“If we could read the secret history of our enemies, we should find in each man’s life sorrow and suffering enough to disarm all hostility.” –Henry Wadsworth Longfellow
These are challenging times. There is more fear and divisiveness than many of us can remember in our lifetimes. The climate of fear and destabilization promotes distrust, antagonism and even hatred. These emotions, moods and mental states not only undermine society, they erode our peace of mind. They can affect even the most steady among us, making us incapable of seeing clearly and acting from our highest intentions. In the midst of this widespread sense of foreboding we need, now more than ever, to work against the tendency to solidify the sense of enemies “out there” and close the heart.
Can you imagine how would it be to live in a planet in which each one of the 7.5 billion human beings carried every single hurt, every resentment, and revenge fantasy? Even from a biological perspective, forgiveness could be seen as a survival strategy for humankind, since without forgiveness our species would have annihilated itself in endless retributions. Forgiveness makes sense not only morally, but also practically. From time immemorial, wisdom traditions have insisted that forgiveness is the path to attaining enduring peace. In the Dhammapada, it is said: “In this world hate never yet dispelled hate. Only love dispels hate. This is the law.” Martin Luther King, Jr. said: “Violence as a way of achieving racial justice is both impractical and immoral. It is impractical because it is a descending spiral ending in destruction for all. The old law of an eye for an eye leaves everybody blind.”
Because we are deeply relational beings, we will frequently have the opportunity to hurt others, often unintentionally. Though we tend to fixate on the challenge of forgiving those who have hurt us, we often forget that we ourselves may be that difficult person, hard to forgive for someone else, or even to ourselves. Forgiveness has the potential to give back “our heart to itself” as well as a sense of belonging to our family or community.
– Margaret Cullen