Forgiveness seen as wise in most faiths
Forgiveness is a key part of most religions and life philosophies. In Jesus' last words on the cross, he asked that his murderers be forgiven. The highest holidays in Judaism are based on reflection on the past year and an all-day prayer of atonement and forgiveness. And, of course, the Catholic religion has the fundamental ritual of a cleansing confession requesting forgiveness.
Forgiveness in this context is quite separate from reconciliation. Reconciliation requires both parties to come together. But forgiveness is for the injured, or injuring, person alone. In this context, forgiveness allows a person to fully accept what has happened to them, or what they did, so they can move on. By accepting the situation mentally, emotionally and spiritually, you free yourself from past action done to you, by yourself or another, and thereby become capable of taking the next action in a rational and calm manner, whatever action might be appropriate.
Thus, in the Jewish ritual of Rosh Hashanah/Yom Kippur, after reviewing the past year for 10 days, you have one day to free yourself from your own or others' past mistakes by being "at one" with the universal energy of God. Then you are taking your next actions in the present moment.
Similarly, the Catholic priest helps you recognize and acknowledge past errors and sin -- literally translated from Hebrew as "missing the mark" -- to eliminate your anguish and hurt, particularly with yourself as your harshest critic and often worst enemy. Then you can prepare yourself for improvement in the following week.
In Hawaiian spirituality, people prepare themselves always for their personal acceptance and forgiveness by asking the question, What was my role in bringing this situation to me? whenever something that is not pono happens.
To do otherwise than to forgive is futile. The past is gone. "Give up all hope for a better past," is the way psychologist Jerry Jampolsky puts it. His wife and co-author, Diane Circincione, says, "Remaining angry is like taking poison and expecting the other person to die."
Forgiveness, like many other important life skills, is easy to talk about but difficult to put into practice. Much of our culture makes forgiveness difficult. In movies and books the emphasis is on revenge ("The Terminator," "First Blood" etc.), although recent films such as "Munich" show the futility of revenge and how out of control it can get. Perhaps current events are showing a real downside of revenge, namely escalating a bad situation rather than giving anyone satisfaction or completion.
For these kinds of reasons, a large group of senior business people and lawyers from all Hawaii's cultures formed the Hawaii Forgiveness Project in March 2003. This program has met monthly since then, and tries to help its participants and the community develop forgiveness as an actual life skill through educational forums, its Web site and other resources to make forgiveness information available, practicing forgiveness exercises and honoring those who have demonstrated forgiveness above and beyond.
A major effort of the group is Hawaii International Forgiveness Day, which will be celebrated from 2 to 5 p.m. tomorrow at Central Union Church, 1660 S. Beretania St.
Around the world, this is the eighth year of International Forgiveness Day. The Hawaii event is becoming one of the most famous and recognized in the world. This year, the Makaha Sons will play songs, discuss their understanding and experience with forgiveness and be honored as forgiveness heroes. The famous Iona dancers' performance will be based on the Hiroshima/Nagasaki bombings and the need for forgiveness for even such horrific acts.
Speakers tomorrow will be kumu Ramsay Taum, who writes and speaks on Hawaiian spirituality and culture, and Fred Luskin, director of the Stanford Forgiveness Project and author of "Forgive for Good." Taum discusses how Hawaiian concepts of retaining balance and equality in action (pono), and harmony in personal relationships (lokahi) are tied in to fundamental Hawaiian concepts of life itself (aloha) and the development of the process of making things right again through hooponopono. Luskin has a nine-step program for personal forgiveness that helps one focus upon and appreciate the goodness of where one is in life, despite any hurt, and concludes that "living a good life is the best form of revenge."
Hawaii International Forgiveness Day is free to the public, as are the monthly meetings of the project.
Roger Epstein is a member of the Hawaii Forgiveness Project.