I love quotes – bumper stickers, whatever. Anything that makes me smile or think. But I was driving today and saw one that just hit me wrong. It said “To err is human. To forgive is not something that I do.” Ouch!
I have a lot of reasons to find forgiveness difficult. I have a mother-in-law and father-in-law I’ve never met, who disowned their son and in 11 years have never met me or their 5 year-old grandson. I have known people who have deliberately gone out of their way to hurt me, who make a conscious decision to be mean or cruel. But what I have learned over the years is that the only way I can move past those things and not let it make me crazy is to forgive. And I can’t imagine holding onto the anger and frustration. What a waste of my energy.
When I was in the Peace Corps, the village I lived in was small and most people were totally uneducated. The ironic thing was that there was a strong sense of political allegiance. Part of it is that the political parties would come into the villages and bribe people with food and money – things they desperately needed. I also think people found pride in being attached to political groups – even though they didn’t really see the whole picture of politics in general. Sadly, I saw these political games breakup friendships and even families. Brothers who wouldn’t speak because each supported (i.e. was bought out) by an opposing party.
Anyway, my work in the village wasn’t associated with a party – I was out to help everyone. This didn’t go over well with some. At one point after I’d lived there for well over a year I had managed to get the government to give me permission to start a pilot project in natural resource management in my area of the country. Until then, people were being arrested for cutting down trees to build homes. I launched a program that allowed people to cut down only what they needed – and we started a community nursery that they were required to work in and then plant 20 trees on their property for every one they cut down. It worked beautifully. I even had the Vice-President of the Dominican Republic come out with camera crews to check it out.
But I pissed some people off in the community, who felt I was favoring villagers on one side of the political fence. I think I just wasn’t paying attention to who was with which group. Anyway, some villagers got together and wrote a letter to the government asking to oust me from the village. It was sent behind my back and signed by people who I thought of as family there. A government official I had gotten to be friends with came out to the village to tell me about it.
I was devastated. Then mad. Then defensive. But once I managed to calm down I made a decision. I went to each of the 7 people who signed the letter. I told them how hurt I was and I told them how much I had wished they had come to me with their issues before taking a step like that. And then I forgave them. And I know for a fact that I walked out of each conversation with a clear head and that it took each of those people awhile to feel better about things. And I told them I’d work with any of them anytime again – and would continue to as long as I was there. And once they could face me again, we did work together.
It’s amazing what forgiveness can do for everyone on all sides. And so to the person driving that car with the bumper sticker – I hope they figure that out someday and take that thing off. It would be a lesson well worth learning.