No one knows if this works in the long term, but they are trying it anyway. In two years, the movement has attracted 2,200 participants.
Rev. Sky Starr, a grief therapist/minister/educator/life coach/consultant, offers a cogent summary of the new forgiveness and its goal of “personal freedom.” Forgiveness, Ms. Starr says, “used to be a spiritual thing. But now everyone is realizing that forgiveness is a holistic thing.”
Forgiveness is “a skillful means of promoting internal harmony, free from regret and inner conflict. … It’s not for the person who hurt you. It’s for you.” Why? Because “holding a grudge is letting someone live rent-free in your head.” And because “hurt people hurt you because they’re feeling hurt.”
“One thing I learned,” a rapper named Friday says, “when you can’t forgive, and can’t take accountability for your actions, you’re always playing the blame game.” Friday was a perpetrator, not a victim, but this is what he needed: a break from feeling like a bad guy. “I’m not perfect. I think it’s harder to forgive yourself than to forgive others.”
Eventually I speak to Stephanie (Ivory) Conover, a woman in her 20s who was raped when she was 13. She is a singer, dancer and model, a former Miss Canada Plus. I want to know why she felt she had to forgive herself for being raped.
“For accepting the fact that there was nothing I could have done,” she says. When she finally reported the assault to the police, they asked her if she had led the man on, and she never pressed charges. She had to forgive herself, she said, “because I had serious anger and trust issues that had arisen from not making peace with this catalyst that was literally thrust upon me, forgive the pun.”
If the world has treated you badly and left you to blame yourself for your misfortune, and you hate yourself hard enough, you come to hate the world. Perhaps this is what happened to Adam Lanza.
But if you can forgive yourself, maybe you can love the world again. All these people are trying.
In the nearly four years since Izzeldin Abuelaish’s daughters died, the Israeli Defence Forces have admitted that they fired the shells that killed them. To this day, however, the doctor is still waiting for a formal apology, and has sued the Israeli government in hope of getting one.
“I’m doing it because I want all of us to take responsibility, finally, for our acts,” he says. “From goodwill, not to blame.”
He forsook hatred of his daughters’ killers, forsook revenge, not to let the Israel Defence Forces off the hook – as some Palestinians accuse him of doing – but, again, to break the familiar cycle of despair, provocation, retaliation and revenge. He was hoping to make it possible for the Israeli military to admit its responsibility without vengeful reprisals, and to find in stout forgiveness the root of a lasting peace – a meaning for his lost daughters’ lives.
“Forgiveness is to move forward,” he told me, as if it were the most self-evident truth. “Not blindly: You touch it, and you engage with it. Forgiveness is to move forward stronger, more determined, and to challenge the perpetrator, and not be the victim.”
But that is a two-way street, and that is the problem. “No one has approached me to ask for forgiveness,” he says. “That’s the issue. … Why all the time is the focus on the victim? It’s an injustice to ask the victim all the time to forgive. We need to change it, and ask the perpetrator to come forward and ask for forgiveness.”
That is the hard part. Asking for forgiveness is always terrifying, not just because it might not be granted, but because of the implications of the request – that we are somehow responsible for one another, that we have a collective hand in one another’s losses, that we owe each other amends, sometimes even by assuming the burden of responsibility for the random and the inexplicable.
Not that we are all to blame for the sins of the world, but that we are responsible for them. What else are the massive public outpourings and debates and conversations that follow tragedies like Newtown but an effort to come to terms with the collective loss, to admit to our collective failure?
So far, in a small, unspeakably sad town in Connecticut, only one young man is said to be guilty, and he is no longer alive to give the grieving comfort. Perhaps it lies to the rest of us to step up and ask for their forgiveness too.