‘Please Forgive/Please Omit’. A polite plea that is a source of much good natured mirth at my expense. I used to write these words boldly across the page whenever I crossed something out in my notebook at school. Our blessed teacher found this habit mockingly amusing; and to this day, whenever we meet, my Class of ’66 mates still take the mickey out of me. But for me this was just good manners, and I also always felt better for having asked to be excused.
My good feeling, it turns out, was not a myth. There is scientific evidence to back this up. Dr Fred Luskin of the University of Stanford, and author of “Learning to Forgive”, has undertaken extensive research and offers experimental validation that those who forgive are less stressed out and healthier than those nurturing and retaining resentments.Forgiveness, as Pope Francis explains, is the sepsis of the soul, the cleansing of the mind and the liberation of the heart.
There is no shame in seeking forgiveness. And while it is powerful in itself, in truth it is a psychological release for both the forgiver and the one being pardoned. The forgiver achieves self-fulfillment through the unburdening of bottled-up grudge or rage that is eating away at his or her peace of mind; and after expressing genuine remorse for a regretful act, there is for the absolved a welcome feeling of elation. Whether voluntary or sought, clemency is indeed an act of compassion, and ultimately an honourable and humble thing to do.
History, and the world today, are replete with stories of destroyed lives. Warring nations unwilling to compromise; communal and family feuds; and siblings, parents and children pitting against each other, all nursing seemingly intransigent disagreements. And why? Because there is too much dogged pride involved, with neither side willing to either seek or offer respite from the pain and misery that sometimes has been simmering for decades. Not many are comfortable admitting guilt or apparently losing ground, and the longer this stubbornness lasts the more difficult it becomes to resolve issues, or to absolve the wrongdoer.
All world religions embrace forgiveness, with a clear distinction between the divine significance of seeking exoneration from the Almighty; and the more mundane forgiving occurring in the day to day interactions between human beings. The Holy Quran repeatedly emphasizes the need for reconciliation and repentance. Allah forgives, but asks for a sincere commitment that the violator is willing to stay on the right path. We are urged to overlook, show mercy, enjoin what is good and to ignore those who do not know better. But while divine forgiveness is our salvation, it is intangible. What is perceivable, however, is the direct impact that forgiving has on us. It commences with the offender accepting responsibility and courageously asking for understanding. The final reconciliation then inevitably brings sheer relief to both.
Hurt for sure stirs feelings of wanting revenge. Psychiatrists, however, tell us that forgiveness is a deliberate process by which a victim has a change in attitude regarding an offence, and forgoes thoughts of vengeance. Magnanimity is indeed greatly satisfying, but being merciful requires confidence, particularly when we firmly believe that we are not at fault.
Sometimes, however, forgiving is impossible. No faith, nor any sensible individual, can willingly condone the ruthlessness and brutality perpetuated by the misguided in the name of religion, or in the hope of some glorious after life. Here, in this life, there is neither any justification for taking innocent lives, nor room for any humane soft-heartedness to accept such despicable behaviour.
It is claimed that those who find forgiving difficult are emotionally and spiritually feeble. What better encouragement can they have than Allah’s promise to reward those who do so and reconcile, especially when He also elegantly reminds us that good believers are those who spend in charity during ease and hardship, restrain their anger, and are willing to pardon.
Forgiveness is the attribute of strength, said Mahatma Gandhi. I am convinced that it frees us from troublesome internal shackles that we put ourselves into by not quickly clearing the air when we run into issues with each other. More importantly, it is the noble and right thing to do.
This Ramadan, and always, please forgive — someone, or everyone. Then enjoy the inner peace that you will surely create for yourself.
By Aziz Mamuji