Recent research has supported the benefits of forgiveness, especially its health benefits through the reduction of stress and negative emotion. So why do we often hesitate to forgive? Often our resistance to forgiveness is based on fear.


What do we fear about forgiveness? Some of my students comment that they fear the other person’s response when they ask for forgiveness or offer it. Others say that forgiving or asking for forgiveness makes feels vulnerable or weak. And some confess that forgiveness opens up to new and unknown aspects of the relationship.


Fear is a negative emotion, and no good decisions come from fear or other negative emotions. Look at your personal experience, at the history in our country, or at the events of someone you know. When has anyone made a positive decision based on fear? There are times when we must respond quickly and we’ve all had to make decisions in the midst of negative emotions. However, when you have time to make a decision from a positive feeling place, the result is always much better.


My suggestion is that you realize the same thing that you would tell a child: Fear of something is not necessarily a signal to avoid it. When you face your fear and move forward from a positive state of being, no matter what happens, you will have a positive outcome. You will learn more about yourself and what is possible in your life.


Once we have faced our fear and are ready to forgive, how do we (1) forgive, (2) release the negativity, and (3) learn from the event?


The process I use and teach comes from ho`oponopono, which literally means to make something doubly ponoPono is the feeling of congruency and calmness that we’ve all experienced at some point. That sense that everything feels “right,” that feeling of calmness and congruency within ourselves. That is pono.


To take the first step in ho`oponopono, we need to rethink the process of forgiveness. In western thinking, when a wrong is done, the perpetrator is expected to say “I’m sorry.” However, an apology is only one-sided, a statement that asks for no response from the one harmed. Huna understands that forgiveness is a dialogue, not a monologue. So the first step is to ask for forgiveness then for the other to give forgiveness.


For instance, I’ve had heated arguments with people that definitely required an apology at the end. But it’s like a meal that doesn’t last: Within a short time after all the apologies and making-up, either I or the other person brings it up again “This is just like the last time….” So even though we were sorry, we weren’t done and complete. Getting to pono is different. When you are pono with someone, nothing else needs to be said or done. You are right with one another.


To become truly pono with someone, you first ask for and offer forgiveness for anything you may have done. Though I’ve had situations when I didn’t really think I’d done anything wrong, I still must say “please forgive me too” to complete the process. Saying, “I forgive you; please forgive me too” brings the other person into the picture and gets them actively involved. Rather than merely “being sorry,” a two-way street of forgiveness is formed.


Next, allow the space for you and the other person to say everything that needs to be said. Unburden yourself and say it all. Express what needs to be expressed without hiding or holding back. When you have both shared your thoughts and feelings, you should experience a sense of “I have said it all, and I am done.” Once again, give and ask for forgiveness from one another. Receive it and give it.


Finally, move forward. Huna says that we must learn from all of our experiences in life. So once you are pono, ask yourself: What do I need to learn from this event that will allow me to continue to be pono? Learning is positive, about the self and future based. Take this learning with you to help you change your behavior and thinking, make better decisions, and to create the relationships and situations you desire. And though other difficult times may occur again, once you are pono, you won’t bring baggage from the past into new difficulties. You will begin new interactions from a place of being pono, and with the insight from the learning you received.


Forgiveness was required in ancient Hawai’i. It was required because the Hawaiians knew that holding onto negativity causes harm to the one who won’t forgive. But to forgive and to never forget is to never forgive in the first place. Holding on to the negativity and even the memory of the negativity prevents true forgiveness and only hurts you. We owe it to ourselves to experience true forgiveness – to become pono.


Mahalo, Matt James




Matthew B. James, MA, PhD, President of The Empowerment Partnership. For training schedule and more info go to &