True forgiveness is a complex and prolonged evolutionary process. When forgiveness is seen within a political process separate from but also interwoven with justice, apology, truth, and reconciliation it becomes more complex. Its enactment belongs entirely to the offended and is a courageous and powerful expression of unconditional acceptance and love that is an attempt to stop the transfer of hate from one generation to the next. A genuine individual and collective willingness to try to release the hurts of the past, accompanied by hope and determination to begin anew, can be argued to be a beginning point in this process. But what are the emotional roots of forgiveness, the source of feeling that makes it possible? And why is this so important to understand concerning the healing of nations? Any healing process including when it involves the collective begins with the individual. Individual healing builds the foundation for community healing to take place which ultimately supports structural changes, all of which encompasses a political forgiveness process.
The power of forgiveness of one person can have a great influence over many others and can even change an entire nation. For example, we have seen a profound change take place in South African when Nelson Mandela was able to bring his country together in the spirit of forgiveness and reconciliation. And there have been others who although not so well known have demonstrated how their forgiveness has helped transform societies.
One such person is Irene Laure, a French woman who as a child during World War I suffered at the hands of the Germans and during World War II was part of the resistance movement against the Nazis saving as many lives as she could. She personally knew all too well the horrors of what the Nazis did and certainly had every right to be so angry as to want to see Germany destroyed. Then shortly after the war ended Irene attended a conference on reconciliation and it was there where she struggled and finally embraced the idea of forgiveness. The forgiveness process was so transformative that not only did this experience transform Irene, it had a profound effect on France as well. Irene spent the rest of her life helping to build the moral of the German women and spreading the words of forgiveness.
Political forgiveness is not just about the individual, it includes working on a community level and on making structural changes. One incredible program developed to heal the wounds of a community took place in Sierra Leone. Fambul Tok, “Family Talk” in Krio emerged in Sierra Leone as a face-to-face community owned program that brings together perpetrators and victims of the violence from Sierra Leone’s eleven-year civil war for the first time since the war ended. They meet through ceremonies rooted in the traditions of the villages affected by this violence. At evening bonfire ceremonies, victims give voice to their memories and perpetrators confess. They can ask for, and offer forgiveness, preparing the way for individuals and communities to forge a new future together.