Forgiveness – five components

Five components of a forgiveness journey:
Long before it is put into action the thought of forgiveness after a painful event is born in a victim’s mind by a reflective, inner journey. This introspective process has 3 phases or steps that may lead to two action steps.

Personal/Private – inner forgiveness. The most intimate part of Forgiveness has to do with SELF-LOVE. Here forgiveness focuses on my self – where I acknowledge and accept my feelings of grief, loss and bitterness or shame, I am truthful about what I did, or failed to do, and I release myself from carrying blame for my failures. Jesus said ‘love others like you love yourself’; to love my-self is to know forgiveness by my higher power and to ‘let go’ of my guilt. This is a building block for healing trauma.

Attitude towards the ‘other’. SELF-DENIAL can follow, in which I let go of my right to revenge. This means to follow examples like Nelson Mandela, Mama Deborah, Jean Paul Samputu, Michael Lapsley, Jesus and Stephen (the first Christian martyr), to have an attitude of forgiveness toward those who hurt me. Without some healing of my inner wound I cannot enter this stage because it is too painful to let go of my chance to repay the offender. Yet with healing work, I can forgive the other in my spirit before I have met with them, and even if I do not know who they are.

Willing to move towards the ‘other’. SELF-OFFERING is the 3rd phase. This is the part of forgiveness where I would be free to face the person who hurt me with an intent to treat them as a human being, even though they have not yet apologised to me.

NOTE: all the above occur without any communication with the perpetrator. This was the situation in many of healing stories from Rwanda. Forgiveness emerged from deep within many survivors.
This was unfathomable and irrational to those who believed forgiveness can only be granted after it is preceded by apology.

Able to receive an apology. SELF-GIVING is the 4th component – the part of forgiveness in action where I hear the words of contrition and accept the apology from the ‘other’ or their representative. When spoken in sincerity and face to face, the words ‘I am sorry, please forgive me’ add to the healing of my hurts and always deserves the response “ I accept your apology”.

But “empathy must not dismiss the reality” says Paul Valent. At this stage it is appropriate for the victim to add a call to justice: What you did was wrong and I want to know what you will do to repay something of what was lost.
Here is where forgiveness begins to impact the other person and may even bring the parties to the threshold of an opportunity to accept each other again.

When justice is seen to be done in the community. Where PUBLIC ASSENT is needed, it is a 5th and final act of forgiveness. This is when civil apparatus and the family, cohort or community declares the offender is ‘forgiven’ and opens the possibility to receive them back and re-integrate them. To achieve this the offender must meet the conditions of punishment of the law (or group norm) by attempting to make amends and restore some form of justice in an acceptable way. That was Rwanda’s aim through the Gacaca grass roots justice program.

Comment: These dimensions of forgiveness suggest that we should not be too quick to declare a person ‘forgiven’, nor should we forget the acts committed, or ignore their consequences. However, our openness to forgive grows to the point that prepares us to behave towards the offender in an I’m OK, You’re OK manner.

It is right to expect there be acts restoring something of what was lost after violence and exploitation. This involves both attitude change and justice that is restorative. It sounds just like a healthy interaction between forgiveness and apology.

Fibonacci is a way of describing the ever-expanding growth we observe widely in nature for example in flower petals, shells and seed heads. The sequence of the five components I’ve out-lined gently expands the experience and depth of the journey of forgiveness like the sections of a Fibonacci sequence, as pictured:

Forgiveness is a journey

Prepared by John Steward, Junction Village, 2021
adapted from Choices on the Way to Peace Study guide, 2005

Recovery after conflict



Many years ago the philosophers Gorovitz and MacIntyre wrote about human failings.[1] They suggested that in the realms where control is within our reach, we have two reasons why we might still fail. The first is ignorance due to a partial understanding of how something works. The second type of failure is ineptitude – failing to apply the knowledge correctly.


These factors are of key importance to the possibility of recovery after conflict, tension, loss or other form of grief – both for the persons involved and for the relationship that is often spoiled by the effects of conflict.


First, we realize that we have been impacted, but may not understand exactly how and why the conflict has affected us. We need time to gain perspective and look into our experience – and we usually need supportive persons to do that well.


Our need then is to find such supportive persons. This is what community makes possible, especially if the group is not focused on trying to convince us about what is ‘right’ and what I ‘should do’. Rather the focus must be on a space for conversation where I can share my thoughts without being corrected or shamed.


Second, we may not be aware of how much we are affecting others with whom we relate. We will only get to know that when they can safely tell us and explain how and why we are affecting them.


This requires that I understand myself before I give thought to how I behave out of who I am. Deep reflection and honesty give me a chance to achieve this.


Third, we may feel estranged but do not know what are the steps by which we can recover balance and renew our connections.


These were key issues in the broken social relations in Rwanda after the 1994 genocide. World Vision asked me to discover ways to create space for Rwandans to face these challenges and make responses that would bring change.


I mentored a few Rwandans and they saw many people change and restore relationships that were broken by the worst acts of violence. Some of these people asked me to write their stories. Their stories contain principles of behavior change that any human can apply.


From Genocide to Generosity was published in 2015 with some powerful narratives and hope-filled changes. The Rwandan best-practice we used offers an antidote to ignorance and ineptitude. To find out how visit the on-line Study Guide at

John Steward, writer and speaker, Junction Village, Victoria

[1] Gorovitz and MacIntyre, Toward a theory of medical fallability, Journal of Medicine and Philosophy 1 (1976): pp51-71.

Book review by Prof. Paul Rutayisire

This book is both interesting and enlightening. It tackles one of the consequences of the Genocide against the Tutsi that is misunderstood by many Rwandans: the internal or psychological wounds caused by the traumatic events experienced or witnessed during and after the genocide. Such trauma manifests itself in collective and individual life experience. The feelings that resulted among the Rwandans are known: fear, anxiety, bitterness, sorrow, shame, shock, uncertainty, distress, and confusion.

After the genocide a few programs addressed that challenge, if only in a superficial way. These programs aimed at a collective cure leading to peaceful coexistence. They led to a positive outcome but, for the author of this book, their effects would not last long because psychological wounds were not healed. Read More

Quick response to the Study Guides

Here’s a quick response to the newly released Study Guides, from an Australian in Geneva…

“Congratulations seems to be an entirely inadequate word – what an amazing “ministry” this is. I can see so many applications – Ukraine, Western Balkans, working with refugees and host communities etc – and am looking forward to a deeper dive.”

Study guide TO LIVE WELL

Is now available on this website – see STUDY GUIDE. It is a ten part study for small groups. Includes a facilitators guide; question sheets and an introductory video for each session. The Guide aims to help us gain personal insights from the award winning book: “From Genocide to Generosity”.

Screen shot for study guide videos

Kevin Jenkins, World Vision, on ‘From Genocide to Generosity’

“We rarely fully explore the healing power of forgiveness in our day-to-day lives, so John Steward’s deeply personal, first-hand view of sacrificial forgiveness in the midst of the Rwandan genocide is unimaginable. The personal journeys of pain and reconciliation will break your heart and inspire you. This book, emerging from experience with World Vision staff and the communities they touched, will change your perspective on the human condition.”

Kevin J. Jenkins, President and Chief Executive Officer, World Vision International

A Song for Nagasaki

A Song for Nagasaki by Paul Glynn, Marist Fathers Books, Hunters Hill, NSW, 1988, 168pp.

I will forever be grateful for the friend who sent me this book. It is one of the most influential books in my life, and I made more marks and underlining in it than in any other book I have ever read. Here I met one of the world’s great Peacemakers: Doctor Takashi Nagai (“The well that lasts”).

Read More

Dr Wendy Lambourne on ‘From Genocide to Generosity’

John Steward’s book provides a powerful and moving account of how recovery after genocide is possible. He inspires us with the stories of Rwandans who have been able to face their past and find hope in the future as they discover the potential for forgiveness and healing.”

Dr Wendy Lambourne, Senior Lecturer and Deputy Director, Centre for Peace and Conflict Studies, University of Sydney.

Review of the e-book July 2017

After the genocide of 1994 Rwanda was a country with a national mental health crisis. Not only had most of its citizens suffered horrendous losses and abuses, but to compound the trauma, many were unable to find out what had happened to loved ones, or locate their bodies for burial. In 1997, the author and his wife felt called to go there and work with an NGO in the healing process. This is their story, of all the listening they did to start with, then the workshops they ran with a focus on healing and reconciliation. I was particularly impressed with the community based justice system which was focused more on restorative justice rather than punitive justice. Finally, he includes a 12 step program towards forgiveness which I found very powerful. The individual stories in this book are heartrending, but ultimately it’s a book of hope and healing.

Heather Jephcott on ‘From Genocide to Generosity”

Rich with insight…how one country can sink so low, so quickly…How ethnic tensions can simmer and then explode, or rather, how easily a group (mostly male) can come under the domination of leaders to do the most vile deeds. But then, the role of HOPE, in bringing people out of the worst darkness. where they encounter healing and learn to forgive…and be forgiven. How extreme enemies can become family…through forgiveness and the desire to restore…reconcile.
Heather Jephcott, poet and author of Open Hearts, Quiet Streams, Indonesia.

Book review by Nick Mattiske, Crosslight.

At the time of the Rwandan genocide, it was said that there were no more devils in Hell because they were all in Rwanda. In 1994, almost one million people were killed by the systematic interethnic violence. When the massacre stopped, refugees returned to Rwanda, fuelling reprisals and disputes over land. This unimaginable catastrophe created a mental health crisis, with few citizens unaffected.

Read More

Crowdfunding link

The journey of change (CLICK ON pic or the link below)

So many put their hands to work – communicating and giving.

Your contributions to support creation of the study guide to accompany the book “From Genocide to Generosity” were just great. We are now 90% there to make this peace study possible. I am really pleased with the content and process. Now I am focused on getting the material into the best shape to be on-line. Hope to do this by the end of Jan ’18.