Forgiveness is one of those topics that always creates heated discussion. Some people believe that it the strong who forgive, for example Mahatma Gandhi. Others believe that it is weak to forgive and it is stronger to retaliate and take an eye for an eye, for example war lords. Now that might seem like an over simplification but bear with me.
Let’s look at why so many of us struggle with forgiving – we struggle forgiving other people, other things and sometimes even ourselves. I believe there are two reasons for this:
1. We believe that we are weak if we forgive. They wronged us and they should be made to pay!
Let’s look at this one more closely. The Dalai Lama proclaims that for every single one of us, our fundamental nature is one of compassion and nurturing. In times where there are unspeakable crimes and wars, this does not seem to make sense. However, let me ask you a question – think back to a time when you were really happy. What emotional “state” were you in? Were you in state of anger and hatred or were you in a state of love and compassion? I bet it was the latter. So if we are happier when we are being compassionate and loving, would it not make sense for us to look for ways to make ourselves happier more often? That makes sense doesn’t it?
By the way, aren’t most of us drawn to things that make us happy? It could be our favourite TV show, hanging out with friends and loved ones, curling up with a good book or travelling. Whatever it is, we are drawn towards those things. This would seem to indicate that we are driven towards seeking greater levels of happiness. For example, for those of us who want to create greater levels of wealth, we don’t want lots of pieces of paper with deceased people on them do we? No, we want the things that money can buy because we believe that will lead to greater levels of happiness.
So now, if happiness is what we’re looking for, does holding on to the hurts done to us by other people make us happier? Does holding on to our past mistakes give us more joy? We know the answer.
Darkness cannot drive out darkness; only light can do that. Hate cannot drive out hate; only love can do that. Martin Luther King, Jr.
Around about this time, when I’m speaking to people about forgiveness, I get some of the following arguments:
- Niro, how can you say that by forgiving someone I will be happier. You don’t know what they did to me. They stole from me / betrayed me/ took what was mine / cheated on me and got away with it! You don’t know how bad that is.
- My uncle raped me when I was a kid and got away with it – and now he is continuing to do it. He’s a terrible person and he continues to hurt and sexually abuse all the young boys he comes into contact with. He deserves to die a painful death! Why should I forgive him?
- I trusted her and gave her all my money. We were going to do business together but then she betrayed me and took everything. Now I have nothing!
This brings us to the second reason why we struggle to forgive others.
2. We don’t believe that the person who wronged us deserves to be forgiven
This was one, I really struggled with and even now, I’m still challenged by it. In my younger days, my philosophy used to be – they don’t deserve to be forgiven. They have not repented; they have not paid for their mistakes or sins, why should I forgive them? And I would be extremely righteous about the whole thing.
Somewhere along the line, I learned something that changed my life forever and I want to give you the benefit of that same wisdom. My sincere hope is that you take it and integrate it into your own thinking.
“You don’t forgive people because they deserve it. You forgive people because you deserve it.”
When I first heard this, I thought it was the most ridiculous piece of advice I’d ever heard. What did the guy mean by saying, “I forgive people because I deserve to.” I had not done anything wrong here… and that was the point! I realised that I was not the wrongdoer, yet I was suffering! To remove the suffering, forgiveness was a gift I had to give myself because it was only by forgiving that I could move on from the event and the hurt. Otherwise, I’d always be hampered by it. I realised that holding onto my anger was like holding onto a hot coal, hoping the other person would burn. It made no sense.
I realised this was true when I looked at certain people who I believed had wronged me; for example betrayed me in business. Some of them seemed to be happy and moving forwards in their life – they did not seem to be paying for the fact that they “screwed me over!” The boss who fired me despite the fact that I was a hard working, good and loyal employee was going great guns and yet I was still struggling. The business partner who failed to give me my share of the profits seemed to be doing fine but I was the one being challenged. It seemed almost like the person who committed the wrong was ok but I, who had been wronged, was being punished. It was not fair… or so I thought!!
That’s when I realised that I was playing the role of the victim – it was all about poor me! I started to realise that I had to take responsibility for how I felt – yes the event happened, but now I could choose how to respond to it. I could let it burn me from the inside out, or I could choose to move on. My choice! It’s also your choice.
I also started to understand that the only way for me to move on was to forgive the people who had wronged me. As I said, the event happened – nobody could argue with that, but now the event is in the past. Holding onto it only brings it back into the present and affects our future. We’ve got to let it go so we can move on – that’s why forgiveness is the greatest gift we can give ourselves. Forgiving others truly is freedom for the soul!
Nelson Mandella was unjustly imprisoned for 25 years in a small cell – nobody would have blamed if he was angry and almost wanted to kill every white person when he was released. Yet, we admired him even more because he forgave the people who had taken the best years of his life away from him and then he ruled the country with them, side by side.
The Dalai Lama’s family was completely massacred by the Chinese. Yet we respect and admire him more because he forgave the very people that murdered his family and he is now an ardent seeker of peace.Mahatma Gandhi forgave the injustices of the British Empire and fought for independence through peace, thereby unifying an entire country!
It is unlikely that most of us will ever have to face such massive challenges as the three men mentioned above. So the time is now for us to forgive whatever it is that we are holding onto. I know that the event or events might have been absolutely horrendous – it could have been as bad as sexual, physical, emotional or mental abuse. Perhaps the event involved a betrayed of trust, a ripping out of our heart – however, no matter how grave the hurt, we must forgive so we can move on.
The question then becomes – how do we forgive such heinous and monstrous acts, especially when there is so much pain associated with the incident(s)?
Whenever I am faced with that same question, I remember the following quote:
“Forgiveness is not an emotion, it’s a decision” Randall Worley
We must decide to forgive. We must see that the pain we are causing ourselves and the people we love by holding on to this hate is too destructive – instead we can forgive and release ourselves from the emotional bondage we have placed ourselves under. Forgiveness gives us release, forgiveness gives us freedom!
I’m not saying it will be easy – most definitely not! However, if you decide not to forgive, how long will you hold onto the hurt for? How long will you hate the person for what they did to you? Some might say, until they get what they deserve – sure, but then what? You might think that an eye for an eye is what they deserve and I have to admit, I used to think that too until I came across this quote:
An eye for an eye makes the whole world blind.” Mahatma Gandhi
Revenge is never the answer and in your heart of hearts, you know that’s true. We only seek revenge because we feel it will ease our pain. Holding on to the pain is never the answer either. In fact, it is a strange irony that many of us hold on to the pain by being angry and blaming others because we do not actually want to face the pain we feel inside. To forgive another, we must actually face the very pain that is eating us from inside; it is this pain that makes us do things that in hindsight we are not proud of. We must face that pain and it will hurt which is why Gandhi tells us that forgiveness is not a hallmark of the weak but rather the strong!
Yet many of us steadfastly refuse to do look at our pain and hurt, often because we are scared that we do not have the strength. Dear friend, I guarantee that you have the strength if you are only willing to look within yourself. Face the pain – it may be sharp pain, it may bring you to tears but you will get through it. And then you will be free of whatever it is that has been eating you from inside. Have the courage to face your own internal pain – do not lash out at others, whether it be the person who wronged you or another for that is the easy option. The courageous choice is to look within yourself, face the pain and forgive. It may be more painful in the short term, but over time this option is by far the more liberating and rewarding.
Now of course, one question remains – we can forgive the person or people who have wronged us but then what? What about the abuser who continues to sexually abuse young children placed under his care? Do we just forget about it and move on? Absolutely not!
“Our lives begin to end the day we become silent about things that matter.” Martin Luthor King Jnr
The Dalai Lama forgave the Chinese and now fights for peace. Mandella forgave the Whites but he still put an end to White Supremacy and Apartheid. Martin Luthor Kind Jnr fought to end the injustices of black segregation by forgiving the whites and living with them.
I have a dream that one day on the red hills of Georgia, the sons of former slaves and the sons of former slave owners will be able to sit together at the table of brotherhood.
Martin Luther King, Jr.
What these great mean have learned is that by forgiving the wrongs done to us, we have freedom and we have inner peace. Then we can choose to fight for what it is that we believe in!
So instead of holding the grudge against the business partner that betrayed you, the boss that fired you, the supplier that screwed you over, forgive them, release yourself from the bondage that you have been suffering from and then move forwards and work towards achieving your goals. Instead of holding a grudge against the person that abused you, forgive them. You must remember that someone who abuses or hurts others is not someone who is not happy themselves. Unfortunately they failed to realise that happiness comes from loving, giving and sharing, not dominating, controlling and abusing. Forgive them and then ensure that they are not perpetrating their heinous acts. I’m not saying it’s going to be easy, but we are talking about your life here. What kind of life do you want to create? Do you want to create a magnificent life, full of happiness, joy, love and fulfilment? I know you do and it starts with forgiveness. Remember, forgiveness truly is freedom for the soul!
Remember Oprah Winfrey – one of the most powerful women in the world. Yet she started from obscurity, from poverty, from a life of abuse. If she continued to blame all those who had wronged her and sought to “get them back”, the world would have been robbed of one of its shining lights! Instead she chose to rise above the pain and use her gifts for good. Who are you hurting and who is missing out on the gift that is you because you are unable to forgive? Please – forgive the hurt, release yourself and make your life a glorious one. You were put on this planet to share your gifts, not to squander them. Always try to remember this great quote from Martin Luthor King Jnr:
Forgiveness is not an occasional act: it is an attitude.
All of us want world peace and it starts from within; it starts by us learning to forgive each other. If we could each forgive our fellow man, we can release ourselves from the pain the we carry and then we can start being more at peace with ourselves. Ask yourself this question, if more of us hadinner peace, would we then need to continually carry out acts of destruction?
I hope this article has been valuable to you. If it has, please share it on Digg, Stumbleupon and Twitter. Together, let’s help make the world a better place, forgive each other, forgive ourselves and as the late great Michael Jackson says, “Let’s Heal The World”