other people – we become isolated and incapable of correcting our path.

How can we drive out guilt, but at the same time be capable of asking forgiveness for any mistakes we make?

There are no easy formulas, but there is good sense: we should judge the results of our actions and not the intentions behind them. Deep down, everyone is good, but that is irrelevant and will not heal any wounds we might inflict.

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  1. […] By Paulo Coelho From Guilt and Forgiveness – Part 1 […]

  2. Paul,

    I am a dental hygienist, we provide preventive care, educate on preventing disease whereas the dentist cures the disease. Yet some diseases are not curable, therefore an ounce of prevention is worth a ton of cure, or however the saying goes!

    You don’t floos? o oh, you need a spanking! lol
    well, don’t be fooled by outer appearance, it is not reflective of the inner state. What’s happening under your gums you might not be aware of.

    Have a nice day!

  3. Becky says:

    Forgiveness is something that I have always struggled with. It wasn’t until I finished reading Kent Whitaker’s story, portrayed in his newest book,
    “Murder by Family,” that I finally realized that forgiveness is a powerful example of the perfect love and forgiveness that God has for everybody. Just to give you an idea of what Kent Whitaker went through… his wife and youngest son were both murdered- later he found out that his oldest son was the murderer- and Kent forgave him.

  4. toni j says:

    There are moments in my life I have wished I would of done something differently or noticed more. So, I cried, GUILTY, but realized I am responsible for my own happiness just as the other person. Much was learned from the feeling of guilt. But for me it is not one to have any longer. To do something out of guilt is selfish. It would be about me not wanting to feel bad. To do out of compassion is love…*

  5. orly says:

    we learn to forgive – forget- ask forgiveness and in a way that the way we should live…but how many times a person hurts our feeling- then ask perdon – we forgive
    and again hurts our feeling,,,,etc,,, there is when we get into 0 tolerance!!!!
    so with G-d its another story,,, its also a different relation- its much more spiriyual and the perdon and forgiveness r coming with a different level.

  6. susan says:

    To offend someone is to wound them. And so the story teaches not only that it is okay to wound those we love, and others, but that it is necessary to wound those we love, and others. Is it?

    How long are we supposed to wound those we love? Until we are all blind and toothless? Should we turn the other cheek and if so for how long, until we are cheekless, so physically battered and bruised we are pummled into the ground? Or, until our spirit is vanquished, and we are walking zombies? From dust to dust? what does that prove, that we are dust, worthless?

    Where did this idea of suffering come from?

  7. Very intersting this topic. Just this morning I was faced with a very similar situation.
    At work, my patient says to me, ‘if you make me feel guilty, i will surely floss everyday’ and he said that whenever he comes in, they make him feel guity and so he flosses. I said No! there is no need for me to make you feel guilty, that is unneccessary, as long as you know that you need to floss and you do it everyday, that’s good enough, and if you know that if you don’t, you will loose your teeth. It’s simple as that and absolutely no reason for me to make you feel guilty.
    He was very happy.

  8. Irina Black says:

    Remedy.The more we get to know each other,the more “weakpoints” of each other get’s disclosed.To have a dialog- means to avoid pressing “the wrong button”.I believe,people are together to become stronger.And still,we make mistakes,sometimes unwillingly..Sorry, I am on the wrong-if this “easy formula” get’s forgotten and forgiveness not obtained-guilt starts to grow as a snowball to make us suffer.

  9. Catherine M says:

    Chère Candie,

    Je parle í  Paulo pardi! :) Au début en tout cas, quand je dis “tu”…

    “A warrior of light knows that certain impossible battles are worth fighting and so is not afraid of being disappointed, knowing as he does the power of his sword and the force of his love. He vehemently rejects those who are unable to take decisions and are always trying to pass on to others the responsibility for all the bad that happens in the world.”
    Believing in the impossible – Part 2- 27/02/09.

    C’est le “vehemently”, qui me froisse: Si le guerrier devrait tendre í  la compassion, alors pourquoi rejetterait-il certaines personnes, pour leur faiblesse? Au lieu de les élever, par sa force? Cela reviendrait í  dire, qu’une personne qui a des difficultés í  prendre sa vie en main, devrait íªtre laissée pour compte? On en revient í  la caricature sociétale qui mène les gens í  ne pas accepter l’autre comme il est, ou í  l’ignorer. Et ainsi en va des pays par la míªme.

    J’estime Monsieur Coelho, mais lí , je ne suis pas d’accord. Sí»rement, car je fais partie de ces personnes, qui ont du mal í  prendre des décisions… :)
    Et d’ailleurs, “Les tocards sont d’accord avec n’importe qui et í  n’importe quel blo”. Gabin/Audiard. :)

    Bien í  toi.


  10. candie says:

    Mais í  qui tu parle Catherine M??Qui sait qui a dit ca?tu utilise “tu” mais je vois pas,j’ai du rater un épisode encore.

  11. -Yes people do not realize when they are kids that they themselves should take the responsbility of their actions.

    -Being in isolation is result of not guilt but result of re-inventing self.

    -We are humans and most of the times we do not want to take the blame or guilt simply because we say, “I did not do that, this was not my fault, it is not me…”, just surrender to the moment and situation.

  12. Pandora says:

    I have always been able to see clearly the spark the good in all people, but have learnt, to great cost, that whether they are good for you is another matter. You cannot fight for something that isn’t even aware exists, or does not try to even try.

    So it is not for me to forgive someone continuously (God’s department), and a lesson I have learned from experience and understanding of a mystery I was shown, is that a dead fish that cannot be revived – is a dead fish (and has to be removed from the pond), whereas a fish that is given a chance of life and then continues to live is something entirely different.

    So with compassion, I now apply this to my life.

  13. Anca says:

    These days I get to witness amazing moments.

    The woman that stabbed me, that continuously put me down for over a year, and made sure she lived every dream I had with my love herself… now she talks a completely different talk… about reality, about being true, about commitment, about building honesty… everything I used to stand by that she mocked as boring, un-entertaining, while she was claiming stealing a man as ‘destiny’.

    I received several chances during this year, from him and his friends, to meet him ‘spontaneously’ when he’d be at a concert un-accompanied, or whenever she would make a mistake I would hear about it, as a thing to escape from. If I would follow other’s model, these human flaws should have been criticized, and the person put down until it loses confidence in every other value it has. I chose not to. She was just another woman in love, like me.

    Now she has his heart, and she is slowly cleaning every corner of it that may have dust of me. Last night, among talk of true love, foreverness and people meant for each-other, she told him that love justifies everything, justifies any means, so her means in the last two years were justified. I was so close to screaming.

    It’s not because she can trash another woman until the man sees only flaws that their love became true. It’s not because she acted on every anniversary of ours keeping him busy to feel or remember anything of me. I was given the same chances she had to do what she did… but … after seeing on my own skin all the devastation a person can go trough, and how hard is to let go of hate, how hard is to believe in love again once it’s reduced to a mere market of entertainment… I knew no feeling in my heart would justify me doing it to another person, be it loved one or the other warriors of light I am fighting against. If I would have taken the black sword, where would things end? what love is that that needs to put down a human for it’s existence? I realized a long time ago that it has to stop with me.

    So I stopped finding for a flaw to aim at, I turned him back at her whenever he would be lost, I refreshed her oxygen whenever breathing got too hard. And forgave them both.

    I was so close to screaming, Paulo! It’s because I’m stronger than he is, in spite of his emotional threats, that she can talk now about trust, the very thing she was mocking me for. It’s because I was able to put down hate and nurture their love, at the very hurt of my own, that theirs could grow. It’s because I resisted their mockery, and not follow them in either fowl play, the very people that would throw themselves in lust singing hatred songs about end of all hope can now believe in true love. SCREAMING, it’s not because her love justified her means, it’s because I decided hate stops with me, that allowed love to grow!!!

    but what would have been the point of such imposed forgiveness? patching lost pride? taking credit?…for what? acting holier does not make me better… I didn’t say a word, I didn’t intervene, as much as I wished they would understand that the end DOES NOT JUSTIFY THE MEANS.

    I’m continuing my journey, and I choose to be happy that he found something so deep, that he is capable of real love. I know it inside me i fought the good fight, and i know that from the many lessons learned from this, ‘the end justifies all means’ is not one I will follow. I’ll keep pretending to believe in love until maybe love will believe in me.

    So if it’s all fine and dandy, and if i can spread happy sprinkles to everyone, how come i cannot do it with me? If I’ve done everything right, how come i can’t seem to forgive… me?

    “there are no easy formulas” … no, they are not.

  14. susan says:

    Yes, the banking industry here in America asked for fore giveness too, and they got it; billions of dollars. Nobody knows what they did with the money, well except for the bonuses, known as golden parachutes, they gave to themselves. What did the public who fore gave them get in return? They are asking for more. And they will get it.

    Forgiveness is a complex subject. Sometimes it supports corruption. Are we then all defiled?

  15. THELMA says:

    I believe that we are human beings free to express ourselves in a .. ‘civilized’ society. Civilization has been developed in the long history of mankind. Standards are changing everyday. So is, our morality and ethics. To teach a child through feeling .. guilty, I think, is inhuman. We must, as parents, teachers, leaders give through our actions and way of living, the good paradigm. We all make mistakes. When we realize that we have erred, for me the best and quickest way is to ‘express verbally’ our apology. Why do I say, verbally? Because we need humility and lack of egoism to admit our mistakes.
    When I was younger and I was angry against someone who had hurt me, my Mother used to tell, trying to calm me. ‘He did not mean it. “DEEP INSIDE” he is good!! This used to make me furious!! ;] ‘I am not going to do … excavations to see how he is … inside’ I used to answer! What counts is his actions and words.
    The ‘thoughts’, of course, count for ourselves. Because we cannot fool our Inner self. We know exactly our thoughts, our intentions and our ..excuses. We know, together with our .. Guardian Angel and GOD. We, in this way, create our ..DESTINY.

  16. Catherine M says:

    Tu as dit qu’un guerrier de la lumière se devait de s’écarter de ceux qui ne savait pas prendre de décision, et ce “vehemently”… Un exemple qui montre bien, qu’il est possible de ne pas pardonner une tare í  quelqu’un.
    En réalité le problème n’est pas de se sentir coupable ou míªme de pardonner. le problème réside dans le fait qu’on ne peut s’accommoder de certaines personnes pour évoluer. C’est naturel. Aussi, míªme si j’ai commis des erreurs, et ma famille avec, je considère que tendre la joue cinquante mille fois, quand on a pardonné, ne sert í  rien, tout comme tu considères que certaines personnes ne mériteraient pas ta compagnie, parce qu’ils ne savent pas s’en sortir…

    La Toute Puissance n’impose rien, mais une trame, qui nous permet de grandir spirituellement. Ensuite les Hommes jugent et se jugent. Et il reste toujours quelqu’un qui sait mieux que les autres, comment conduire le gaí¯ de sa vie. La Toute Puissance ne juge pas; c’est sa merveille. Et isolée dans cette merveille, je me conviens í  penser, qu’il vaut mieux íªtre parfois seul, que mal accompagné. Sachant que la dite isolation n’est pas forcément un fléau, une tare, mais peut íªtre considérée comme un recul sur les choses, et sur soi-míªme.

    L’orgueil est pire que la culpabilité. Surtout quand il sert í  montrer aux autres, qu’on a plus, qu’on est plus. Et pire, quand í§a nous a traversé l’esprit que í§a pourrait heurter l’í¢me de quelqu’un.
    Au moins la culpabilité permet de se remettre en question. l’orgueil lui, c’est comme la grenouille qui aurait souhaité se faire plus grosse que le boeuf.

  17. candie says:

    Hi I feel like it is a confessionnal kind of thing here once again.
    Yes we all do mistakes you are right.I’ve done lots of mistakes and still do in fact,and for that I apologise if sometimes I hurt others.Can depends on so many things.Things you still carry from the past,or because you are just having a bad day and put your anger on someone else or and again,it can happens too,forces who can try to induce you by making those mistakes and I repeat,sometimes it isn’t just about you.On the other hand I have forgiven too cause I’m not the only person who hurts,others can hurt me very much.I actually feels very very angry today,but I will try not to put it on someone else.I know I can cut by my sarcasms sometimes,so I will try to finish the day calmly.

  18. T.K. says:

    I think the lesson of forgiveness is my life path. I struggle to forgive myself and I have struggled in forgiving others.

  19. Alexandra says:

    Great story.Indeed mothers took always their children part,we say,no matter how ugly is the child,is the most beautiful for his mother.But in my life ,rarely or never I heard somebody praising his father,but often I hear people saying how good are their mother.Why is that?A mother is always a mother…Yes,is good to be able to forgive ,at times is a real challenge.Depends on the offence.Is good when we ask forgiveness and that is granted,and maybe a nice friendship is so saved.Oh,I feel sorry now I felt bad about smoking topic..I sad maybe things I shouldnt.I am happy that in my life I met people who forgived me and gave me a second chance.

  20. jincy says:

    Hi Paulo,

    what you wrote here is exactly what I always have in my mind!!!


  21. sido66 says:

    The biggest proof whether it is, it is to know that we are going to suffer (premonition ) , but to make Nevertheless the road by the Love (when I had this flash of proposed future, I shall have been able to say “no”, but I said ” yes, when your will is made, if I have to live this test(event) so that it comes true, all right ”
    ….And I suffered, and agreed to live the suffering which was going to come, while knowing, and I forgave, it is necessary to forgive for Love of his(her) soul, and so that it realizes the intentions of God).

    Faith / Love

  22. munrocea says:

    Thank you for such a great ‘leading’ question ;o)

  23. munrocea says:

    Thank you for this ‘leading’ question ;o)

  24. sido66 says:

    In December, 2008: I return in this place on St Jacques’s road not for me Lord but for them, for all : and as well in this precise place for X, as your forgiveness towards X or to give, I suffered by him and as my suffering is its forgiveness, and as this forgiveness comes along with his demand of forgiveness, for your love….

    And a cross in the sky is to draw, because if to give you for the others, it will be given to you.


  25. sido66 says:

    How we can know how to welcome God when he will appear in front of us, if we did not know how to welcome we even (and know how to forgive us to us even) and if we do not know how to welcome our neighbour, next notr (and know how to forgive him(her) and even if he(her) we in fact the biggest suffering)

    Merciful being is difficult, it is an act of the pure Love in the Man.

    give me the forces of