Thursday, July 24, 2008

"Madiba says we must forgive"

Yes, I've written about forgiveness before on this blog, and how I don't really approve of the concept, as people often express it. But then I read about someone like Nelson Mandela, and you know, I can admire forgiveness, when it's done on a large scale like that, in a really classy way.

So when is forgiveness a good thing?
  • When you have a choice between killing a whole bunch of people or forgiving a whole bunch of people, it's better to forgive. Most of us, I believe, don't have the option of killing those who have wronged us. Some of us might like to. But really, it's not a good idea.
  • It seems to me that forgiveness operates differently when it applies to large groups of people. When individuals advise each other to practice forgiveness, it often sounds like they're saying, "You owe that person forgiveness. The relationship between the two of you is such that you have no right to withhold forgiveness." Which can also sound like "You have no right to stand up for yourself." I don't think anybody would argue that black South Africans owe white South Africans anything (well, except for that person who shall be nameless, who likes to talk about all the wonderful things that white people have done for black people.) No, in that case forgiveness was quite obviously . . . I want to say, it was a huge favor. It was going above and beyond.
  • When "forgiveness" doesn't mean "never talk about what happened to you." You'll notice that Mandela, Desmond Tutu and their comrades set up a Truth and Reconciliation Commission, where people could tell their stories. Forgiveness is not about covering up the truth.
  • When you have a chance to make things better. We can't be sure that all of the South Africans who supported apartheid have seen the error of their ways. Quite possibly they have not. But Mandela wanted to focus on improving things, not on vengeance. As he said later, "It is so easy to break down and destroy. The heroes are those who make peace and build." After everything that he had suffered, he didn't want any more destruction. That is so very civilized. Maybe someday, more people will follow his example.

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