Archbishop Desmond Tutu (1931–2021) and his daughter Mpho Tutu van Furth focus on our fragile humanity, the good and bad that we are all capable of, as the entry point for forgiveness:
We are able to forgive because we are able to recognize our shared humanity. We are able to recognize that we are all fragile, vulnerable, flawed human beings capable of thoughtlessness and cruelty. We also recognize that no one is born evil and that we are all more than the worst thing we have done in our lives. A human life is a great mixture of goodness, beauty, cruelty, heartbreak, indifference, love, and so much more. We want to divide the good from the bad, the saints from the sinners, but we cannot. All of us share the core qualities of our human nature, and so sometimes we are generous and sometimes selfish. Sometimes we are thoughtful and other times thoughtless, sometimes we are kind and sometimes cruel. This is not a belief. This is a fact.
If we look at any hurt, we can see a larger context in which the hurt happened. If we look at any perpetrator, we can discover a story that tells us something about what led up to that person causing harm. It doesn’t justify the person’s actions; it does provide some context. . . .
No one is born a liar or a rapist or a terrorist. No one is born full of hatred. No one is born full of violence. No one is born in any less glory or goodness than you or I. But on any given day, in any given situation, in any painful life experience, this glory and goodness can be forgotten, obscured, or lost. We can easily be hurt and broken, and it is good to remember that we can just as easily be the ones who have done the hurting and the breaking.
We are all members of the same human family. . . .
In seeing the many ways we are similar and how our lives are inextricably linked, we can find empathy and compassion. In finding empathy and compassion, we are able to move in the direction of forgiving.
Ultimately, it is humble awareness of our own humanity that allows us to forgive:
We are, every one of us, so very flawed and so very fragile. I know that, were I born a member of the white ruling class at that time in South Africa’s past, I might easily have treated someone with the same dismissive disdain with which I was treated. I know, given the same pressures and circumstances, I am capable of the same monstrous acts as any other human on this achingly beautiful planet. It is this knowledge of my own frailty that helps me find my compassion, my empathy, my similarity, and my forgiveness for the frailty and cruelty of others.
Comment from Pierre: “What I understand bishop Tutu to be saying is that each one, be it the worst rapist or dictator, is that precise moment at his or her highest level of consciousness”.
Desmond Tutu and Mpho A. Tutu, The Book of Forgiving: The Fourfold Path for Healing Ourselves and Our World, ed. Douglas C. Abrams (San Francisco: HarperOne, 2014), 125, 126, 127.