Helen Whitney encourages students to explore the dynamics of "Forgiveness

By Noah Westreich

Last week Oscar nominated, Emmy and Peabody-winning filmmaker Helen Whitney was welcomed to campus to present her forthcoming documentary film, “Forgiveness: A Time to Love and a Time to Hate.” In a series of four events, all open to the Macalester community, Whitney encouraged participants to explore the question: What is forgiveness?The four-hour film was presented in segments at each of the four events. Each segment revolved around issues that required the act of forgiveness, such as the terrorist attacks of September 11, 2001, the Rwandan genocide, and the Holocaust. In each of the cases, people involved with the incidents were interviewed and video footage was shown to give the background of each of tragedy.

“This is no judging-the issues are just put out there,” said Ben Lavin ’14, of the unbiased nature of the film.

The Center for Religious and Spiritual Life (CRSL) sponsored the event, and brought Whitney to campus with the hope that students, faculty, staff, and other members of the Macalester community would engage in discussion with each other.

Participants experienced a variety of event formats such as intimate round-table discussions over lunch and talks by Whitney herself. Whitney’s visit to campus also featured community dialogues in which the whole room of participants circled up to listen to and share with one another. The goal of the dialogue-style event was to get people talking and the eclectic formats allowed participants to be deeply engaged in their ideas.

“We think about things in terms of accountability, power, and right and wrong, but the film indicates that such issues are not simply settled once justice has been served,” said Rabbi Barry Cytron, Jewish Chaplain and one of the coordinators of the event.

Although religion and faith are commonly bases for forgiveness, the opening moments of the film poetically stated that: “Forgiveness precedes all religion- it is a primordial ache in the human heart.”

Some participants shared their personal experiences with forgiveness, which drove the discussion in a realistic, close-to-home manner. Anecdotes allowed participants to learn from each other, but at the conclusion of the event there was still no consensus as to what forgiveness definitively is. Rather, the discussion raised even more questions that will hopefully promote conversation in the wake of Whitney’s visit.

“The experience has been very rich,” Whitney said. “People asked good questions and paid attention, which is not always the case. It’s a serious place.”

“Forgiveness: A Time to Love and a Time to Hate,” will premiere nationally on PBS in two parts, and begins on April 17.