Forgiveness is an essential trait 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 the ability to forgive, we could not make progress. Indeed, more often than not, the inability to forgive 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 bestseller touches on this very topic, Tuesdays with Morrie: An Old Man, a Young Man, and Life’s Greatest Lesson 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 two-step 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. This first step can be quite difficult at times and can even be insurmountable if we let it. It can be crippling if we don’t evolve in our forgiveness journey; i.e., if we are more likely to blame others than accept responsibility for our own misdeeds.
- Then we must forgive others who might have wronged us. This step can really tough if we are not willing to be humble, sincere, and vulnerable. These three traits help guide us, recognizing that the frailties of others are similar to our own. They help us to understand the need to resolve conflicts for our own good and the good of our fellow citizens and the good of our communities.
- And we cannot wait. Morrie tells the story of a lingering grudge that he had, refusing to forgive a friend for some issue. Before he was able to finally extend forgiveness, his friend passed away. He was so upset with himself for failing to resolve this conflict in a timely fashion. I do acknowledge that some transgressions will take more time than others to resolve but when we consider what survivors of the Holocaust and of the Rwandan genocide have been able to accomplish, often our issues seem easier to handle. The grace extended by the families of the Mother Emmanuel Church slayings in Charleston SC are a further reminder of such actions.
Therefore, Morrie tells us, rightly, that we cannot go on with our lives unless we 1) forgive ourselves, 2) forgive others, and 3) do it now.
Most of the time when we do hurtful things (often insignificant or innocuous in our eyes) to people, we do not know 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 slow 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 up from doing the right thing. Conflict resolution is poorly taught and slowly learned in our lifetimes.
“Forgive them Father for they know not what they have done.” The words of Jesus Christ are as valid today as they were two millennia ago. The ability to forgive is essential for the continuation of the human race, and it is the most difficult trait to execute and exhibit on a regular basis. Yet the message of Jesus Christ’s crucifixion and resurrection cannot be clearer – we must learn to recognize our own mistakes and forgive ourselves; we must learn to accept the mistakes of others, practicing forgiveness. Even those of a non-Christian faith know that only then can we learn to love our fellow citizens and learn how to work together for our common good.
How can we apply all of this to community activities? Expect mistakes, accept responsibility, forgive ourselves, forgive others, and do it now! Abraham Lincoln, in the Gettysburg address, reminded us that 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. And that tangible change can lead to positive outcomes for all.