This article is an excerpt from
V. M. GOPAUL
One of the greatest obstacles to the oneness of humankind is the difficulty to forgive. Throughout the ages, how often have the most vulnerable suffered atrocities? Some victims of recent social injustices and their descendants are still alive. The persecutions from ages gone by have been well documented and passed through many generations. Recent humiliation, carnage, and ethnic cleansings involved the Jews during WWII, the Rohingyas in Myanmar, the Indigenous populations on every continent, and the Dalits, the untouchables, in India. These are only a few accounts of the dehumanization of marginalized segments of people around the world recorded in history.
The question remains how these oppressed people can reconcile with the broader population of the nation where they live. Carrying the burden of past trauma, they need to move forward. This is such a vast and
complicated issue that would baffle anyone as to where to begin.
I start with a subject I am somewhat familiar. In Canada, the Truth and Reconciliation Commission (TRC) was set up with a mandate to inform all Canadians about what happened in Indian Residential Schools (IRS).
What is IRS? Briefly, residential schools were government-sponsored religious schools established to assimilate Indigenous children into Euro-Canadian culture. The first residential facilities were established in New France (now Canada). The term usually refers to the custodial schools established after 1880. The purpose of this institution was to eliminate all aspects of Aboriginal culture. Students had their hair cut short, they were dressed in uniforms, and their days were strictly regimented by timetables. The last residential school operated by the Canadian government, Gordon Indian Residential School in Saskatchewan, was closed in 1996. Many former residential school students are still alive, living with the scars of an oppressive program.
In 2012, the TRC, led by Senator Sinclair, issued ninety-four calls for action to many levels of government to address social, judicial, health, treaty and other issues related to the Indigenous population of Canada. The report also recommended that the churches, since the Catholic Churches were directly involved, educate their congregations about respect for the Aboriginal cultures and recognition of the suffering endured by many at the Indian Residential Schools.
Many still have to deal with the process of healing from the decades-long trauma experienced by the children, the parents, and the families involved. Some survivors still recall the abuses with raw wounds that will take a long time to heal.
When the pain is too hard to bear, to move forward, survivors look for answers. After any trauma, two choices become obvious: 1) anger with revenge and 2) make peace with the past through forgiveness. The Charles Bronson approach to solving problems always leads to more suffering, but the latter takes us to true reconciliation.
What is forgiveness? Forgiveness is the intentional and voluntary process by which a victim undergoes a
change in feelings and attitude regarding an offense. In doing so, a pardon for the offender’s actions replaces negative emotions such as vengefulness, betrayal, anger, and fear.
In such an ordeal, it helps to remember that we all have screwed up at one time or another. In any relationship, mistakes, whether they are biggies or not-so-biggies, happen. As much as we are all flawed human beings, our inner beings also yearn for forgiveness because knowing and accepting that we have hurt someone is in itself a punishment. To salvage a ruined relationship between individuals or ethnic groups and avoid bitterness and resentment, forgiveness can provide true reconciliation.
Let’s be clear on what forgiveness is and isn’t:
· To forgive does NOT mean that you condone wrongdoing.
· Reaching a place of true forgiveness is NOT about you deciding that what someone did is okay if it was not.
· Forgiving does NOT mean you have to forget (is that even possible?).
· Forgiveness IS eliminating the negativity that results from hurt by letting go of emotional baggage.
In some ways, forgiveness is comforting and powerful, but it is rarely meant for others; rather, it is for self-preservation and healing. For example, those who scooped children from their parents in Canada are all gone, but the stories remain, and the hurt continues.
Let’s be also clear that forgiveness is not always easy to accomplish. English poet Alexander Pope once said, “To err is human; to forgive, divine.”
As we are prone to make mistakes, some of us also know that God is the ultimate dispenser of pardons. We hope that when we face our Maker, the forgiveness of our mistakes will be forthcoming through divine grace.
If forgiveness happens in addition to reconciliation, it is true empowerment, enabling one to move beyond the oppression of negative emotions:
· Forgiveness is a source of growth and happiness. On the other hand, holding hurt, resentments, pain, and a
anger means poison to the self.
· Forgiveness banishes the ghosts of the past and frees us to live in the present without missing today’s beauty.
· As Confucius said about revenge, “Before you embark on a journey of revenge, dig two
graves.” Living actively with anger and seeking revenge is inviting death with a thousand cuts.
· Forgiveness releases personal power. Holding anger, regret, hatred, or resentment towards someone means surrendering our divine powers to that person. The only way to break away from this bondage is to forgive, not necessarily forget.
· Forgiveness brings the good fortune of spiritual, emotional, and physical health. Negative emotions will only make us lose sleep, destroy the immune system, and create a miserable life.
· Forgiveness clears the fogginess of the mind the way the sun chases away the mist. It enables you to see all the positive qualities in the person who hurt you—qualities you loved once—and allows you to accept the good and bad traits of others, a foundation for of a long-lasting, healthy relationship.
Reconciliation through forgiveness is one of the foundations of the oneness of humanity. For an effective compromise, a crucial fact must be considered. Through empathy and compassion, the larger part of the population has to recognize the suffering of the victims
without dismissing them with stereotypes. In Canada, among the white population, there is a feeling of remorse, grief, and guilt related to past wrongs done to the Indigenous population and a willingness to make things right.
It takes many generations to harmonize disrupted societies. For example, in 1918, Toronto witnessed an anti-Greek riot for three days. Imagine. Throughout Ontario and Canada, Greek immigrants were targeted and falsely accused of not fighting in WWI. A century later, the annual event, Taste of the Danforth, happened with great expectations and it is one of the greatest summer events in Toronto when Canadians of all colors, creeds, and sizes come together to celebrate Greek food, culture, and hospitality.