Forgiveness seems to be the order of the day.
I can’t escape it.
Everywhere I turn, everything I listen to, every book I pick up, every unbidden thought: all keep coming back to the same thing…
It’s Sunday. I have five boys enjoying a day of rest, of watching movies, eating home-cooked food, playing with their toys, and together, and on their computers. It’s a chilling-at-home kind of day.
So it’s not very quiet either.
And I resorted to listening to Jack again.
Two prisoners of war, talking.
Prisoner 1: “Have you forgiven your captors yet?”
Prisoner 2: “No! Never!”
Prisoner 1: “Then they still have you in prison, don’t they?”
This is what I was trying to get at the other day. This is the problem with the idea of forgiveness.
Do you suppose that either of those prisoners will be seeking out their captors? Will they be looking to find them, to tell them they forgive them, to try to be ‘friends’? I mean, I am aware that Nelson Mandela did, but… he’s kind of an exceptional case, isn’t he?
This is it! This is where I have, in the past, so very often come unstuck. If I have been hurt by somebody, baffled by their actions, and I want to move on… the first port of call is: “I must forgive them”. Because forgiveness means letting go of the pain, the anger, the resentment, the hurt, that keep you tied to the past. But what has always kept me teetering on the brink of this idea, of achieving this forgiveness, is the assumption that forgiveness means allowing those people back into my life in some way.
But today I learned something different.
As Mr Kornfield says:
Forgiveness does not in any way justify or condone harmful actions…
Forgiveness does not mean you have to seek out or speak to those who’ve caused you harm. You may choose never to see them again…
You can do whatever is necessary to prevent further harm.
And suddenly, the whole idea of forgiveness becomes a release, doesn’t it? I can let go of the hurt, the resentment, the grief. I can move forward. But, crucially, I can learn from it, too. I can choose not to put myself back in the firing line. I can remove myself from the situation without anger or judgement. I can replace those negative feelings with a universal love for my fellow human beings. And I can move on.
Hatred, he says, never ceases by hatred, but by love alone is healed.
Put simply, and as implausible as it may at first appear, I can love my aggressors from a safe distance. Because when the realisation is fully absorbed that we all make mistakes, that we are all flawed human beings, that we all hurt, that we can learn from both the hurting and the being hurt, that from all these experiences we can grow… where is there room for hatred? How are we different? Simply through our choices. Through how we choose to act or react. Whether we choose to remain locked into the negative and growth-inhibiting cycle of blame, recrimination, victimhood and hurt, or to face it head on, feel it in its awful, amazing, painful, essential entirety; learn…
… and grow.