In response to a quote about forgiveness, a friend posed this question recently,
“Forgiveness is important in right context. But indignation for injustice seems equally important. They seem to contradict each other. If we forgive injustice, it would appear accepting injustice. How to combine forgiveness together with justice is a challenge.”
This is a tricky question and getting the answer right is vital. It’s important to realize that there are two separate questions here.
First, forgiveness is simply the ability to keep a loving heart toward every person no matter what.
Forgiveness is understanding that everyone is doing their best. Forgiveness is compassion in action. It means that when you hear about someone committing a crime or doing a wrong, you decide that you are that person’s brother or sister and that you are in this together, as a team.
Forgiveness means looking past the knee-jerk reaction of “he’s bad” to considering why did he do that? Given the same upbringing and conditions, would I do the same?
I once heard a radio interview of teen murderers. Nearly all of them had murderers in their family: their fathers or mothers, and most had multiple generations of murderers as their ancestors. One had five generations of murderers.
Would I be a murderer too, had I been the fruit of five generations of murderers? Yes, I think so.
Forgiveness starts from the place of realizing that everyone is doing their best always, and standing in brotherhood, side-by-side with everyone. It is identifying anyone’s struggle as my struggle. It is owning that we are all one; we are not separate.
Indignation, on the other hand, always feels like having a sense of separateness. An, “Oh, how dare they!” reaction. But when I search, I can always find a version of their fault in my own behavior. I can always understand that the offender did their best, and made a mistake, as I have made many mistakes and continue to do so in my life.
Forgiveness is reminding ourselves that we are one. We can feel each other’s pains and struggles as if they are our own, because we are all on the same team. Your failure is mine. My struggle is yours.
Now, a separate issue is how can we act to minimize the pain and suffering of our fellow humans, protecting them from harm and standing up for their rights.
So, this second issue is what steps can we take to effectively improve the human condition. If someone commits murder, should that person be locked away forever. Is there some service they can perform that will provide some healing to others and themselves? Can they be rehabilitated?
Those are the complex questions we need to tackle, with a focus on how to effectively improve the human condition.
But, as you can see, forgiving the person in no way removes responsibility for the action.
Forgiving is simply not allowing hate to simmer in our own hearts. Forgiveness saves the forgiver first and foremost. And by the inspired effective actions of loving hearts, the offenders and victims can benefit.
Maya Angelou said,
“I did then what I knew how to do. Now that I know better, I do better.”
So, in response to my friend’s question, my answer is this:
Forgiveness is always the right answer. Because forgiveness is love and understanding in your own heart, there is never any context where it can be wrong.
Working for justice, peace, and human rights is also always the right answer. Doing so with a loving heart, one can be a powerful force for good. Complex problems require patient, open-minded, open-hearted individuals. Having a loving heart, one will be open to effective solutions and be able to negotiate difficult problems with poise and tenacity.
A simple test is, “Am I being loving in my actions to all?” If not, finding a way to become more loving will make you a more powerful, effective force for good.
Still not convinced?
Perhaps the best way to study what forgiveness and punishment are all about, is to study how you treat yourself. If you can forgive your own mistakes and your own past, do you need to also punish yourself? Or are there steps you should take: phone calls to make, apologies to deliver,amends to make, or secrets to uncover. Take these steps with a loving heart. Then think again about the initial question.
Forgiving everyone and taking effective actions to improve the human condition are perfectly in sync.They are both always the right answer.
This is not a one-time deal. It’s a daily practice. Forgiveness, as part of your daily routine, will free you to continually grow as an inspired, effective, peaceful warrior.
About the author:
Joan Gregerson writes about life and love, and how to become a powerful force for good by tuning in to inner peace. Her books are available on Kindle and Amazon.