Forgiveness offers Transformation
When we look at humanity it is easy to take notice of our differences. Different genders, different races, different values, different passions, different habits, I could go on all day listing differences. There are whole careers which are built on discovering and exploring people’s differences, even within small subsets of society.
But what of our similarities? Isn’t this what is ultimately more important? Isn’t this were we can find common ground, where we can experience empathy? It is this concept, that some elements of being human are the same, across all cultures, across all races, genders and ages, which give us the possibility of understanding one another. Finding such kinship is what offers our greatest hope for peaceful co-existence.
One truth about humans is that everything we do is designed to make us feel better. All humans, regardless of their stated motives, do what they do in an attempt to find happiness.
- The martyr who blows himself and innocent people up is trying to buy a life of happiness in some promised afterlife.
- The crack addict who robs others just wants to feel the temporary happiness of his next high.
- The fat-cat CEO who willingly destroys the planet in order to improve his bottom line does so because he thinks additional money or recognition will buy him more happiness.
- Even the hate-filled racist, who runs over someone, simply because their skin is another color, is seeking some degree of happiness.
Logical analysis is virtually useless in trying to understand people who put their own desire for happiness ahead of compassion, ahead of decency, ahead of common courtesy. Oftentimes the quest for happiness is merely an attempt to make pain decrease or disappear. Less pain equals more happiness for these selfish individuals, even if they could never agree that this was their truth.
So, how does this knowledge assist us in living more peacefully? Simply by taking away the idea that we can hope to understand the logic of people who abuse other humans, we are freed to move more quickly to a place of compassion. Instead of wasting energy being angry at greedy people, perhaps we can choose to feel empathy for the emptiness, the lack, which motivated their actions.
Over the years I have heard a number of stories of people so filled with compassion that they disarmed (figuratively) robbers when faced with these intense situations. Always it was their demonstration of loving kindness which created the shift, defusing the dangerous situation. I have always admired these individuals, profoundly. There are two elements to these stories. First the intended victims were absolutely fearless. Their compelling faith allowed them to stay present and to avoid falling prey to any type of emotion-based reaction. Secondly, these calm, fearless people had great compassion, great love, for their fellow humans. It was this kindness which allowed them to alter the crisis and transform it into an opportunity to extend love. This is entirely the opposite of conquering force with force. Loving kindness is, in all situations, the greatest force that we have. Knowing that these, would-be holdup men, were doing what they were doing because of their own emptiness, because of their own neediness, allowed these spiritual giants to offer true assistance, afforded them the venue to demonstrate unconditional love. It was this demonstration which caused the miscreants to stop in their tracks and reconsider their options.
I am not promising that understanding the motivation for heinous acts will make the deeds any easier to accept, but I am suggesting that this realization may make forgiveness more readily available, and forgiveness is one of the greatest tools we have available in our own endeavor to live our lives in peace.
The “heroes” in the stories referenced above were able to forgive their attackers instantly, choosing love instead of condemnation. This choice not only saved them from harm, it also opened a doorway to transformation for the perpetrators.