We are a nation at war. I am not simply talking about the “war on terror” or the “war on drugs.” The language of war, the rhetoric, permeates our everyday experience. We “hate” things and people and we “fight” for what we believe to be right, often until the bitter end.
We have become a nation of victims and have surrendered our power to those people and things with which we do battle. Occasionally, a lone voice will cry out the words redemption, forgiveness…but they are shouted down in angry calls for retribution.
Many have talked about the “price of freedom” being a willingness to sacrifice. I am suggesting that what must be sacrificed is our cultural addiction to being right, especially when that rightness is really only an ideology.
We have forgotten what it means to forgive.
for·give·ness /fɚˈgɪvnəs/ noun 1 : the act of forgiving someone or something 2 : the attitude of someone who is willing to forgive other people
In the quest to be “right” and war against all who are “wrong” we have become a nation imprisoned. This is true literally as well as figuratively. In the words of Desmond Tutu:
When I talk of forgiveness I mean the belief that you can come out the other side a better person. A better person than the one being consumed by anger and hatred. Remaining in that state locks you in a state of victimhood, making you almost dependent on the perpetrator. If you can find it in yourself to forgive then you are no longer chained to the perpetrator. You can move on…
As a nation and as a culture, it is time to move on. It is time to get on with the business of living and making life… making this world better. It is time for redemption.
re·demp·tion /rɪˈdɛmpʃən/ noun : the act, process, or result of redeeming something or someone: such as a : the act of making something better or more acceptable
Humanity is imperfect as a species. We live and hopefully we learn. Each day represents an opportunity for renewal and second chances.
No matter how much we wish for perfection, for a world without man’s inhumanity toward man or a world without war, we are ill-equipped for such an experience. Regardless of how many people we lock away in prison, there are still those who commit crime.
In the words of Former President George W. Bush, “America is the land of second chance – and when the gates of the prison open, the path ahead should lead to a better life.” Forgiveness and redemption are essential to these ideals and our commitment to them is not tested in times of peace but in time of war.
It requires courage to forgive those who have harmed us. It takes courage to look for the redeeming qualities of someone who stole from us. Peace is not an absence of war. It is not a product to be created and bartered. Peace is earned through a willingness to forgive and the opportunity for redemption.
Forgiveness and redemption are not merely concepts steeped in religious traditions; they are core values that once resonated in the heart of America’s identity. But in our zeal to be right we have forsaken our power. We are blind to our own mistakes while harshly judging the mistakes of others.
We justify and excuse the harm of our actions while steadfastly refusing to do the same for others. Each year approximately 700,000 people are released from prison. Without exception, they are someone’s mother, father, brother, sister, son, or daughter. Instead of being welcomed with open arms and an opportunity for redemption, they are often shunned and forgiveness is denied.
As a “right” society, once condemned always condemned is the new mantra. For those who have broken the “social contract” they are enslaved with labels such as: felon, convict, criminal, sex offender, drug addict, or even terrorist. We use these labels to dehumanize and justify our denial of them as human beings.
How do we, be it individually or collectively as a nation or a species, escape these prison walls and move on with life?
We forgive. It’s that simple and it begins with learning to forgive ourselves. I am not speaking in some religious context, only in a human one.
Scientific studies have demonstrated that people who are willing to forgive are happier and healthier than those who cling to resentment and anger. Dr. Robert Enright, founder of the International Forgiveness Institute, was one of the first to embark on in the scientific study of forgiveness. He has been followed by others, such as Dr. Fred Luskin (Stanford University) who wrote the book Learning to Forgive.”
In more ways than you might imagine, the survival of humanity depends on our capacity to forgive. Dr. Luskin’s work demonstrates the power of forgiveness. In three different studies, including one with Catholics and Protestants from Northern Ireland whose family members were murdered in the political violence, he found that people who learn how to forgive become less angry, more confident, more optimistic, and more compassionate. The ability (willingness) to forgive is positively correlated with less pain, less stress and increased vitality.
It is time for the redemption of humanity and it is time to reclaim our personal power. The first step begins with forgiving ourselves – which is often the most difficult to do. We can then move on to the felon next door. The following links are included as resources about and learning how to increase your personal capacity for forgiveness.