Principles and Steps Towards Forgiveness

"I would suggest that there are three basic principles underlying forgiveness in the move towards reconciliation.

"Principle 1: There can be no forgiveness of ourselves or of others unless we believe that we are all part of a common humanity. What this means in practical terms is that no one individual, no one group is superior to others. To say that we are all equally important seems a redundancy, and yet how often do any of us act as if it were true? How often has history demonstrated this human truth — that we are equal? Not often. So it needs to be said again and again. We may be different in race, culture, religion, and capacities, but we are all the same, with vulnerable hearts, the need to love and be loved, the needs to grow, to develop our capacities, and to find our place in the world. We all need to find our selves of value. We are all the same because throughout our lives we have, every one of us, been hurt in one way or another. Fears have been implanted in us; we have difficulty relating to others; there is a certain chaos of anguish and violence within us.

"In order to enter the path of forgiveness, we have to lose our feelings of both superiority and inferiority. Each of us has hurt another, each of us has been hurt. And so we must own and take responsibility for our lives as well as for the future. We are all called upon to stand up and take our place freely in the world.

"Principle 2: To forgive means to believe that each of us can evolve and change, that human redemption is possible. We often lock people up in ready-made judgments: 'He is a thief; she is disabled; he is schizophrenic.' Perhaps this one did steal something, perhaps that one is disabled, but they are more than this. They are people who, if loved, helped, and trusted, can in some small way recognize their faults and their brokenness and can grow in humanity, in inner freedom, to do little acts of love.

"Principle 3: To forgive means to yearn for unity and peace. Unity is the ultimate treasure. It is the place where, in the garden of humanity, each one of us can grow, bear fruit, and give life. That is what we all yearn for. When the father in the parable of the prodigal son sees his dishevelled son coming back to him thin, dirty, and unshaven, he rushes out and kisses him. No judgment, no disagreeable remarks, not even 'I forgive you.' What the father yearned for was to be with his son again, to live a communion of hearts with him. His desire to be with his son was far greater than any hurts he may have suffered.

"When someone loves deeply, forgiveness is evident. A lover wants to be with the loved one, that is all. If we love and want all people to be free to bear fruit, we will be a people of forgiveness. We will no longer be governed by our inner hurts or need to prove our worth; we will yearn for the growth of all people in peace and unity. To be a peacemaker and work for unity is a struggle. It is not easy to accept forgiveness of to forgive. It is not easy to shed our self-centredness. It is not easy to react against inertia or those feelings of fear that prevent us from entering into conflict.

"At the heart of the process of forgiveness is the desire to be liberated from negative passions, from sharp dislikes and hatred. This is a desire that starts us on the road to true forgiveness. Having proposed three principles of forgiveness, let me now propose five steps.

"The first step is the refusal to seek revenge. No more 'an eye for an eye and a tooth for a tooth.'

"The second step is the genuine, heartfelt hope that the oppressor be liberated. The victim cannot change the heart that is filled with fear and hate, but one may hope and pray that one day the oppressor's heart of stone may become a heart of flesh.

"The third step is the desire to understand the oppressors: how and why their indifference or hardness of heart has developed, and how they might be liberated.

"The fourth step is the recognition of our own darkness. We, too, have hurt people and perhaps have contributed to the hardness of the oppressors.

"The fifth step is patience. It takes time for a victim to be freed from blockage and hatred; it takes time for an oppressor to evolve and to change."