Every year I pick a ‘word of the year’ to live into. My year of forgiveness was a revelation, not because of the numbers I had to forgive, but because it always devolved toward me forgiving myself. Forgiveness is one of the most difficult issues to embrace, largely because it is optional. You don’t have to forgive, and, often, everything inside of us says “Why should I?” Ultimately, we are angry at ourselves for failing and we feel that we are somehow to blame.
The following is an incredible example of forgiveness on a national level; a huge social experiment and an object lesson to the world.
In Rwanda in 1994, Hutus killed about 700,000 people, mostly Tutsis, as well as about 50,000 politically moderate Hutus. In addition to the killings, rape and other forms of physical and psychological violence and torture was committed. The perpetrators in this violence included members of the military, young men organized into paramilitary groups, and ordinary people including neighbors and even family members in mixed families.
The government of Rwanda’s President Paul Kagame has embarked on this social experiment, in which the entire country is urged to atone, forgive and reconcile what happened. Hutu killers who committed atrocities have apologised to the families of their victims at specially established Gacca courts. They have given details of what they did and where they buried thousands of bodies. In return for atonement they have been released from prison, returning to their homes and communities living among their victims.
This is an extreme and national example of forgiving, but an example nonetheless. As I imagine the slights and hurts that have been visited on me, in light of Rwanda, these are absolutely meaningless. Think of the courage it takes to even begin to embrace the kind of forgiveness that the Rwandans are asking of themselves! Can we really claim to be injured by our little betrayals, when the Rwandans are dealing with the loss of family, lifestyle and community?
To forgive does not mean to absolve or forget. It doesn’t require you to like what was done or even that you reconcile with that person. It is a way of putting down the burden you’ve been carrying; of taking your power back from whatever you’ve given it away to. Letting go of the anger and bitterness can improve health and peace of mind. Forgiveness can lead to:
A Healthier sense of self
Peace of mind
Lower blood pressure
Being and feeling more powerful
A stronger immune system
Insight into yourself and others
More ease in the world
You get to forgive yourself
The Dalai Lama says that holding anger and bitterness toward another is like drinking poison and expecting them to die. Stop paying for the sins of others and start traveling light. Forgive yourself! Let this be a month of forgiveness. Even the approach to it starts to heal you and others.