The forgiveness thread Cheryl started is a wonderful one, and I want to give it special placement. Forgiveness is a fascinating topic. I have a remarkable story that offers an inspiring perspective on that issue.
When I taught Political Science at a small liberal arts college, one of my friends was an Ethiopian economist who also taught there. When he has been a young man he had been imprisoned in a concentration camp by the communist Ethiopian government. Its leader, Mengistu, and other political thugs, brutally dominated that country from 1977 to 1991, being responsible for the deaths of thousands, before the regime was finally overthrown.
While in the prison my friend and other inmates were tortured regularly. After the regime fell the situation was reversed. The inmates were freed while many of their former guards were imprisoned.
My friend was close to a man who, if I remember correctly, had become the new Ethiopian Minister of Justice or of the Interior. The Minister asked him if there was anything he could do for him, now that they were both free.
He said he would like to return to the prison and meet his captors and torturers.
The Minister was surprised, but agreed to arrange it.
When my friend returned, and saw his former torturers and jailers behind bars, he spoke with them in a friendly way, and explicitly forgave them for their crimes. He meant it.
He also was able to get hold of police records that gave him the name of the man who had informed on him, leading to his years of imprisonment and torture. He called him up, and asked that they meet. When they did, he asked his former ‘friend’ why he had informed on him.
The man began to cry and said he believed he had little choice because the regime would have done terrible things to him and his family if he had not given them names. He said he felt he had no choice.
My friend, who describes himself as an atheist, also forgave him.
When he told me this amazing story I told him that despite his being an atheist, he had done one of the most spiritually wise things I had ever heard of anyone doing.
He laughed it off, saying he had done the forgiving for his own benefit. Not to have done so would have retained the poisons of anger, resentment at his betrayal, and worse, in his own heart. He could never have gotten past it. In forgiving his oppressors he had healed himself. And I can attest I have known fewer warmer, more easy-going and good-hearted people in my life.
I have not mentioned his name or given many identifying details because he has never to my knowledge made his story public. I wish he would. His story that would make a wonderful movie or book, and, more importantly, inspire others to learn from what he did.
I wonder whether one of the worst effects of those whose actions harm another is to tie their victims emotionally and energetically to the misdeeds. Hate, anger, and resentment are a kind of psychic virus. They are powerful thought forms, requiring a great deal of effort to hold under control and breeding still more hate, anger, and resentment in others when they are not held under control. Their presence also poisons and distorts our other perceptions and thoughts. Isuspect the only way their victims can free themselves from these powers and move forward with their lives is to forgive.
I suspect the lesson my friend taught me, and I have not fully perfected, we all could practice to our benefit.