A friend recently sent me a couple of quotes which stated this exploration of forgiveness. The two quotes were:
“When you forgive you heal. When you let go you grow,” and
“Forgiveness does not change the past, but it does enlarge the future.”
I am not an expert on forgiveness by any means, but I subscribe to what all religious traditions teach. That is, withholding forgiveness is a punishment I inflict only upon myself.
Who Are Your Heroes?
I sometimes ask clients “Who are their heroes?” Whom do they look up to? For me it is Nelson Mandela. My wife and I spent 6 years working in Zambia when apartheid was still prevalent in South Africa. Zimbabwe had fought and won their independence in 1981 at a terrible price. South Africa seemed destined to be next and with a much larger population than Zimbabwe, the possibility of even more bloodshed seemed inevitable. Yet, Mandela, who had spent 27 ½ years in jail, was able to be a moderating influence in a time of terrible turmoil.
Heroes are people we look up to. I couldn’t do what Mandela did, but when things get difficult, I can remind myself of his example. In my case, no matter what I am going through, it is not 27 years in a tiny cell, so I can tell myself to get on with the program whatever that might be.
Mandela’s Story of Truth
In the forward to Mandela’s autobiography, Long Walk to Freedom, then President of the USA, Bill Clinton wrote: “Tell me the truth. When you were leaving prison after twenty-seven years and walking down that road to freedom, didn’t you hate them all over again?” and he said, “Absolutely I did, because they’d imprisoned me for so long. I was abused. I didn’t get to see my children grow up. I lost my marriage and the best years of my life. I was angry. And I was afraid, because I had not been free in so long. But as I got closer to the car that would take me away, I realized that when I went through that gate, if I still hated them, they would still have me. I wanted to be free. And so I let it go.”
Clinton continues: “Just as Nelson Mandela grew to understand the inhumanity of apartheid, he also realized what so many people failed to comprehend: the oppressor is also a prisoner of prejudice and narrow-mindedness, and that the same chains bound all South Africans, no matter their skin color. This remarkable book is the chronicle of how he first freed himself, then his fellow citizens, as he took them along on his long walk to freedom.” Bill Clinton 2013.
When We Don’t Forgive
I believe the same is true for each of us. When we don’t forgive, we are bound with the same chains as whoever oppressed us. As another quote states: “When you hate something or someone, you chain yourself to it.”
Forgiveness is not condoning what happened, but somehow recognizing the pain you suffered without letting that pain define you. As Mandela said: ”If I still hated them they would still have me. I wanted to be free. And so I let it go.”