Forgiveness Day is time to escape chains of futility
Forgiveness is a key part of most religions and life philosophies. In Jesus' last words on the cross, he asked that his killers be forgiven. The High Holy Days in Judaism are based on reflection on the past year and an all-day prayer of atonement and forgiveness. The Catholic Church has the fundamental ritual of a cleansing confession requesting forgiveness.
Forgiveness in this context is quite separate from reconciliation, which requires both parties of an injury to come together. 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. Thus 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 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 the recent film "Munich" showed the futility of revenge and how out of control it can get.
Perhaps current events demonstrate a real downside of revenge, 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 participants and the community develop forgiveness as an actual life skill. It provides educational forums, a Web site and other resources to make forgiveness information available.
The group will sponsor a free public Hawaii International Forgiveness Day program from 1 to 5 p.m. tomorrow at the East-West Center at the University of Hawaii. Around the world, this is the 13th year for marking an International Forgiveness Day.
The Hawaii event is becoming one of the most famous in the world. This year the theme is "Forgiving the Unforgivable." Traci Toguchi, a former Miss Hawaii and the new executive director of the Hawaii Center for Attitudinal Healing, will serenade us with songs of forgiveness, and Aunty Fay Uyeda of the Communities in Schools group will present their film about foster child Andrew Sato. Henri Landwirth, an Auschwitz survivor who teaches children about forgiveness, and Brenda Adelman, who made peace with her father after he murdered her mother, will be honored.
This year we want people in the audience to make their own commitment to forgiveness, and we offer our ohana for support.
For more information, visit www.hawaiiforgivenessproject.org.
Roger Epstein, an attorney, is a founder of the Hawaii Forgiveness Project.