Here is a quote from the movie “Invictus”- which, in my opinion, is one of the most important films made in this decade.
Nelson Mandela- “Forgiveness liberates the soul. It removes fear. That is why it is such a powerful weapon.”
What was interesting about this quote was, it came from a man who had been locked away for twenty-seven years in hard prison by the very men he was then commissioned to lead, yet still managed to forgive them for the sake of redefining humanity. He led without agenda, except for human dignity to prevail. He led without ego, except for the pride of his country to be reinstated. He led without revenge- except to avenge the years his soul was locked away from the world, by restoring human nobility, virtue and integrity into the blood soaked soil of South Africa.
Fear comes from a place of doubt. Doubt leads to uncertainty, which gives us pause. This pause leads to distrust. Distrust can lead to broken human experiences that can be destructive and catastrophic, which can then lead us straight to a rightfully unforgiving heart. Forgiveness is a practice that very few of us can do right, which is what makes it such a difficult yet rewarding experience. Finding good role models like Nelson Mandela is not an easy feat.
It does make it easier to forgive another, if a person asks to be repreived. If the person has sought in his heart the wrong he has made and has asked deeply and sincerely for a renewed relationship, he earns the right to be forgiven. The Torah says a person is only allowed to ask for forgiveness three times. And upon the third time, if he is still not granted forgiveness, the latter person becomes the person who must then ask for forgiveness for not forgiving. So is the power of making amends wholeheartedly.
But what if forgiveness is not beseeched? Can it still be accomplished? Nelson Mandela taught us a profound lesson in his leadership. When he became President of South Africa, no one ever asked Mandela for forgiveness. Yet he knew in his wisdom, that by acting with compassion, despite what he could have rightfully done, he would be modeling the very attitude he wished others would duplicate.
Suddenly the person who should be asking for forgiveness, but who never does clearly makes a change in his behavior. He reshapes his path and creates enlightenment in his life as a result of learning his lesson through watching the person he hurt live with the pain inflicted on him with dignity and grace. However, no words were ever shared. No formal amends were made. But the forgiveness process begins organically as a result of the wronged person experiencing his foe in a new refined light.
This week, I experienced a profound awakening to my own process of forgiveness. I entered the halls of an institution that had made dire mistakes, which impacted my life in a devastating way. I swore never to pass through the halls of this organization ever again and never to forgive. But ten years had passed, and for unforeseen circumstances, I was lead back to the very place that had reshaped my destiny. I questioned whether I would be able to have complete forgiveness in my heart. So much of my life has been redefined as a result of this organization’s past errors. My faith was questioned, trust was broken, and the betrayal was so real. So much of my journey over the past ten years has been influenced and affected by the tragic episode I experienced at the hands of this organization.
What I discovered was beyond my wildest imagination. A massive reform had taken place. The very mistakes that they had made which had cost many their innocence had been repaired drastically. New leaders were in place learning from their past and rectifying their mistakes from the ground up. They had watched others model a more enlightened attitude and took note. To my surprise, I was finding myself forgiving without even realizing it.
My eyes filled with tears as I recalled the pain that came with this place, and then I looked up and saw light, laughter, and colors that changed my perception deeply. No words were ever shared. No amends were made. But the forgiveness process began. It liberated my soul, and finally removed my fear and deep resentments.
The best way to reconstruct broken pieces, and move on from a painful experience and resurrect trust is to liberate one’s soul through the power of forgiveness. The shared experience of the victim and the perpetrator become infused together on a journey to create enlightenment, awareness, advancement, and an open-mindedness to perceive a rebirth of virtue. That is why it is such a powerful weapon.