09 Oct 2011
It is very possible that the concept of forgiveness may be the most misunderstood and underutilized skill in the human experience. In the Greek language, forgiveness is the same word as release or letting go. This definition conjures up sensations of liberation, capitulation and freedom. On paper, it reads like a natural and benevolent process – something one freely GIVES to another to release yourself and others from the past. In practice however, it is often misunderstood as something that someone who has done us wrong must ASK of us.
The most precious gift that we have is our breath – without it, we would simply die. We can live for a short time without food, water, love and light but we cannot live for more than a minute or two without air. Breathing in and exhaling signifies the natural inevitability of the cycle of life: We take into our bodies the oxygen we need to live and we release or let go of carbon dioxide and other by-products that no longer serve us.
Our experience of life bears a striking resemblance to this natural process. We are constantly taking in the world around us and our interactions with others produce a myriad of consequences – some are positive while others are not. Unfortunately, negative or hurtful experiences are inevitable. As human beings we all have the same capacity to inflict harm through our words, actions and inactions, whether knowingly or unknowingly. But we all know that we cannot hold our breath forever; the release of by products and things that no longer serve us is an instinctive function. By the same token, sooner or later we all must discover our innate capacity to forgive.
Forgiveness, like exhaling, is an act of faith. It can neither be stopped nor compelled. There is no proof that peace will follow or that the release from anger, vengeance or self-righteousness will be immediate.
On our deathbed, I doubt any of us would say ‘I wish I held onto more anger and resentment or took a bit longer to forgive.’ In fact, if you were to look out into the future and imagine the world and all of your relationships from a position where you knew with absolute certainty that they would be gone tomorrow, would you act differently today?
Would you regret not having closure? Would you mourn the years that you kept yourself enslaved by bitterness, blame and indignation? Would you lament the loss of pleasure, love and peace that could have been yours if only you could have found a way to forgive sooner? Does the thing that you are fighting or obsessing about now really even matter in the grand scheme of things?
We all know our own pain – we are intimately familiar with the injustices that we have suffered, the crosses we have had to bear and the countless nights that we have cried ourselves to sleep. What we don’t fully grasp is the depth of another’s pain – the unspoken abuse, neglect, prejudices, anguish, loss, torment or afflictions. At the time, we think we are the only ones who are hurting and we forget that the scars and burdens of others are not always visible on the outside. We can never truly know another’s plight until we have walked a mile in their shoes. I believe that the first step toward forgiveness is simply the willingness to take one’s own shoes off and put another’s on. The rest can be surprisingly easy.
To learn more about forgiveness I recommend that you read On The Shoulders of Giants. In Chapter 28, I explain in detail exactly how I learned to forgive the four boys who were responsible for the murder of my mother several years ago in Canada. I know first-hand how difficult it can seem to forgive but I also know the awesome release, strength and freedom that can come from the ultimate gift of love – forgiveness of yourself and others.
Haven’t you already waited long enough to be released from those old emotions that no longer serve you? When is now a good time to change and to move forward toward your bright and compelling future?