A few years ago, when I was struggling with forgiveness (and don’t get me wrong–I had struggled with it since long before then and will, it appears, continue to struggle–I am just fixing this particular moment in time) I picked up Simon Wiesenthal’s The Sunflower: On the Possibilities and Limits of Forgiveness. It is a stunning and thought-provoking book that poses this question: “You are a prisoner in a concentration camp. A dying Nazi soldier asks for your forgiveness. What would you do?” The responses of over fifty people follow.
I was deeply moved. And also a bit confused.
Because, for me, it was as if they were all driving the wrong way down a one-way street.
Do I have it backwards? I always thought that forgiveness was a process that the victim engages in to release him/herself, not the perpetrator. The perpetrator finds absolution– and self-forgiveness–by making amends, not in seeking forgiveness. Even if the amends can never erase the harm, the perpetrator puts the stone of his intention to make things right onto the balance– and he does so not to fix the victim, but to heal himself. As much as is possible.
This is one of the reasons why I spend so much time in my parenting book, Parenting in the Here and Now, encouraging parents to treat their children’s transgressions as mistakes, as signs that their children need more guidance. Mistakes need to be noticed and corrected without shaming. If harm has been done, amends can be made. By teaching our children to not fear their mistakes, but to be responsible for them and, when needed, to make amends for them, we teach them mercy–self-mercy.
And no, I am not equating childish mistakes with the Holocaust. I am just saying that we all need to be educated– practiced– at making amends and forgiving. Starting with the small stuff, so that we have a template for when the stakes are higher.
I am coming late to that class. I am still learning. I am humbled to acknowledge where I am in the process, but stating the truth is part of it. Here is one story of my journey: http://themanifeststation.net/2015/08/20/a-shot-at-forgiveness/
What is your understanding of forgiveness? I really want to know.