Forgiveness is essential to human existence. The ability to forgive allows us to move on in our lives, progressing from childhood to adolescence to adulthood. Forgiveness is therefore a fundamental developmental step in our lives, without which, we could not (and will not) make progress.
Indeed, more often than not, it’s the inability to forgive that leads to hatred and intolerance in our society. Without the ability to forgive, we cannot grow as individuals, sharing life’s pleasures with our family, our friends, and our community. We are all human beings. We are not perfect. We will make mistakes. We are accountable for our mistakes, and we need to take responsibility for them. Yet, the next step after recognizing mistakes and assuming responsibility for our mistakes is forgiveness.
A modern-day bestselling book touches on this very topic. Tuesdays with Morrie, by Mitch Albom, details the philosophical ideals of Morrie Schwartz, a dying college sociology professor. Morrie asked the author (and us, the readers) some very simple, yet profound, questions about life:
“Have you found someone to share your heart with?”
“Are you giving to your community?”
“Are you at peace with yourself?”
“Are you trying to be as human as you can be?”
If we are truthful with ourselves, we will admit that we have made mistakes. But Morrie goes on to remind us about forgiveness and that it is a relatively simple yet devilishly difficult process, “Forgive yourself. Forgive others. Don’t wait’” stated the kindly gentleman dying of a progressive disease of the nervous system. “I mourn my dwindling time, but I cherish the chance it gives me to make things right.”
That is a very powerful series of thoughts. We must forgive ourselves for our indiscretions and mistakes (accepting responsibility and apologizing) before we can go to the next level. Then we must forgive others who might have wronged us. And we cannot wait. Morrie tells us, rightly, that we cannot go on with our lives unless we do those three things. Morrie relates a very poignant story of a friend that he had a quarrel with. He did not reach out to the friend before the friend died unexpectedly. This left a real hole in his heart.
Most of the time, we do hurtful things to people not knowing what we have done. Only after time has passed and experience has been gained can we realize that we have been wrong. If we eventually realize the error of our ways, why are we so hesitant to apologize? Why are churches so slow to apologize for past errors? Why are governmental bodies and politicians so slow to apologize for (or even recognize!) past errors? Why are we as citizens, neighbors, family members, spouses, and parents so slow to apologize for past errors? Is it pride, concern about possible loss of authority, obstinance, or unwillingness to compromise? Well, it is all of those things. Our humanity gets in our way, and often keeps us from doing the right thing, reinforced by that fact that conflict resolution is poorly taught and slowly learned in our lifetimes.
How can we apply all of this to community activities? Expect mistakes, accept responsibility, forgive ourselves, forgive others, and do it now! As Abraham Lincoln reminded us, our democracy was a government “of the people, by the people, and for the people.” We are all in this together. Differences and disagreements can lead to tangible change if we can exercise our opinions calmly, accepting responsibility, and practicing forgiveness.