A Tribute to the Courageous and Beautifully Spiritual John Lewis

“Walk with the winds brothers and sisters and let the spirit of peace and the power of everlasting love be your guide”

John Lewis –

           Representative John Lewis died July 17, 2020 at the age of 80 after a battle with pancreatic cancer serving more than three decades in Congress. A civil rights icon who began his life as the son of sharecroppers was by all accounts an ordinary man who because of his bravery, his acts of courage and commitment to making this world a better, more just place,  has changed this world. Almost losing his life during bloody Sunday’s march across the Edmund Pettus Bridge in Selma, Alabama and being on the frontlines of a bloody campaign to end Jim Crow laws, Lewis never gave up hope for making this country a better nation.

Lewis reminded us to answer the highest calling of one’s heart. He spent his life demonstrating that the way of peace, the way of love and nonviolence is the best way if we want to achieve that peace. What Lewis was describing are principles of political forgiveness. Political forgiveness triumphs over violence, aggression, and war. It is a healing force that unites us instead of that which divides us. It is inclusive, not exclusive. It is a healing force that helps us understand one another instead of hating one another. What John Lewis stood for was political forgiveness in action. His attitude and philosophy in life was based on love. He regarded everyone with dignity and respect. His civil rights activism and his views on nonviolence were based in restoring relationships. And his greatest dedication to his life was changing political structures from those that supported structural violence to those that reflected justice and equality. The Voting Act of 1965 reflected that. As former president Barack Obama said about Mr. Lewis, “he as much as anyone in our history brought this country a little bit closer to our highest ideals.” Political forgiveness is one of those highest ideals.

We are a work in progress. Much healing needs to take place on all levels of society. This is where the power lies in a political forgiveness process. It addresses all levels of society in a coordinated and healing capacity. Lewis demonstrated moral courage and has asked us to do the same. Forgiveness requires moral courage. Lewis stood for unity not division, love not hatred and embraced taking responsibility to create a better society. These are some of the principles of forgiveness on a political level. Lewis never gave up and persevered against all odds. These are the qualities for us to emulate especially in a political forgiveness process.

John Lewis will be profoundly missed. Let us never forget the light that he shined upon this world. The greatest tribute we can pay to John Lewis is to keep fighting for what he stood for and in the way he led his life. He was truly a most spiritual human being.

What Kind of Americans Do We Want to Be?

All of us are facing difficult situations and crises which involves free choice, wise thinking and important decision making, based on our values and the kind of America we can be proud of and feel good about. Yet our country more than ever is extremely polarized. Decisions that seem to be made feel as though we are more obsessed with material wealth than we care about one another. We seem to be caught up in hate speech which continues to polarize this nation and we appear to live blindly, not thinking about the effects of our actions on others. Are we going to live so caught up in ourselves that we do not make room for self-reflection?

We are becoming a new country. Will this country be based on materialistic wealth and the power of privilege or will it be based on our understanding of our interconnectiveness? Our greatest times as a country is when we showed concern for others such as after the second world war when we cared about the well-being of others. We created the Marshal plan to aid the recovery of West Germany and Japan. We experienced wealth and abundance during that time. We welcomed immigrants which led to a stronger economy and stronger cultural diversity. These were positive actions taken upholding certain values which included generosity, compassion and inclusiveness. We were the way shower for the rest of the world – a beacon of light for humanity.

There has been a shift in recent years which has led us to where we are today. We have become more aggressive, polarized and have unfair economic policies creating a wider gap between the have’s and have nots. Covid 19 is showing us in no uncertain terms the inequities in our society. We have seen how this pandemic has accentuated the sharp divisions between those who care for others first and those who think it is ok to lose Americans in the name of economic well-being. What may not be so clear is that if we keep losing Americans there will be no economic well-being.

We have choices to make. Who do we really want to be and what are we willing to do to get there? We are at a crossroads. It is up to us as to what direction we want to take and how we chose to relate to the rest of the world. What this pandemic is doing is making us stop, stop the feverish pace we are so used to, stop to hear the suffering of others, stop to recognize that if we want to be healthy, we have an obligation to each other. We are being forced to stop, hopefully to sit in silence and to listen and to really understand what is most important in this world.

Can We Truly Become Great Again?

I read an article the other day on “The coronavirus is an opportunity for people with privilege, and American society as a whole, to broaden their empathy for others.” The article spoke of the threat of death from an unseen virus which affects all of us regardless of class or race, and of the deep interconnectedness which unites us by globally crossing all color, economic and national lines. There are many lessons we are learning because of the circumstances we are finding ourselves in. If we do not take the necessary precautions and find a way to eliminate the virus we could die. We are also seeing that if we stop abusing our planet our water and skies become blue again as earth’s ecology becomes healthier.

 

But what about other aspects of our world we live in, the social aspects where we are seeing such injustice and inequality especially to those less fortunate, those more vulnerable, to people of color. This pandemic is shining a light on the unfairness that exists within our society. We see it in the numbers in which the pandemic disproportionately is affecting African Americans. We see it in society’s lack of concern on the toll of the elderly especially in nursing homes. What kind of collusion course are we on if we do not look at the divisions and if we do not correct the increasingly polarized, increasingly violent course we are on? How much longer can we go on ignoring how we are exploiting people within our own society, and how racism is running rampant because of the inherent superiority that feeds into racism, and the “right” to ignore laws at the expense of others. What kind of world are we creating within our own county whose foundation and glory was based in caring for others? This pandemic is showing us how far off from this ideal we have become.

 

The pandemic starkly reminds us that we are all in this together, that  we need not  just a medical vaccine but a vaccine against a larger and more insidious pandemic of racism and global injustice where 1% own and exploit more assets than everyone else combined. What is desperately needed is deep soul searching and a recognition of the complicity we all play in perpetuating an unjust society. Understanding and healing can come if we can develop within ourselves compassion and empathy. It is deep empathy that will ultimately lead us to making different choices and to the necessary breakthroughs that can serve humanity in a healing capacity. It is the lack of empathy that will keep us in the darkness that we find ourselves in today. Can we rise to the occasion and through acts of kindness and concern for one another truly become great again? This is our challenge, and this is also where our healing lies. What do you think?

 

What does it mean for Forgiveness to be Political?

With all the bitterness and divisiveness which has taken hold in our political world today what we urgently need to heal these divides is “the politics of forgiveness.” But you may ask: What does forgiveness in politics mean, and are politics and forgiveness related? And why is forgiveness so crucial?

I have been thinking long and hard as to what it means for forgiveness to be political. Our political world which is the public realm of our existence is fraught with conflicts, violence and all the “isms” one can imagine. How can we stop this violence and the many attacks on one another and live in a more peaceful society? When we think about forgiveness, we recognize that it is about how we choose to express ourselves and the kind of actions we will take against a perceived wrong, our choice being to choose to respond to this world with understanding, tolerance and compassion. It is tapping into the essence of who we are, what we think and what we believe in. It reveals something about us and what we hold to be true. Forgiveness becomes political when we apply this kind of thinking to our actions in the public realm. Forgiveness becomes political insofar as it is an individual political action that expresses itself first in revealing something of oneself and in the narratives that emerges and finally in how it becomes the basis in establishing new relationships.

Forgiveness is not just a personal or individual act that is limited to the private sphere. Increasingly today there is the realization that forgiveness is also necessary in the public sphere, thus also in the political realm. The politics of forgiveness is urgently needed in the United States, where the polarization is so great that it has virtually become two nations as the rhetoric surrounding our politics illustrates. The only way that equally polarized Republicans and Democrats can live together and stop their partisan sniping is through the politics of forgiveness. That may not happen any time soon but is a willingness to forgive others too much to expect from politicians, many of whom call themselves Christians?

The politics of forgiveness does work, even if it does so imperfectly. We have seen forgiveness in politics carried out in many countries especially where truth and reconciliation commissions have been established. Imperfect as these processes may have been it does not negate the healing power the politics of forgiveness can bring.

Forgiveness is a long process that requires daily reinforcement whether practiced in the personal or political realm. Political forgiveness is even messier because of the many people involved, but it is imperative that this form of politics takes root in every country of the world and especially now in the United States. Conflicts will never cease, but how people handle them is crucial. Forgiveness in politics is imperative if we want to stop doing business as usual, creating more conflict and violence and want to chose to live in a more peaceful world.

What does it mean for forgiveness to be political? I am interested in hearing about what you think. Please share your thoughts on what it means for forgiveness to be political. It is worth a conversation.

Is the United Nations Getting Ready for the Transformational Power of Forgiveness?

During April 24-25, 2018 the United Nations convened a high-level meeting in New York on peacebuilding and sustaining peace. The purpose of the meeting was to assess efforts undertaken and opportunities to strengthen the United Nations work on peacebuilding and sustaining peace. The United Nations Headquarters welcomed heads of states to review the organization’s current work in conflict prevention and how to strengthen current operations and institutions related to peace. The High-Level Meeting was an occasion for participants from government, civil society, including women’s groups and representatives of the youth, the private sector, regional and sub-regional organizations and academia to discuss ways to support and promote sustaining peace. This was an historical milestone for advancing the United Nations’ work in the areas of conflict prevention and post-conflict peacebuilding and to set the stage for a wider agenda of renewal and reform.

This meeting attracted the highest levels of attendance seen at the United Nations this year. It brought about a greater understanding of how one views peace. Perhaps Miroslav Lajc ̌a ́k President of the United Nations General Assembly said it best:

“Peace is more than a ceasefire. It is more than a peace deal. And, it is more than the absence of war. This means that once-off operations or activities are not enough to achieve it. Instead, we need to tackle conflict at its roots. We need to look to the horizon, to see the warning signs. We need to build a culture of peace; a culture of prevention.”

The meeting focused on a discussion in four areas.

Prevention

First, the UN meeting attendees looked at prevention, especially long-term prevention. This put the focus on sustainable development, economic growth, institution building and the respect for human rights.

Coherence

The second focus area was on coherence at both national and international levels. President Miroslav Lajc ̌a ́k spoke of a few examples such as in The Gambia where sustainable peace is central to the country’s national development plan. In Malawi United Nations development and political actors came together to support the national peace architecture. And in New York the Peacebuilding Commission is building bridges across the United Nations three pillars.

National Ownership

Sustaining peace does not stand a chance unless it is driven by national actors. Examples discussed included the Philippines where national cultures and policies were complemented rather than replaced.

Inclusion

The most prominent lesson was about inclusion. There are greater results with more inclusion. A shining example is how the women in Liberia have come together. They have developed a platform and a strong united voice, and because of their commitment and determination ended a civil war and now have come together to prevent the country from sliding back into war. Another example is the Balkans where young people even years after the fighting stopped continued to work for reconciliation. And in Sri Lanka civil society designed the national reconciliation process.
So how does political forgiveness fit into all of this?

Political forgiveness is a very inclusive and comprehensive approach to peacebuilding and sustaining peace. It is a process which involves the individual, the community and changing structures to support healing and reconciliation. As mentioned earlier, understanding the root causes is very important in peacebuilding and sustaining peace. Underneath the root causes are painful emotions which are driving the conflict and if the emotional currents are not given voice, emotions especially of anger, fear and hate will become a ticking time bomb waiting to explode. Political forgiveness on an individual and community level focuses on healing these emotions so the root causes can be addressed.

In September 2015, the General Assembly adopted the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development that includes 17 Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) to guide the role of public, non-profit, for-profit and voluntary sectors in global development. Goal 16 focuses on promoting peaceful and inclusive societies for sustainable development, provide access to justice for all and build effective, accountable and inclusive institutions at all levels. Focusing on Goal 16 provides a wonderful opportunity for developing political forgiveness within countries. There are many facets to this and where political forgiveness can fit in. The UN can support such programs as “Schools for Forgiveness and Reconciliation” to help with the healing of political and domestic violence on an individual level. The UN can also support indigenous practices which involves community healing such as the Fambul Tok program in Sierra Leone. Lastly, to support goal 16 the UN can help governments look at structures within their countries which can support a culture of peace. This is where the transformational power of political forgiveness lies in not only healing individuals and communities but in also helping to change structures where it has the capacity to heal nations. Giving what the goals are of the United Nations and what it wants to achieve, the process of political forgiveness makes these goals achievable and is a process which fosters prevention and transforms conflict supporting peacebuilding mechanisms and sustaining peace around the world.

Please share your thoughts on : https://www.facebook.com/7-Steps-to-Forgiveness-109220899099707/, twitter @erborris or www.linkedin.com/in/dreileenborris

As always, I am interested in hearing about your experience and welcome all your comments, so please feel free to share your thoughts on this blog. I am looking forward to hearing from you.

For more information on learning how to forgive go to “Finding Forgiveness: A 7-Step Program for Letting Go of Anger and Bitterness” by Eileen R. Borris-Dunchunstang.