(Gandhi and Mohammed Ali Jinnah, the man who ‘had a problem for every solution Gandhi came up with’)
When it is not confronted with nonviolent resistance, violence always leads to more harm than any physical harm that it might inflict. It can cause us to close down and carry hurts and burdens within ourselves, which when left unacknowledged and not addressed, can lead to negative patterns in terms of how we see ourselves and our capacities. Forgiveness in its fullness is a means for stopping that truly vicious cycle
The challenge of forgiveness, however, is that it is never an obligation–it is always a choice. Like love, no one can coerce you to forgive them. It is a gift that we offer from our hearts as a way of moving forward emotionally. We sell forgiveness short in that it is rarely if ever presented in its true form as a gift and a choice. It is presented as a moral and religious imperative on the one hand, and as a sign of weakness on the other. Who would consciously and freely chose to make themselves look weak? Gandhi’s view of forgiveness then shines a light into rediscovering this great power. It is “a definite recognition of our strength.”
Gandhi’s message for us about forgiveness is quite penetrating. If we thought that we were strong because we will not forgive–and when we do not forgive, we carry resentment and fear in our hearts–we are actually saying that we think that strength means that we can go at life alone, isolated in our suffering. What if a “definite recognition of our strength” means that we understand that we cannot go through life on our own? That we need others and we can only end suffering through our relationships, in community? Forgiveness shows us that there is a kind of strength that comes from acknowledging our humility before human existence. We cannot go it alone.
Perhaps the greatest difficulty to living forgiveness is that we have so few role models for it. In order to learn how to use this great power we need examples, both on the individual and national levels. Citizens of a state can be enlightened on how forgiveness works in their personal conflicts by watching politicians draw upon the resource in terms of national and international matters. Imagine that! And individuals can learn from one another. Instead of fanning the flames of resentment in one another, we can strive to model in our own lives that we desire to put an end to suffering and are willing to act on it at all costs.
Learn the story of someone who promotes forgiveness because they have themselves experienced its power. Why did they forgive and what happened when they did?
The Metta Center for Nonviolence, PO Box 98, Petaluma, California 94953 707-774-6299 firstname.lastname@example.org