Learning the art of forgiveness

2008-06-16 00:00

I have two colleagues that had a monumental fall-out over a senseless misunderstanding and haven’t spoken to each other since the Rinderpest. Somehow the conflict was never resolved and grew in momentum into a large rumbling, galactic Earth tremor. I’m wedged in-between them — way beyond being able to budge the deep, dark chasm. It would require a miracle or a bizarre twist of fate.

I also know of a mother and daughter who reached a grid-lock on communication. Neither would pick up the phone to make the apology. Both felt wounded and were wallowing in a deluge of smug anger. Silence prevailed until Princess Diana died. Sharing the macabre and commiserating together re-united the two Royalists. I’m not sure why someone has to die before people can reach reconciliatory levels. Maybe if she hadn’t died tragically, they’d still be in mute mode.

“No speaks” seems to be propelled by inner pride, which leads to a deadlock on any form of negotiation or compromise. I really can’t quite get my head around anyone being too proud to stand down.

For me, people are like books. They can be taken off the shelf, tenderly paged through and revered. And some may live on the bedside table, to be handled so regularly that they never get so much as catalogued.

I always told my children that there was a great difference between the person and the deed. One can dislike it if one’s child is naughty, but that doesn’t amount to disliking the child. So if one’s ego is dented by another’s folly, it just makes the whole thing snowball to gargantuan proportions if one can’t have a hand-shaking declaration of apology and forgiveness. It’s to do with dispersing the negative energy via the conjoined hands, which are intrinsically the conduits of the soul.

Maybe I’m just born fortunate. Forgiveness runs big in my veins. One school I taught at once called me “the last stop”. Everyone was ready to tell the delinquent child to go and play in the traffic, while I was still idealistically trying to rescue and forgive him for his misdemeanour. I tried to gauge the scenario systemically to ascertain what propelled the child’s oppositional behaviour, instead of outright condemning it. May-be that will come in handy as I start my job in New Zealand as apparently there’s a high rate of suicide ideation among adolescents.

I find it interesting that world religions all have forgiveness as a central tenet, and yet forgiveness is what humans have difficulty with. In Buddhism, em-phasis is made of loving kind- ness, compassion, sympathetic joy and composure to avoid experiencing resentment in the first place. In Christianity, forgiveness is part of peacemaking, as well as reconciling with God and humanity. In Hinduism reparation for wrongdoing can result after asking for forgiveness. Prayaschitt, which is similar to karma, is the effects of one’s deeds on one’s own and on others’ lives. Islam teaches that forgiveness needs some repentance from those asking for forgiveness, while Judaism teaches that if the person is sincere in his or her apology for hurting one, one is obliged to forgive. From a medical perspective, it is proven that people who forgive are healthier than those who hold on to anger. From a psychological perspective, forgiveness is perceived to be a process. It cannot happen instantaneously as it requires emotional healing to occur.

I believe that forgiveness is the only positive outcome of any two-way conflict. There are great people like Nelson Mandela who have the capacity to forgive heinous acts. But smaller burdens can more easily be lifted when both parties review their egos. An inability to forgive is a tragic indictment on the self, which I imagine can only reflect elements of fear, prejudice and vulnerability.

What a great world it would be if we all trusted and forgave more, and shook hands more often. And my two colleagues …

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