Katherine Schwarzenegger Pratt, THE GIFT OF FORGIVENESS

Katherine Schwarzenegger Pratt, THE GIFT OF FORGIVENESS

Zibby Owens: I’m doing a Skype today with Katherine Schwarzengger Pratt who is the best-selling author of The Gift of Forgiveness: Inspiring Stories from Those Who Have Overcome the Unforgivable. She’s also the author of best seller Rock What You’ve Got, children’s book Maverick and Me, and I Just Graduated … Now What? She’s an animal advocate who serves as an ambassador for Best Friends Animal Society and the ASPCA. According to her website, she calls herself a daughter, sister, wife, and stepmom. She currently lives in Los Angeles with her husband Chris Pratt, the actor, and their family.

Welcome, Katherine. Thanks so much for coming on “Moms Don’t Have Time to Read Books.”

Katherine Schwarzengger Pratt: Thank you. Thank you for having me.

Zibby: Would you mind telling listeners what your latest book, The Gift of Forgiveness, is about? The subtitle is Inspiring Stories from Those Who Have Overcome the Unforgivable, so I’m giving a little clue.

Katherine: It’s a collection of different interviews that I’ve done over the past two years with twenty-two really inspiring people who have practiced and struggled with forgiveness in different ways. The goal with it is really just to have people read the book and be inspired to practice forgiveness in their lives. When I personally was struggling with forgiveness, I found the most helpful advice to come from people’s personal experiences with forgiveness and being able to apply their nuggets of wisdom to my own journey. I wanted to turn it into a book to get as many people helped in their forgiveness journey as possible.

Zibby: Tell me about what happened with your best friend. In the introduction, you talk about how some conflict you had with her is basically what inspired you to go on this quest for other people’s ways of forgiving people. Can you say what happened?

Katherine: I had a falling out with a best friend that really triggered my interest in forgiveness and also my curiosity around what forgiveness meant to me at that point in my life and figuring out how I struggled with it, the role it would play in my life, and how to practice it for me personally. There have been a variety of different things in life in general that require forgiveness or bring up forgiveness. For me, I felt like that was the point at which I was struggling the most with it. I started wanting to go and find books or inspiration or seminars to kind of guide me through my forgiveness journey. I found talking to other people about their journeys was the most helpful.

Zibby: How did you select the twenty-two to include in the book? Did you interview way more people than this, but these are the ones you ended up with? You range from a victim of Larry Nassar’s, to a man whose family was killed in a car accident, Elizabeth Smart, a mother of a Columbine — it was all over the place. How did you find them? How did you choose?

Katherine: I wanted to come up with a really great list of people who I thought had a variety of different ways that they have struggled with forgiveness or practiced forgiveness because I think it speaks to how complicated the topic of forgiveness is for all of us and how all of us have such a unique relationship with forgiveness and a unique take on it and the role that it plays in our lives. I myself kind of put together an ideal list of people who had spoke about forgiveness or people who had been referred to me about their forgiveness journeys and haven’t necessarily spoke about it on a public level before. I blindly reached out to a bunch of people. These twenty-two people all agreed to be a part of this project, really with the hope of sharing their story to help another person in their forgiveness journey. Because they all have a common desire and goal to be of help and of service to other people in their forgiveness journey, it made the book that much stronger and also allowed for us to end up with a book that had a really great variety of different forgiveness journeys. I was really excited about that.

Zibby: You mention in the book, this term conscious forgiveness. Let’s say I’m struggling to forgive a friend or something. How can I practice conscious forgiveness?

Katherine: I think conscious forgiveness is really just the idea that you are opening your life and your heart to forgiveness. There are so many people that I have encountered along the way that are very closed off to the idea of forgiveness in their life and forgiveness with a specific person or a specific incident. I found that when you are even open to forgiveness in the first place is the first, best step towards being able to practice forgiveness. Even when we have moments of triggers in our lives that take us back to feeling sad or angry about a specific situation and about an incident that had happened that we thought that we had processed forgiveness with, I think it’s important to be gentle with yourself in that process and to, again, have conscious forgiveness to bring you back to a place of living in a forgiveness mentality. That’s really what I mean by conscious forgiveness and making the choice to live in a place of forgiveness.

Zibby: It’s funny because sometimes when I think about forgiveness, it’s what that will do for the other person. Forgiving actually has so many benefits just to yourself, which is something that you might not necessarily consider when debating whether or not to forgive someone. I don’t know if people even have this consciously top of mind, like, will I or won’t I forgive this person? How you shined the light on, in particular Chris Williams’s essay when you say, “Holding onto anger is like keeping the wound fresh and open. You never give it a chance to heal,” if you hold onto the pain, it’s your loss as well. Tell me more about that.

Katherine: For me, I went into this book feeling just like that, that forgiveness was something that I was going to be giving to another person. That comes with a lot of really complicated feelings because you feel like if somebody just caused me harm or pain and I’m giving them a gift of forgiveness or I’m giving them something, then what is the purpose of that? Why would I do that? because they just inflicted pain upon me. It’s a confusing thing. Then when I started doing this book and talked to a lot of the amazing people in this book, I was quickly told and explained to that forgiveness has nothing to do with giving another person anything. It is only about giving yourself a gift. That is the gift of forgiveness. I think when we’re able to shift our mentality and allow ourselves to really understand what the role of forgiveness plays in our lives and see that it is a gift that we’re actually only giving to ourselves, and while it might have a great ripple effect on people surrounding our lives, it’s not a gift that you’re giving to anyone but yourself. That is the gift of freedom. When I was able to kind of shift that mentality in my head, it really allowed for me to be able to welcome forgiveness into my life in a totally different way that felt much more empowering and much more like I was taking my power back and I was in control than me giving anybody any gift, per se.

Zibby: I love that. It’s so important. I feel like especially with all of us now at home, we have all this extra time, perhaps, to reflect. What are my flawed relationships? What grudges am I keeping? Maybe there’s some way — it’s nice. It’s like shedding a layer of clothing, taking off all the baggage of the people you haven’t forgiven, even for tiny slights as opposed to massive things like some of the ones in your book. I think your book is particularly useful at a time like now when we can sort of go inside more and think things through. Your gift of forgiveness is something you can actually give everybody right now, so it’s perfect.

Katherine: It’s actually interesting because when I came out with my book a couple weeks ago, it was just at the beginning of this whole coronavirus pandemic which has been really challenging for a huge amount of people. There are many people who are at home in quarantine and then of course a lot of people who are not able to be at home in quarantine and are working and are in hospitals and really on the front lines. I have nothing but respect for all of them. I think a lot of people who are at home and in quarantine and are having all of this time in solitude or time with their family or with whoever they’re with, it’s giving people a lot of time to reflect on ways that they can better themselves that we normally would never give ourselves in our fast-paced society. I think the silver lining there definitely is that we might be able to focus on things like forgiveness and who we might need to still forgive in our lives that normally, had we not been put in this quarantine or state of being locked in our house and not be able to do anything, we never would’ve really sat down and given ourselves the time to think about. I think that there is a little bit of beauty in that.

Zibby: Have you thought of anybody new you can forgive, or have you basically crossed everyone off your list in the process of writing this book?

Katherine: I’ve definitely done a deep dive of forgiveness while writing this book, but I’m always excited to be able to talk to people and to grow and continue to learn when it comes to forgiveness, which I think is really important.

Zibby: I love how at the end of the book you even include a fill in your own letter to someone type of activity that you can do. You’re totally empowering the reader to not just read the book, but then have an actionable response at the end, which I think is great because that’s really what you are trying to — I mean, I’m assuming that what you’re trying to do, and you can speak to this, is trying to get other people to benefit the way you have, right?

Katherine: Yeah. One thing that I’ve really realized in my two, two and a half years of writing this book and working on this project is that when you bring up the word forgiveness with people, whether it’s somebody that you know really well or someone that you don’t know at all, when you talk about forgiveness, it’s not something that, obviously, we’re sitting around talking about frequently. Oftentimes, people go back to a specific incident that they need to work on or that’s still troubling them or maybe they didn’t know is still troubling them. It’s been really interesting to me to see reactions from people where you say, “I’m working on a book on forgiveness,” and people go back to somebody who bullied them in high school and it’s been thirty years and they realize that they’re still not over it, or someone that hurt their feelings five years ago or wronged them five years ago and they realize that they still are carrying that around and really want to let that go. It was important to me to be able to have that blank page section at the back of the book because after reading all of these people’s stories, certain people’s stories will resonate more with you than others. You will also be triggered to think about specific people or situations in your life. That might be helpful to have a place where you could write down their names, write someone specific a letter, or just kind of get your thoughts flowing when it comes to your forgiveness journey. It felt helpful to have that in there.

Zibby: I loved how you included Deborah Copaken’s story. Deb was on my podcast. I adore her. We’ve become friends. Her essay about how — not her essay. Your chapter about how she forgave her rapist from years before and reached out and wrote him a letter after so many years and how your point of that whole chapter is there’s no time limit on forgiveness, so it doesn’t have to be something that happened in the last couple years, but even something from your way back in the day can be beneficial to exhume and then address even now.

Katherine: I think it’s really encouraging for people to be able to hear that someone like Deborah Copaken wrote her rapist a letter and was able to practice forgiveness thirty years later. When I had asked her that — I said, “Do you wish you had done this sooner?” She was like, “No, I don’t because I would not have been able to be ready for it or have welcomed it in my life any earlier than what I’ve been able to do now.” A lot of us feel, I think, like I haven’t been able to practice forgiveness with this person. It’s been five years or ten years. Will I ever get there? To be able to see that there are people who are still struggling with it, people who get there after fifteen years, thirty years, whatever it is, or fifty years and it’s still okay to do that, that, to me, was really encouraging because it showed that there is no time limit on your forgiveness journey. It’s not about hurrying up and doing it the week that something happens or the day that something happens. You really do it in your own time.

Zibby: What should we do if there’s someone who hasn’t forgiven us? Some of this is about control. I’m taking the control back on the incidents that have happened. By forgiving someone, it’s essentially like I’m taking ownership of my part in this. I’m closing the loop on this incident because I’ve forgiven it. Now I’ve, in my head, put it to bed. It’s lifted this load for me. But what if somebody hasn’t forgiven me? I’m trying to think of somebody who maybe hasn’t forgiven me. I have a couple things I’m stewing about in my head. Aside from mailing them a copy of your book, what can we do?

Katherine: After you ask for someone else’s forgiveness, it’s really then about you practicing self-forgiveness, which is incredibly challenging. We talk a lot about that in the book because it is such a complicated topic. It’s one that most of us struggle with throughout our entire lives. I think once you’ve asked someone for forgiveness, that’s totally up to them and what they decide to do or how they decide to handle it. Then at the end of the day, you can’t control another person. You really have to just focus on self-forgiveness. That is really the only place to go to after you’ve asked someone else and realize that it’s not in your control any longer.

Zibby: At the end of the book you say, and I’m going to quote you, “I’m a different person today because of the stories in this book. And now that you’ve read it, perhaps you are too.” How did the book change you? Here’s my assignment. Try to answer this question without using the word forgiveness.

Katherine: The book has changed me because it’s shown me other people’s experiences and other people’s journeys that have broadened my view of a variety of different ways to live life, welcome certain things in your life, be closed off to certain things in your life, and how being open to certain acts of empowerment and power in yourself, self-power, it really focuses a huge amount — I’m going to use the word forgiveness because that’s what the book is about. It opens your view on how complicated the topic of forgiveness really is and also allows yourself to be really encouraged to be able to practice it in a variety of different ways. I think it shows you, and it showed me really, that all of these people were so willing to open up to me and be vulnerable and just express themselves and go really deep into their pain and heartache and experiences just to be able to give other people the gift of their journey and their experience with forgiveness. Writing this book showed me how much I had to learn when it came to forgiveness, how many types of ways there are to practice it and to not practice it and just struggle with it. Coming out with this book and talking to different people has really allowed me to see how needed the conversation around forgiveness really is. It’s all been a really dramatically life-changing experience for me and has been really moving and emotional for me to be able to see people connect to the topic that this book is really about.

Zibby: I love that. That’s amazing. Can you talk to your process of writing the book? How long did it take? Where did you like to write it? What was your process like?

Katherine: I tend to be most productive in the morning. I try to do a lot of my work early in the morning. I’m an early riser, so that helps me a lot. I would make myself structured hours. Whether it was working from eight to three or from seven to three, whenever I would be able to have structure in my life, that’s really helped with the writing process because I think anybody that you talk to that’s a writer will tell you sometimes that not having structure in your day can make the whole process much more challenging. I do really well with structure. It helps to have that and to be held accountable. I would also try and have friends who are also writing, that we could all sit and write together. We would hold each other accountable for getting things done. When I would do the interviews with people, I was really just dependent on other people’s schedules. Whether it doing an interview over the phone or going and meeting somebody and doing an interview in person, it was a really amazing experience and one where a lot of the time after an interview I needed to sit and digest the information and sit with all of these incredible stories and inspiring stories and see how they resonated and sat with me in my life. It was a great experience and a different one than my previous books. It was an eye-opening one, for sure.

Zibby: Do you have more books in you? Do you have any other projects on the horizon?

Katherine: I hope so. I’m really focusing on making sure that this book is my priority right now because I’ve worked on it for two and a half years. Anybody who’s done a book will tell you that birthing a book is a really wild process and one that you put a huge of time and energy and work into. I want to make sure to not get off focus and go try and work on another book right away because it’s really important to me to do these twenty-two people fair and be able to spread the message that they put in this book and talk about their stories and talk about this book in a really important way. I think it’s really needed, especially right now even though we’re all at home. That’s my main focus right now. I definitely hope to do more books in my future.

Zibby: Do you have any advice to aspiring authors?

Katherine: I would tell them to work hard at it. If somebody doesn’t believe in your idea or your desire to write something specific, keep trying because it only takes one person to say yes. Then also, there are a huge amount of people who are doing self-published books now anyway. I think it’s a really exciting time for writers and for authors, and an empowering time as well.

Zibby: Thank you so much. I hope that my podcast can help a little bit in getting the message of your book out. I’ll do my part because I think that the message of your book is really fantastic. The stories inside, like you said, they make you stop in your tracks and think about your life and what it means to love and forgive and really just interact with others. It’s really a beautiful book, especially for now. I really thank you for writing it and bringing these stories to life and letting me help you usher it out there in the small way that I can.

Katherine: Awesome. Thank you so much. I appreciate it.

Zibby: Thanks a lot. Buh-bye.

Katherine Schwarzenegger Pratt, THE GIFT OF FORGIVENESS