Acts of violence, division and polarization assume many forms. They may travel through the arc of a guided missile, in the language of an economic policy, or in structural racism that keeps oppression in place. Widespread violence, it is argued, is in fact an expression of the underlying social order. Whether it is carried out by military forces or by patterns of investment, the aim is to strengthen that order for the benefit of the powerful. And yet, humanity has the capacity to make choices based on greater wisdom and spiritual values that inspire humanity to rise to its highest potential and to achieve shared ideals for a better world for all. This is what we can strive for and what it will take if we want to heal this world at a deeper level that can finally break the cycles of violence. This is the work of political forgiveness.
Political forgiveness lies at the center of peacebuilding, and addresses the multiple and complex challenges societies face. Political forgiveness builds the capacity for resilience and the appropriate environment for non-violent conflict resolution. The more society can forgive and commit to stopping violence completely, the higher the likelihood of compromise and non-violent reconciliation of grievances. Where there is a strong political forgiveness process, beneficial societal outcomes are more likely to be achieved. The cost of conflict is far greater than the cost of peace, not just in obvious human terms, but also in economic terms. Political forgiveness can bring about prosperity and economic growth; it should be the first resort, not the last. If for no other reason, political forgiveness is a very pragmatic policy to pursue.
Humanity is now facing complex challenges unparalleled in its history. Without peace, it will be impossible to face these challenges and build the necessary trust, cooperation, and inclusiveness that is required to deal with the issues facing humanity. For this reason, there needs to be a fundamental shift in our thinking, a new way of thinking which brings us down the path to peace. Political forgiveness is necessary, not just to address these challenges, but also to empower the national and international institutions supporting civil society. Political forgiveness is the essential prerequisite for the survival of humanity as we know it in the 21st century. It shines a light on the direction that a country needs to evolve. It provides a framework for understanding the intersection of the individual with the community and the nation. Understanding these interdependencies is essential to building a peaceful and more productive society and healing from the conflict and war of the past. This is what societies can aspire to, as political forgiveness is a powerful force for healing and rebuilding, creating an environment in which humanity can flourish.
If you are trying to fight for social justice as a result of the painful history of the United States and have not healed your own emotional burdens, you can easily play into the victim/perpetrator cycle, unable to lead people into a new space where something else can be born. Everything starts with a personal discovery that takes time and a willingness to look within oneself. Healing isn’t something that just happens. It is a journey and takes a commitment to stay on that path, knowing that sometimes you will have to live with your pain and your wounds.
Mourning too is a part of the healing process. We need to learn how to mourn the loss of what we wish could have been, and for each group that is going to be different. This is part of the forgiveness process. Once we can mourn the loss we can begin to empathize with the “other” and walk in their shoes. In coming out of denial we become more truthful with ourselves, and by facing the truth we become empowered. This is how we combat the “lost cause” mythology—not just by talking to each other but by telling the truth.
People should not diminish what a healing process such as political forgiveness can do. We need to be humble, listen to one another deeply, hear each others’ experiences and the impact they have had, and make a commitment that these painful experiences will not happen again. This will require deep inner work on all our parts—but this kind of commitment to one another can lead to a very profound transformation. Yet when you compare this process to the anger and fear and hate that people have held within themselves for a very long time, the pain that is involved in any healing process is something that we should not be afraid of. We can reach deep for courage and recognize that, in doing this work, we are now building our society on the foundation of compassion and understanding. This leads to healing our national trauma and, in the process, we learn to forgive ourselves for holding anger and hatred of the “other.” In learning how to forgive ourselves we can then forgive the “other.” This is what will bring us back together again as a country.