We live in a time of local, national and state conflicts that are grounded in historically unending disputes.
Israel and Palestine, the republic of the Congo and Rwanda, China and the Tibetans, and now the Syrian civil war reflect much deeper systemic struggles related to the balance of power, corporate takeovers, a loss of community concern, and a fight for scarce resources on a planet that is overcrowded and not focused on long-term survival.
Gross inequities, brutal genocides, on-going land disputes, and horrific forms of religious persecution have driven centuries of hate, which continue to culminate in reoccurring acts of war and mass murder. It is the worst of times, because we face a deeper threat, a poverty of hope.
Cultural relationships framed by historical grievances have the added disadvantage of being driven by group consensus processes where leaders are chosen based on their ability to speak to pain and organize for revolution.
Peaceful ends through reconciliation is the last thought of the day. And even when we consider the four components of reconciliation identified by John Paul Lederach — truth, justice, mercy, and peace – mercy does not call for the act of forgiveness.
Yet, forgiveness itself transforms us beyond what mercy can accomplish, such as the act of allowing an offender to live.
Forgiveness requires intense introspection. A willingness to consider why we feel so deeply offended and what drives those feelings. When we choose to forgive we contemplate the immortal struggle between good and evil and we take a path that inspires us to act benevolently and have generosity of spirit. We choose to be better than what we were before the digression occurred.
Forgiveness as an act of critical reflection is much more powerful that an act of mercy because it can inspire us to love. In the process we are moved to release our anger, and see others as human beings once again.
Forgiveness is perhaps the highest form of grace, because it inspires us to be something more than we were when we clung to ego-centric feelings of pain and anger.
In times of war, forgiveness can be the furthest thought away from our consciousness as we experience and internalize cruel behaviors and actions and unjust consequences that harm our loved ones.
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 perhaps the easier course to take. Anger is in itself addictive because it allows us to release the intensity of our own pain and loss. Moving beyond anger is so very difficult whenever our losses are profound.
Imagine the pain of loosing a loved one, a child, a parent – the people you love most in life – to unjustified acts of war, inhumanity or anger. It is perhaps superhuman to think you can move beyond this type of pain. The courage to trust again becomes an act of divinity.
Likewise, the act of nurturing the spirit of forgiveness in our leaders is virtually nonexistent, and displaced by the desire to raise up those who can give a name to our anger and/or hysteria.
In our own 21st century American landscape, would Mahatma Ghandi have achieved national prominence if he advocated the forgiveness of Al Qaida. Most probably not in the climate of fear and distrust that we have built around this image and perception.
Martin Luther King Jr., perhaps America’s greatest architect of peace, was targeted as a terrorist by the government and labeled a “” which no doubt led to his death. But his passionate embrace of a “beloved community” that was no longer judged by the “color of nother’s skin” still resonates today as
Terrorist acts, and forms of deception, make it difficult to move beyond hate towards a path of forgiveness and then to trust once again. It is perhaps the greatest heroic act that any one of us can achieve in a lifetime – when we choose to forgive.
For many this becomes an act which may lead to the loss of their life, if they choose not to bear arms, fight against the regime, hate their suspect neighbors, or promulgate group distrust of the perceived enemy. These are very difficult times. Many in war-torn countries face these challenges on a daily basis.
In truth, in any power struggle, usually 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 hand-outs that are distributed among those who live in a desperate struggle for day-to-day survival.
In this atmosphere of fear and violence, there is little chance for 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.
These are challenging times, look for the light in each person that you encounter. It is good to understand that we are all flawed human beings – we make mistakes 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. There is nothing more inspiring then to love our enemy as we hope to love ourselves.