Each human being enters this world with the naivete that humans are inherently good. This perception is maintained until the first instance of displayed evil in forms such as physical, verbal or neglectful abuse and/ or oppression is encountered. It is in this instance that each child learns the way in which they shall see the world. This perception can be changed throughout their lifetime, but that becomes increasingly more difficult as the person is assaulted again and again with those similar evils that first shaped their world view. It is within a person’s survival instincts to cover and protect themselves from further assaults. However, it is also from within such instincts that unintentional consequences, such as hate, jealousy, fear and depression, can stem.
Without the ability to forgive, each person begins to collect bricks in order to create a bulwark to keep such evils out of their lives-such barriers will also serve as a trap for the self. While evil cannot penetrate, the self cannot escape.
Forgiveness is often misinterpreted. It is not the acceptance of the superficial statement of “I’m sorry” nor is it the profession of regret with intentions of relapse. It is the ability of those oppressed to decide that to be free of oppression and/or the history of violence. It is necessary to allow the past to be a lesson of what the future will avoid.
To hold on to hatred and grudges not only allows the oppressor a stronger hold on the oppressed but also greatly limits the space for healing. As Desmond Tutu has repeatedly expressed, there is a big difference between forgiveness and forgetting. Forgetting is to dismiss all hurt and suffering as if it did not matter to the present moment. To forgive would be to acknowledge the pain as a reality but still be able to heal and move forward with the idea that nothing will ever be the same. Without forgiveness, there is no inner peace and without inner peace there cannot be systematic peace, for the system is made up of individuals.
As each individual builds their private wall, the system of society becomes a maze of barriers and road blocks for true connection with others. Conversely, to ask for forgiveness from a system is to ask for forgiveness from your neighbor and your community for whom you have caused pain because communities are the building blocks of systems. There is no hope for stability and respect when both sides cannot forgive and accept the past. Those who have been oppressed, therefore, have the right to speak out and to be empowered while the oppressor has the right to take ownership of this infliction.
Forgiveness is a process of gaining confidence in oneself and in another to be able to move toward mutual respect and stability. It is the ability to break down one’s personal wall so that vision is no longer blocked by hatred and animosity.