Mostly whimsical reflections on life
The greatest human strength is the power to forgive, just as the saddest human weakness is the proclivity to hate.
Nelson Mandela took the hard road after years in prison and forgave those who imprisoned him. He left prison and became president of a nation that institutionalized hate. He countered that hate with the healing power of forgiveness.
In a Los Angeles courtroom last week, a woman who had been beaten and raped in the back seat of her car 11 years ago finally faced her attacker at his sentencing hearing. Her words echoed far beyond the courtroom when she said, “I acknowledge that you did these disgusting things to me, for whatever reason, and I forgive you, human being to human being.”
Jane Piper publicized her 30-minute confrontation with the man who violated her to speak to other women who are rape victims. She told the Los Angeles Times, “I want people to hear that I survived and it’s okay to talk about this thing.”
While hate usually causes a like-kind reaction, forgiveness has transformative power. A StoryCorps podcast featured a woman whose son was shot and the man who killed him. The mother talked about how after she grieved the loss of her son, she hoped for the possibility of redemption for his killer. She forgave him and it changed his life. The man filled the void in the life of the mother who lost her son.
Acts of forgiveness may be more common than we realize. They just don’t get as much coverage as outbreaks of hatred. There are websites dedicated to acts of forgiveness. One cites the 2006 shooting in an Amish schoolhouse that resulted in the deaths of five children and the shooter. Despite their grief, members of the Amish community, including family members of the deceased children, attended the funeral of the shooter to comfort his widow. Later, they offered her financial help.
A woman attending her bachelorette party in 2010 was shoved into the shallow end of swimming pool. She landed head first and fractured two vertebrae, paralyzing her from the chest down. Instead of sinking into depression, she remained positive and married her fiancé. When asked if she forgave her friend who pushed her into the pool, the woman matter of factly said, “No, because I never blamed her.”
Alexander Pope penned the line “To err is human; to forgive, divine.” In the same work, An Essay on Criticism, Pope wrote “Fools rush in where angels fear to tread.” Despite Pope’s poetic guidance, there is plenty of evidence to show humans are capable of forgiveness and reap huge rewards, psychological and otherwise, when they do forgive.
You don’t have to be a peacenik to wonder if there is a better response to the beheading of American journalists by Islamic State actors than air attacks that are likely to lead to more bloodshed and a wider conflict, consuming more innocent people. Forgiveness as a national security policy seems a remote possibility, but it is a remote strategy that might have a more durable and positive payoff than remote drone attacks.
Forgiveness may be a sharper blade than any sword.