The Risk of Forgiveness

Maralene Strom

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It is 60 years since the surrender of Japan during World War II. During the commemoration of the event in Japan, Prime Minister Junichiro Koizumi made public acknowledgement and apology for the invasions that took place throughout the ASEAN countries, China, and the Pacific.

Koizumi expressed “deep reflections and heartfelt apologies”. The intent of Japan was to colonize the region during that time. The prime minister said that Japan would never forget those lessons learned from that war and said it would not happen again.

On a different front, another apology was made from reinstated NHL player, Todd Bertuzzi. He was reinstated, after 18 months absence to the NHL which resulted from an on-ice physical altercation between himself and Colorado forward Steve Moore.

Bertuzzi has not been able to explain the reason for his attack, which resulted in Moore receiving a concussion and broken neck bones. These injuries to Moore put into question whether the injured player will be able to resume his NHL career.

In both cases, with apologies given, reconciliation was asked for from those directly impacted by the injury of war or game. Yet, forgiveness is not easily given. For a fact, forgiveness cannot be given without having assessed blame.

Despite almost every faith tradition advocating for forgiveness and reconciliation, humans find forgiveness the most difficult to give and practice. Memories of hurt, and lack of trust in the messenger that delivered the physical and/or emotional trauma, stay in the deep recesses of those impacted.

More often than not, the expectation of compensation in dollars, punishment, amends, or even capital punishment lies at the bottom of the soul, which easily overpowers the forgiveness process. Even with compensation, forgiveness is often withheld because it does not relieve the inflicted pain.

NHL player Bertuzzi advocates for giving second chances. While he acknowledged how difficult it has been for the Moore family, and regrets the incident ever took place, he says, “People make mistakes in life…if I’m going to sit here and keep getting ridiculed about it, how are we ever going to give someone a second chance to become better or to change situations?”

In effect, Japan is asking the same question as they ask for a permanent seat on the UN Security Council. Countries across Asia do not agree of Japan’s request, pointing to controversies over gas drilling in the East China Sea and North Korea’s posturing and nuclear programs. Critics also point to the historical renditions portrayed in history textbooks Japanese children are presented about Japan’s role during WWII, their occupation and massacres as almost non-events.

All this leads me to wondering about asking forgiveness and giving it. Just where do we stand personally, with our faith practice, and in the world on this issue. In our hearts, is it easy for us to forgive after we have assessed blame and want some kind of compensation?

Closer to our hearts is the blame that is often assessed on others for the state of our own lives. “I’ve been hurt and you are to blame” is where we come from so often in looking at our own lives. “I’m this way, because you failed as a parent. You did not raise me right, and this is why my life has turned out this way. I’m not married or have my career” because of my parents or religion. Is it true?

Do we blame others for where we are at now? How long can we hold blame on what happened in the past for how we are today? When does the fact that maturity requires that we get beyond blaming parents, schools, and society for how we turn out in this world?

Perhaps the first step to forgiveness of others is when we forgive ourselves. Wayne Dyer says, “Willingness to forgive yourself is the necessary step to being in harmony with all the universal principles. ” Forgiving ourselves for not moving ahead and acting proactively is also part of the equation. Forgiving ourselves for not making choices because we decided to stay in a place of blaming our past means to step out of that place and move ahead in our own strength.

I do believe that acknowledgement of wrongs is important and justice must be done. I also realize that forgiveness is a part of the process. Several times, I have watched women, who were assaulted move past the hurt, humiliation and anger and forgive the perpetrator. In those instances, they said that for them to move forward in their lives, they had to forgive.

When people who inflict injury pay for their misdeeds through the justice system, is that enough? Is there a point when we must forgive in order for our own hearts to move forward rather than staying stuck in anger or grief?

It seems to be a two-way street. Asking forgiveness and giving forgiveness. However, sometimes the asking will never come. Then the point is within our own hearts and mind. What is the lack of forgiving and moving on doing to our own souls and life?

As a child, I learned to pray for forgiveness of my daily infractions. Growing up I realized that often I asked for an unlimited supply of forgiveness. It occurs to me that asking for unlimited forgiveness also requires that I too have to work at giving forgiveness as well.

Unfortunately, I do not have the grace of the Creator; however, I too am a work in progress. I realize that those times when a past pain inflicted will trigger reactive responses, means that though I have tried to forgive, the full measure has not been made on my part. It becomes apparent that I still hold that piece of blame against the other.

Life’s mistakes are not easy to overcome. Nation’s mistakes are rarely forgotten and mistrust often erodes the possibilities of reconciliation.

It seems asking for forgiveness is the easier task…the harder task is returning forgiveness. It is a risk either way of keeping one stuck in resentment and fear, or moving ahead with a sense of freedom and joy.

© MCStrom revised 24/Nov/06

Maralene Strom is a speaker and author who teaches on topics dealing with grief and recovery; Issues about living life 50 & Beyond; Caregiving in extended care facilities, home care, and special needs; Communicating with Empathy & Compassion. Her website features some of the topics she speaks on with information to connect with her for tele-classes, workshops or speaking to groups, conferences, etc. and receive her free newsletters - let her help you discover your life's meaning as you journey now and into your future.

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