From an article by Olivier Clerc, writer and lecturer, author of ‘The Gift of Forgiveness’.

Ever since I’ve been running workshops on forgiveness and Circles of Forgiveness, this is without a doubt the question I have been asked most often by participants as well as by journalists: “Can one forgive everything?”

In fact, for many it is THE big question regarding forgiveness. To forgive small and medium size  hurts one might have suffered in one’s childhood, in a couple’s relationship, at work or anywhere else is OK, many people say. However, must one forgive a Hitler or a Ben Laden? A rapist, a pedophile? Murderers, psychopaths?  The minute the question is asked many feel something rebelling or closing within them. O No! There are things that are unforgivable!

I for one believe that to give a correct answer to this important question, one must start by knowing what is meant by “forgiveness” and “to forgive.” Over the years I have come to realize that our understanding of these words is vague, incomplete, even colored with moral imperatives or religious considerations which at times muddle our vision more than they enlighten it. One must therefore begin by redefining these terms clearly.

As I see it, forgiveness is the healing of the wounds of the heart. When someone has hurt us, our heart is wounded more or less deeply. If the injury is neglected, this wound can get infected, then begin to secrete pus (hatred, resentment), remain open, oozing, painful. Showing forgiveness is to decide to heal, to take care of one’s wounds. It is to choose to stop hating, for hate is a poison which destroys US regardless of whether it also harms those towards whom it is directed. Forgiveness, as it was taught to me and as I am passing it on, is first and foremost for ourselves, not for the other. It is not a gift one offers to another out of compassion, magnanimity or condescendence: it is a gift one gives primarily to one’s self to bind one’s wounds and to finally be able to recover one’s loving heart.

However, we not only have a heart but also a mind, an intellect. Healing one’s heart must not render us stupid. It is not because I choose to give up grudges, an urge to seek revenge, resentment and hatred, it is not because I forgive,  heal my wounds and open up again to love that I will lack discernment, be naively friends with those who harmed me, sanction their actions, nor necessarily reconcile with them (that takes two!)  I can forgive in my heart and still go to the police, file a complaint, demand justice, but I will do so with no hatred and with a peaceful heart. In court I will look for justice, not vengeance.

“I forgive everything … but I don’t let anything slip by me!”  One of my spiritual mentors used to say.  I forgive everything, because I refuse to poison myself with the hatred that destroys me. I don’t let anything slip by because every action has consequences: one who acted badly must confront the just consequences of his actions. In other words forgiveness, from this perspective, does not exclude justice or reparation for harm done.

To forgive in this manner is to gain freedom:  Freedom from hate and resentment; freedom from believing that the other has power over my heart, my inner being, my life. It is to regain the freedom to love… but not to the detriment of one’s ability to think.  It is to see clearly what is happening in my heart and my head: it is to heal my heart and use my mind and my discernment to protect it.

Thus: “Can we forgive everything?” I prefer to state it in a slightly different manner: (as shown in the hundreds of testimonies gathered by the Forgiveness Project) Yes, it is possible to feel forgiveness no matter how serious the suffering one went through. In other words, it is possible to heal, to make whole one’s heart, to escape the noose of resentment and the infernal spiral of hatred. But this forgiveness doesn’t excuse or condone. It does not mean either to be weak, cowardly or indulgent to the point of stupidity or injustice. One can forgive while remaining strong. One can liberate one’s heart while keeping a sharp mind and acting justly. The love that emerges from this forgiveness is a strong and courageous love, a love buttressed by an enlightened intellect and not drowning in emotions.

In the end, the real question is not “Can one forgive everything?” but rather “Can I heal my heart?

And the answer is a categorical: Yes

« Peut-on tout pardonner ? » – © Olivier Clerc, 2014.