Forgiveness is complex. The act of forgiving encompasses many positive emotions like sympathy, empathy, and compassion in response to something that at one point hurt us immensely. To be a human who can forgive is a powerful and healing skill. But how do we forgive?
A common reaction to someone hurting us or hurting the people we love is to want to hurt them too. This may be hard to hear and upsetting at first but they have reasons for what they have done. Their reasons in no way justify what they’ve done and it can be true they still need to be punished, but on a level, they have reasons. If you are able to detach yourself personally from the experience and observe from another person’s perspective you may understand where they are coming from.
So how do we do just that? If we want to forgive another, how do we understand why others do such horrible things?
It is really hard for us to adopt this belief system and come to understand a person because we tend to see things as black and white. If we can look through a filter of understanding we may be surprised by how much our anger lessens. There is no such thing as one person being entirely right and another person being entirely wrong.
A lot of the time, misunderstandings or anger comes out of not seeing things from the same perspective as the other person. If you only look at life through your personal perspective and experience, you are destined to be confused, hurt, and lost. So how do we look through another perspective?
A way to demonstrate perspective shifting if looking at a common example about valuing being on time and not valuing being on time. I remember going to a wedding once where a distant relative of mine and his family showed up as the wedding was concluding. On the surface level, this could be taken as a sign that he didn’t care about the couple getting married. This however couldn’t be further from the truth. When they got there immediately they met up with the bride and groom and you could tell he really loved them and was excited for them.
But if he loved them, he would have been there on time right? No, not necessarily. He didn’t mean to hurt the bride and groom by being there late. He was just late. Because he’s late to everything. He wasn’t trying to be hurtful. He was just being who he is. It may have hurt people. That is true. But that wasn’t his intent. This is why holding multiple perspectives and understanding where somebody is coming from is key to forgiveness. It’s not necessary to agree with his actions but by seeing where he was coming from, understanding that this is him and not reflective of him trying to be mean is how we forgive.
I want to share another beautiful story with you about understanding and forgiveness. This story is about SharlettaEvans and her three year old son Casson who was killed in a gang related shooting gone wrong. The killer’s name was Raymond Johnson. Raymond was 15 years old at the time he was sentenced to life in prison for what he did.
Over the years Raymond would write to Sharletta, expressing his deep remorse for what he had done to her son. At the time of the arrest, he had a third grade education. While in prison, he ended up getting his GED and he had extremely good behavior as a prisoner. Normally families aren’t allowed to meet or discuss anything with the killer.However, in the state of Colorado, they started a pilot program called “restorative justice” to see if there could be some healing.
Finally, when Raymond was 33 years old, he had a face to face meeting with Sharletta for the first time. As you can probably imagine, there was a lot of pain and healing that went on during that first meeting. Sharletta was able to experience massive healing and forgiveness through this process, as well. Raymond was also able to experience forgiving himself but her reaching out and working through healing with him.
She went on to become the president and founder of the Red Cross Blue Shield (RCBS) Gang Prevention, Inc.Because she felt that children, like Raymond, who was 15 years old, shouldn’t be sentenced for life for things that they did when they were so young. Well, because of all her work, Raymond was eligible to get released from jail and live his life. The most profound piece of this story is that Sharletta claimed “I left there hugging Raymond. I accepted him as my son, because he was absent of his parents.”
I’m not telling you to be just like Sharletta because her level of forgiveness is exponential. I am however trying to shine a light on how possible and powerful forgiving and understanding is at its core. It is possible to forgive people for what they’ve done to us. And, do you know the most wonderful thing about forgiveness? It lies within all of our hearts and we can go through life with less hate, less hostility. It is possible to come to the realization that to understand all is truly to forgive all.