Understanding the power and importance of forgiveness

By Carleton Hanson

After attending the campus-wide meeting on Feb. 12 to discuss reactions to the “politically incorrect” party, I left with mixed emotions. On the one hand, I was glad that so many people came to speak their minds and to share their feelings with the greater Macalester community. I was also impressed that many of those who attended the party came forward and made public apologies for their actions and their silence. What distressed me, however, was that these apologies were not received with forgiveness by those who had been hurt. There were a few nods of gratitude to those who apologized, but the words “I forgive you” or “We forgive you” were never spoken. It was this absence of grace that left me feeling discouraged.

I say this not to condemn those who were hurt and angry about the party, but because I know that without forgiveness the hurt will not truly heal and the anger will continue to smolder. One can think of a million reasons not to forgive: the guilty may not deserve forgiveness, the guilty may not be truly sorry, if we forgive them they might do something like it again in the future, they need to be taught a lesson, etc. Yet if we refuse to forgive, we prevent healing from taking place and we do great damage to ourselves and to our souls. Forgiveness is certainly not easy, logical, or enjoyable but it possesses great power to destroy divisions, anger, and fear; it is only through forgiveness that true reconciliation can take place. Forgiveness is not condoning wrong behavior or letting someone “off the hook,” but it is being willing to look past the misdeed to see and be reconciled with the person behind the actions.

An unpleasant but important point to remember as well is that, as humans, we are all in the same boat when it comes to needing forgiveness. There is not one of us who has not screwed up big time in our own lives and there is not one of us who will not screw up again in the future. Thus if we withhold forgiveness from others or say that those who have hurt us to not deserve to be forgiven, we condemn ourselves because we too are in need of forgiveness. For better or worse, this dependency on grace is something we all share; it is our common ground that allows us to come together and be reconciled with one another despite our many differences.

On a final note, I want to again acknowledge that forgiveness is hard. It means laying down many of our rights and being willing to try once again to build relationships within our community. Perhaps it was too ambitious of me to expect full-fledged forgiveness so soon after the pain had been caused. I want to encourage everyone, however, that though forgiveness is difficult, it is not impossible. It will be painful at first and we will falter many times as we try and forgive, but let us begin the journey now, together as the Macalester community. Let us begin forgive one another.