These are some of the questions the Forgiveness and Reconciliation Tool Box addresses.
- Can forgiveness be granted to those who have committed terrorist acts?
- Can one forgive in the absence of apology or remorse?
- Can there be reconciliation following mass murder?
This resource has grown out of the work of The Forgiveness Project and has been developed with support from the Charter for Compassion and in collaboration with The University of Kansas.
Forgiveness and reconciliation can occur in every sphere of human experience, including individual, community, national, and trans-national levels. In this section of the Community Tool Box, we will explore these common yet complicated aspects of our human existence, describe their importance for personal and community well-being, and illustrate, with many real-life stories, how they might be applied in positive ways to heal and strengthen both individuals and communities.
In any discussion about forgiveness and reconciliation, it is important to make a distinction between the two before analyzing each of them in greater detail. On the one hand, forgiveness does not necessarily mean reconciling with the wrongdoer. There may be good reasons why you do not wish to reconcile. Reconciliation is an additional choice. On the other hand, it is nearly impossible to reconcile with someone you have not gone some way to forgive.
Forgiveness is the principled decision to give up your justified right for revenge; it also requires the forgiver to recognize that the offender is “human like myself.” As the British philosopher and poet David Whyte has written: “It is that wounded…un-forgetting part of us that…makes forgiveness an act of compassion rather than one of simple forgetting.” Following hurt, pain, or atrocity, forgiveness can potentially bring resolution and freedom. It is a practical way of preventing the pain of the past from defining the path of the future.
Forgiveness is often categorized as having two distinct forms:
- Unilateral forgiveness: This requires nothing in return. It is an act of generosity on the part of the victim(s). There can be many different motives; for instance, it may stem from compassion for an offender, the wish to free oneself from pain, or simply a pragmatic means of moving forward.
- Bilateral forgiveness: This involves an exchange. It is a contractual relationship between people or groups, dependent on apology and remorse. It is often tied up with justice, as it involves paying off social debt.
It's important to recognize that if you attach too many conditions to forgiveness it may become almost the opposite, with characteristics akin to being vengeful or vindictive.
Some Key Points about Forgiveness
- Process: Forgiveness is not a single magnanimous gesture in response to an isolated offense, but a longer-term, fluid, and ever-changing process where people work towards repairing broken relationships, or broken hearts.
- Recognition: Forgiveness is about recognizing that life is messy and unpredictable – that we are all fallible human beings capable of messing up. It requires a broad perspective.
- Empathy: Forgiveness is more than just accepting or letting go because it requires a degree of empathy or compassion. It is the ability to place yourself in someone else’s life (empathy) and to act according to this empathic connection you feel towards your fellow human beings (compassion).
- Reconciliation: Forgiveness is different from reconciliation, which requires some kind of peace process and the coming together in unity of two or more formerly hostile sides.
It’s important to note that forgiveness does not exclude a passionate or painful response to being hurt, or witnessing others being hurt. Anger, sorrow, rage, and despair are a part of the process, and maybe the launching pad for forgiveness. Essentially, this means that we do not endlessly replay past gripes and grievances; it is rather the ability to live with the hurt without being held captive by it; it means not being defined by those who have hurt us and not being broken by our own victimhood.
Use The Forgiveness Toolbox to help yourself consider forgiveness and the possibility of reconciliation or use it as a community development tool to bring a sense of forgiveness and healing that has been perpetrated.