The world is witnessing
astonishing acts of forgiveness and of seeking forgiveness. Pope
John Paul II made a comprehensive apology for the sins committed
by the Roman Catholic Church and its members against groups of people
throughout its history. In South Africa, the Truth and Reconciliation
Commission submitted its Final Report to President Nelson Mandela.
Prime Minister Tony Blair, of the United Kingdom, sought forgiveness
for England's role in the Irish Potato Famine. Leaders of Cambodia's
Khmer Rouge have come forward in search of amnesty. Following September
11, 2001, Palestinian and Israeli officials issued orders to pull
back from aggression and violence.
We see its effects in
our communities as well: when warring gangs call for a cease-fire
after years of senseless killings; when a spouse accepts into their
home a marriage partner who has repented from unfaithfulness; when
a former addict becomes sober, makes amends, and is fully restored
to family and community.
Each time we witness
an act of forgiveness, we marvel at its power to heal, to break
a seemingly unending cycle of pain. Forgiveness is something virtually
all Americans aspire to -- 94% surveyed in a nationwide Gallup poll
said it was important to forgive -- but it is not something we frequently
offer. (In the same survey, only 48% said they usually tried to
forgive others.) Perhaps this is because forgiveness is something
we don't fully understand. Perhaps, as Friedrich Nietzsche did,
we associate forgiveness with weakness. Or perhaps we view forgiveness
as an almost saintly quality that imbues only the very special and
most certainly cannot be learned.
In fact, the opposite
is true. Those who have studied it can tell you without qualification
that forgiveness is a sign of strength. Not only is it a very human
quality, displays of forgiveness and reconciliation are common among
monkeys, apes and other primates, and suggest this behavior has
been around for over thirty million years. And research conducted
at the University of Wisconsin in 1997 indicates forgiveness can
be taught and with positive resutlts.