A man hugs the person who murdered his sister.
That’s the image Humber College student Brooke Richards, 18, has when she thinks about forgiveness.
It is a story she heard from a patron at her church – one she will likely never forget.
“I thought, ‘Wow, after all that he can physically touch the guy that hurt him,’ ” said Richards. “I was really shocked. It showed a lot of strength.”
Richards said the gesture of reconciliation between the man and his sister’s murderer is something most people would find difficult to accept.
But a transgression between two people doesn’t have to be as monumental as murder to pose a challenge, said Ward Struthers, a psychology professor from York University.
He said even the smallest wrongdoings could pose great difficulty for people in terms of forgiveness.
Struthers is invited to Humber College as a guest speaker on March 26. Part of the President’s Lecture Series on North campus, Struthers will be outlining his research on relationships and the power of forgiveness.
“I’m hoping it’ll give (students) a deeper understanding of why sometimes it’s difficult to forgive and why sometimes we pursue more unforgiving responses,” he said.
It is often assumed the perpetrator holds the power in a confrontation. Through his research, Struthers brings to light the power the victim holds.
“If I’m in a situation with a person and I have more power over them, I’m much more likely to seek revenge than to forgive them,” he said. “If I don’t have power I’m actually much more likely to hold a grudge against them.”
When people apologize, revenge and grudges are much less probable, and more often forgiveness is achieved, Struthers said.
Struthers studied social psychology and as a graduate student and post-doctoral student he was driven by a theory called social motivation.
“The theory says that after a negative event, we have two dominant responses: a positive response and a negative response,” he said. “Forgiveness is a way to interrupt the negative responses.”
Lisa Wong, a psychology professor at the University of Guelph-Humber, thinks Struthers’ lecture will benefit students, allowing them to think about forgiveness in a new light.
Attending lectures, having different perspectives and hearing different professors are beneficial to students’ broad based learning, said Wong.
“Why victims choose to seek revenge and an understanding of social power are very interesting psychological concepts,” she said.
Along with theory, Struthers aims to provide students with a set of strategies they can use on a day-to-day basis, he said.
While Struthers said through his research he has been able to aid his students with both their professional and personal lives, he has also been able to help himself and his own personal relationships.
His research “has certainly given me a deeper, more nuanced understanding of the process,” he said. “I think it has made me a more pro-social person.”
The lecture will take place on Thursday, March 26 from 1:30 to 3:00 p.m. in room KB 111 on the North campus.