Forgiveness: Its challenge and necessity

This week, Michael and Stephanie welcome Dr. Wim Laven, professor, author, board member of the International Peace Research Association and the Peace and Justice Studies Association, and Editor in Chief of Peace Chronicle magazine. Wim’s work looks at the immense power of forgiveness as well as the very real difficulties involved in the act of forgiving. How does forgiving release us and allow us to move forward? What are the conditions needed for meaningful forgiveness? How can we forgive the unforgivable? 

People are figuring out, you know, and being coached by their friends and their family and their spiritual advisors and so forth, that in order to live their best lives, they’re going to have to release some of these injustices, despite the fact that it’s completely unfair, right? Like police departments pulling over people just because of the color of their skin or just because they’ve profiled them to match descriptions of whatever prejudicial bias they would like to monitor. But being angry about it, staying angry about it, is having harmful consequences.

In that capacity, the police officer is just following orders and we know that just following orders has been used as a defence about some of the most heinous crimes in history. But it really is. It’s the system or the structure that’s creating those outcomes. I don’t know how much the student is aware that what they’re doing is forgiving the racism in America, but I do know that they are aware that if they stay angry, then they’ll be unemployed. And they’re finding ways to get over that – at least to the degree that they’re able to function, you know?

It’s challenging stuff. I think that there are some people that would say that that’s not really forgiveness. I would. I do. I think that I’ve learned a lot from my students sharing their experiences and their practices for how they get through the critical injustices in the world.

Wim’s work with students in prison and all over the world illuminates the way in which forgiving plays an essential role in helping individuals to release anger so that they can live more freely and fully. At the level of society, Wim shows how forgiving can work to dismantle power structures that allow for, even encourage cruel, unjust and violent actions. Forgiving is not easy, but it is a powerful force which, when harnessed, allows for deep and lasting transformation.

Transcript archived at Waging Nonviolence.

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