Forgiveness Is Giving Up All Hope of a Better Past

Anne Lamott? Don Felt? John A. MacDougall? Gerald G. Jampolsky? Gina Berriault? Dorothy Bullitt? Lily Tomlin? Anonymous?

Dear Quote Investigator: It is not possible to change the past. Yet, enduring grievances are often emotionally rooted in an irrational hope that somehow past actions can be altered, and a disheartening event can be excised. Here is a popular adage based on this insight:

Forgiveness means giving up all hope for a better past.

The author Anne Lamott has received credit for this saying. Would you please examine its provenance?

Quote Investigator: Anne Lamott did include an instance in her 1999 book “Traveling Mercies”; hence, she helped to popularize the saying; however, she disclaimed credit, and the remark was already in circulation.

The earliest match located by QI occurred in a speech reported in “The Los Angeles Times” in 1991. Emphasis added to excerpts by QI: 1

As the Rev. Don Felt, pastor of the Iao Congregational Church, Maui, explained to those attending an interfaith memorial service on Nagasaki Day, Aug. 9, this year, “Forgiveness is giving up all hope of a better past.”

QI does not know whether Don Felt coined this saying. The expression has been credited to others, and it also has been associated with twelve-step programs. This article presents a snapshot of current research.

Below are additional selected citations in chronological order.

Continue reading Forgiveness Is Giving Up All Hope of a Better Past


  1. 1991 December 2, The Los Angeles Times, Perspectives on Pearl Harbor: Apologies Across the Pacific by Brien Hallett, Quote Page B11, Column 4, Los Angeles, California. (Newspapers_com)