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Indy Lifestyle Online
JOHN NOAKES. My swimming teacher. The girl on the climbing frame when I was eight. What do these three have in common? They are all part of the burden I carry. Of residual unforgiveneness.

John Noakes shattered my happy childhood illusions when in an interview he told me he wished he'd never done Blue Peter. Ouch. The girl who pulled me from the climbing-frame to satisfy her own selfish desires failed to notice that in doing so she broke my arm, the cow. And the swimming teacher owes me a year of lost sleep anticipating the terror of her sadistic lessons.

These days I could sue. But while litigation is good for the bank balance it's not very good for the soul. Nor is cushion throwing. Instead embrace forgiveness - it's the new revenge.

Forgiveness is such hot stuff that it has its own conference, this October - a gathering of experts and assorted victims who have forgiven their perpetrators and feel better for it. Aba Gayle, for example, who after eight years of mental suffering met with her daughter's murderer on death row. There is a picture of them side by side smiling - they might be on holiday together. It is rather a disturbing photo but, she says, forgiveness and understanding that the man was a human being too saved her after years of mental suffering. Also Kim Phuc, whose picture as a young girl running naked and screaming from a napalm attack during the Vietnam War became its enduring image. Phuc was appointed ambassador of goodwill and reconciliation for Unesco last year.

Forgiveness is not just for wet people who can't watch Tarantino films. It's scientific. Last October saw the inauguration of the Campaign for Forgiveness Research with celebrity forgivers like Archbishop Desmond Tutu and Jimmy Carter. The Campaign is funding 58 forgiveness projects at a cost of more than $10m. Dr Everett Worthington, executive director, explains that "scientists will examine what treatment helps alcoholics forgive themselves and others; what parts of the brain are activated during forgiveness; and how forgiveness could affect victims of childhood sexual and physical abuse, to name a few."

Research at the National Chung-Cheng University in Taiwan, for example, found that the people who held on to anger and failed to forgive had higher blood pressure. Other studies suggest that "forgivers" are less likely to suffer from heart disease and cancer.

At the very least you have the moral high ground. Not the point maybe, but nice all the same. Robin Shohet, psychotherapist and co-organiser of the conference, writes "a woman I deeply respect from Northern Island is going to meet Ian Paisley to ask his forgiveness for the hate she felt towards him". She has a wonderfully cathartic experience and he is left boiling with rage. Perfect.

Forgiveness myths

1. Forgiveness means giving in and is a sign of weakness.

2. It's allowing the other person to get away with it.

3. You are as good as telling the perpetrator to abuse your good nature again.

How to forgive

1. Write down or express out loud the injury you have suffered.

2. Let the anger come out.

3. Decide that you are going to forgive and get on with your life, that you are not going to allow yourself to be dragged down.

4. Actual forgiveness is a gradual process that will come with time, determination and not being afraid to face what has happened.

Forgiveness: An International Conference, at the Findhorn Foundation, 16-23 October (tel: 01309 691933).