What is forgiveness really? Who or what are we forgiving and most of all, is the receiver of your forgiveness even aware that they need to be forgiven? Most of the time people are not aware of how they have wronged a person. I personally don’t believe anyone does anything on purpose, particularly to someone they love.
I suppose the question is whether the incident requires you to forgive a person, people, a movement, God, so who or what are we forgiving and why?
I will start with ‘why’. Forgiveness is an act that is carried out for one’s own self-healing. It is never for the perpetrator’s benefit. No one can take the guilt away from another. That guilt belongs with the perpetrator. If I feel harmed or hurt by another’s actions I may not be certain that the person’s actions were driven by maliciousness or baseless hatred. They may not even be aware that their actions were hurtful. For instance, no parent wants to hurt their children on purpose, often their actions come from their experience of their parents.
Here is my story: I lost my father in horrific circumstances. He was working in Soweto during the Apartheid years. He went into Soweto every day of his life to ensure that every child got to school. On the 16th June 1975, the Soweto Riots broke out and unfortunately my father was in the wrong place at the wrong time. He was murdered by the very people whom he was fighting for, whom he loved. They did not realise it was Dr Edelstein, so the other day when a reporter asked me “Did you not hate these people, how do you not have hatred towards the perpetrators?”. My answer was simple how can you hate someone if you have not experienced hate in your life and moreover, I knew that they loved my dad. There was no way they meant to kill him. It was a Riot and they did not realise it was Dr Edelstein.
So, I really needed to forgive God. My father was a deeply religious man. He prayed every day of his life, kept the Sabbath and was an incredibly good person. At the age of 12 I questioned God. I remember asking the Rabbis “Where was God”. Many years later I went through my own process of forgiveness. The second part of my healing in terms of forgiveness was to forgive my father for abandoning us. I can tell you that after taking myself through the process of forgiveness I felt free.
Without having the capacity or will to forgive we often find ourselves trapped in a place of anger, depression, and resentment. We can only forgive when we truly understand that the incident was not necessarily done out of maliciousness or on purpose. We become consumed in our own sense of victimhood which becomes the ultimate excuse for not taking our power.
Now there is the argument of rape, murder. Here is the thing: was that rape/murder aimed at you, the individual? Or was it just some lunatic who has been raped before and is just acting out of their own place of knowing? Or we could talk about an act of baseless hatred.
i.e. Hatred for a political belief or towards a race group. This is a judgement taken on by another through their life experiences and the teachings they received growing up. It often is the place of their belonging, a conscious group of people who stand for the same beliefs. ‘if I turn away from those beliefs where will I belong?’
Five years ago I worked with a group mainly families of victims or perpetrators, as part of a Peace Journey tour to Auschwitz concentration camp in Poland. Here is an excerpt from the organiser of the Peace Journey, Brigitta Mahr.
“A perpetrator remains a perpetrator and cannot be relieved from his guilt, no matter whether a victim offers him forgiveness or not. He only can forgive himself by accepting what he did and by accepting all the consequences. But we can feel empathy for his pain which will give the space to free us from the vicious cycle of attack and revenge”
Here is an exercise:
Think of the event that evokes a deep feeling resentment. Perhaps it is time to let go. Forgiveness is the ultimate road to healing. Identify one event that you would like to forgive and go for it.