In this world many conflicts are grounded in historically unending disputes.
Israel and Palestine, the republic of the Congo and Rwanda, China and the Tibetans, Palestine and Israel, and now the Syrian civil war.
Gross inequities, brutal genocides, on-going land disputes, and horrific forms of religious persecution have driven centuries of hate, which culminate in recurring acts of war and mass murder. Most dramatically, ongoing hate breeds the inability to hope for a better world.
Cultural relationships framed by historical grievances have the added disadvantage of being shaped by group consensus processes where leaders are chosen based on their ability to speak to the pain felt by the group and the first urge is always to organize for revolution.
Advocating for peaceful ends through attempts at reconciliation is the last thought of the day, but it is the only hope for sustainable peace.
When we consider the four components of reconciliation identified by John Paul Lederach — truth, justice, mercy, and peace – mercy does not include the act of forgiveness.
Yet, it is the power of forgiveness that transforms us beyond what mercy can accomplish, such as the act of forgiving and allowing an offender, even a murderer, to live.
Forgiveness in this fashion requires intense introspection, a willingness to consider why we feel hate so deeply and what is driving those feelings. When we choose to forgive we also contemplate the immortal struggle between good and evil and we choose to take a path that aspires toward benevolent actions and generosity of spirit. If we achieve it, we choose to be better than what we were before the digression and act of violence occurred.
The act of forgiveness is much more powerful because it can rise above the spirit of mercy and inspire the act of love. In the process of forgiving we are moved to let go of our deep and internalized anger, and we begin to see the other as a human being once again.
In this way, forgiveness is perhaps the highest form of grace, because it inspires us to see and live life in a new light.
In times of war, forgiveness is the last thing on our consciousness as we see others suffer unfairly and unjustly.
It is rare and fleeting to find forgiveness in the face of an enemy.
The desire to revolt and hurt another that has hurt us is the easier course to take. Anger is in itself addictive because it allows us to release the intensity of pain and loss. Moving beyond anger is so very difficult whenever are losses are profound. Imagine the pain of loosing a loved one, a child, a parent – the people you love most in life. It is almost superhuman to think you can move beyond this type of pain. The courage to trust again is indeed a super-human feat.
Likewise, the act of nurturing the spirit of forgiveness in our leaders is difficult because it displaces the desire to raise up those who can give a name to our anger and hysteria. In our own 21st century American landscape, would Mahatma Gandhi have achieved national prominence if he had advocated for the forgiveness of Al Qaida? Probably not because our leaders have instead chosen to breed a climate of fear and distrust with no focus on understanding why violence has occurred in the first place.
Martin Luther King Jr., perhaps America’s greatest architect of peace and social justice, was targeted as a terrorist by the government and labeled as a “terrorist” which in no doubt led to his death. But his passionate embrace of a “beloved community,” despite his unfair and unjust treatment by the government, still resonates with us today.
In these times of terrorist acts, intrusions on privacy, and preemptive deceptions, to move beyond hate towards a path of forgiveness and then trust once again, is perhaps the greatest heroic act that any one of us can achieve in a lifetime. An act which most likely will lead to lives lost for those who choose not to bear or produce arms, to not hate their neighbors, or to promulgate distrust of the enemy.
In truth, in any power struggle, historically only an elite and uncaring few benefit from the suffering of the masses.
Yet, the conflict is too often painted to be a deep and cultural dispute among people who unfortunately have no control over their own fates and must rely on the minimalist handouts for those in a desperate struggle for day-to-day survival. Choosing to fight for the next meal is much more likely to occur then choosing to forgive.
In this atmosphere of fear and violence there are few opportunities for inviting reconciliation, forgiveness and the opportunity to love the enemy.
Perhaps one way that we can help build this new way of relating to each other is to raise up the great architects of peace that have emulated these loving acts in their own lives. Honor their sacrifices and remember them for their deep love of humanity.
The greatest good is always accomplished by the greatest sacrifice.
Sacrifice in your own daily life for the good of the other can create a better world at the grassroots level. Look for opportunities to forgive and ways to build new opportunities for friendships with those that we once imagined to be our enemies.
Build and share a language that is devoid of competition and war. Choose the words “forgive others” over the words “retribution and revolution” at all possible times.
These are challenging times, look for the light and love in each person that you encounter.
It is good to understand that we are all flawed human beings – we make mistakes over and over again and we face ongoing difficulties and failures – yet we have the capacity to be resilient and loving, and to lift up others who are suffering and in pain as well.
There is nothing more inspiring than the words to “love your enemy as we hope to love ourselves.”