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Ellen DeGeneres Forgave Kevin Hart for His Past Homophobic Comments. Here’s What We Can Learn From Her Decision.

Some people didn’t think he deserved a pass, but psychologists insist we all benefit from forgiveness.

Comedian Ellen DeGeneres invited actor Kevin Hart onto her talk show on January 3rd to encourage the fellow comic to host the Oscars, an invitation he accepted and then rejected when homophobic remarks he tweeted nearly 10 years ago resurfaced in December. Even though the Ride Along star repeatedly apologized for his insensitive comments and noted that he’s evolved since then, he decided to step aside because he believes the scandal that continues to haunt him will spoil the evening.

At the heart of the controversy is his refusal to apologize anew when the media revisited his old tweets the day after it was announced he’d be hosting Hollywood’s biggest night. He declined to do so, he said, because he’s already apologized numerous times.

DeGeneres, the most famous lesbian in the country, used the interview as an opportunity to reiterate the real life consequences of homophobia: “As a gay person” she said, “I am sensitive to all of that. You’ve already expressed that it’s not being educated on the subject, not realizing how dangerous those words are, not realizing how many kids are killed for being gay or beaten up every day.” Despite laying out how Hart’s past words hurt her community, she went on to forgive him wholeheartedly: “You have grown, you have apologized, you are apologizing again right now. You’ve done it. Don’t let those people win — host the Oscars,” she said.

But the funnywoman’s absolution quickly came under fire by members and allies of the LGBTQ communities. One Twitter user wrote: “Ellen giving homophobes the ability to say ‘but Ellen said it’s okay’ is a massive f*cking betrayal.” Another fumed: “The only thing @KevinHart4real proved by going on Ellen was that he is a terrible actor with zero genuine remorse who didn’t have the decency to address his ignorance. No, they weren’t ‘haters’ who came after you. It was the LGBTQI+ community because we’re sick to sh*t of it.”
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American culture is rife with examples of public figures being dragged through the mud for words and deeds committed decades ago. While we must always hold people accountable for wrongdoings and cruel comments, the subtext underlying our refusal to accept an apology is that people don’t have the capacity to grow and change. But as Hart put it: “You can’t grow as a person without mistakes.” Nor can you grow as a person without forgiveness.

According to Loren L. Toussaint, Ph.D., a psychology professor at Luther College in Decorah, Iowa, withholding forgiveness, a subject he specializes in, thwarts our evolution. “You stay stuck in the past, where you just keep ruminating on it,” he tells Thrive Global. “You can’t bounce back if you’re weighed down by what’s happened in the past and you’re carrying around all this baggage.” In other words, failing to forgive challenges our resilience. “Forgiveness literally frees you up,” he says, citing a study that showed more forgiving people have an easier time walking up an incline or hill. “They perceive the world as being less challenging and have a better outlook,” he says.

Numerous studies, in fact, demonstrate the many healing powers of  forgiveness — forgiving others improves cognitive function, helps alleviate stress related to trauma, increases productivity and reduces stress in the workplace, minimizes stress-related disorders, fosters better mental health and overall well-being, and more.

Despite the many rewards we could reap from forgiveness, it’s hard for many of us to pardon perceived wrongs. If you’re struggling to forgive someone who has apologized, Toussaint offers four tips on how to release your grudge and move on:

Know that forgiveness does not mean acceptance of misdeeds

Many people refuse to forgive because they erroneously believe it suggests they’re condoning the infraction. “They believe they’re giving a blanket approval for bad behavior and that’s not something anyone wants to do,” Toussaint explains. But it’s possible, he says, to express your disapproval for the wrong and move on. Another eminent scholar of forgiveness, Robert Enright, Ph.D., a professor of educational psychology at the University of Wisconsin-Madison and author of The Forgiving Life, tells Thrive: “Forgiveness does not invalidate the quest for fairness. Justice and forgiveness should grow up together.” By saying he was sorry and modifying his behavior over the last decade, Toussaint says Hart has “balanced the scales of justice.”

Approach each day as a forgiving person

Make forgiveness a part of your approach to daily life to practice the skill so that when someone of significance hurts you, you’ll be better prepared to forgive. For example, if someone less significant in your life slights you at work or cuts the line at Starbucks, use those opportunities to practice forgiveness. “Become your own forgiveness hero in an everyday way,” Toussaint says, “Make it your intention and focus to be a more forgiving person in every interaction.”

Pour your grievances on paper

Detailing your experience of the offense in a journal might help dislodge the pain. “Research shows that journaling can help you through the forgiving process,” Toussaint says. “It should be emotionally expressive writing that’s unconcerned with formality and grammar.” Putting it on the page might help set it — and you — free.

Pray or meditate on it

Toussaint spearheaded a study in 2016 that showed a positive correlation between prayer and forgiveness. “People who are deeply spiritual or religious often turn to prayer to unload their burden, which has been proven effective,” he says. Meditation, which helps you control and modify negative thoughts, offers another productive way to gain perspective and liberate a grudge.

“What Ellen has done,” Toussaint says, “is signal to the rest of us that forgiveness is a sign of strength, not weakness.”

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VANCOUVER, BC - OCTOBER 19:  Comedian Ellen DeGeneres seen onstage during "A Conversation With Ellen DeGeneres" at Rogers Arena on October 19, 2018 in Vancouver, Canada.  (Photo by Andrew Chin/Getty Images)
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