Thursday, October 29, 2015

In the Presence of Mine Enemies

Sometimes I think I’m a closet preacher. I don’t like that voice but I let it out every now & then. If I could say my piece from a personal experience I would but even that would have a whiff of the sermon in it. I forgive you for not forgiving me.

Back then and still, we trade eyes and teeth, walking around blind and toothless. Call it revenge, honor if you must. Some call it justice or closure. Is it Human Nature that summons that endless chain of retribution? Yes, but so is forgiveness.

Mark Twain said that, Forgiveness is the fragrance that the violet sheds on the heel that crushed it.

Hatred is a poison. We may think it is all directed outward but it also spreads within. It can metastasize and attach itself to other people or issues. The act of forgiveness need not be thought of as altruistic. Think of it as a self-serving gesture leading to a path, an antidote to rid the psyche of toxins.

It ain’t easy. And it’s not a single, simple act. It’s a kind of journey into a higher consciousness. Forgiveness is first the recognition that the perpetrator is not all that different than yourself. We all possess the same human capacities. It doesn’t help to demonize the other. That’s too easy.

Rather than dwell on the punishment it’s more important to consider how to cleanse the wound of the victim or survivors. When we are wronged I believe it is important to call the bad guy to accountability. He must admit to his wrongdoing with an open heart. That admission calls for an equally open heart by his accusers.

The two are bonded, like it or not. Only by finding one’s own humanity can a healing take place. Otherwise the injury festers. It takes its secondary protracted toll. Vengeance, however measured, does not satiate it only incites an opposing response.

In Nazi Germany there were men who read Goethe, listened to Beethoven then went to work as concentration camp guards. Similarly slave owners might have been church-going men and loving fathers who walked into the fields becoming bestial. The task is to help those compartmentalized men to see how they have strayed from the better version of themselves.

The Truth and Reconciliation Commission in South Africa held the torturers and oppressors during Apartheid to come forward and face their victims. In some cases reparations were assessed. Amnesty was granted with full disclosure.

The series of trials did not satisfy all the victims of abuse but the process, I believe, represents a giant leap in human civilization over the punitive model.

After 27 years of incarceration Nelson Mandela embraced his jailer, guards and prosecutor. The day he walked away from prison he let go of his hatred because he knew he would have otherwise remained their prisoner. It took an enormous strength to reach this point, an evolved heart.