In light of recent tragedies, Tan Lili ponders on humanity’s capacity for forgiveness. Is there still hope?
I don’t get it. I really don’t.
I’m under no illusion that we’re living in a peaceful world. We never have and probably never will. Recent events, however, expose just how frighteningly ugly human nature can get. It’s devastating enough to read about the plight of the victims, but what disturbs me the most is the shocking reality that there are actually people out there attempting to justify brutality and violence, no matter from which end. Every day, we see heated arguments about who’s right and who’s wrong; we see graphs that compare the total death tolls in each zone; we see people – people who are not the victims or even remotely related to one – make up these analyses and try to outwit one another with only their own pride at stake.
Here’s what I feel: As long as we are keeping score, no one is ever right because someone else will always pay the price.
This desire for vengeance is what’s making the notion of “world peace” inconceivable. Sadly, it is also very much an intrinsic feature of human nature. It’s not that human beings are fundamentally evil – revenge is one of our survival instincts. But there is another human trait that triumphs over vengeance: Forgiveness.
Evolutionary science has shown that we all possess the capacity to forgive; as long as there’s even a shred of humanity left in us, we can be forgiving. In psychology, forgiveness is defined as a deliberate decision to let go of your desire for revenge – and in doing so, your past hurts begin to heal. According to Sonja Lyubomirsky, author of The How of Happiness: The New Approach to Getting The Life You Want, forgiving people are “less likely to be hateful, depressed, hostile, anxious, angry, and neurotic.”
But more importantly, writes Lyubomirsky, we have to understand what forgiveness is not.
Forgiveness is not the same as downplaying your pain or absolving someone of their wrongdoings. Say, your ex-best friend betrayed you in the past, causing you a lot of pain. She has every reason to earn your trust back, just as you have every right to be mad at her for violating it in the first place.
Forgiveness is not the same as forgetting. Back to hypothetical ex-best friend – forgiving her doesn’t mean you ought to forget what she did. By choosing to let go of your resentment towards her, you are choosing to move on so you can finally heal the wound she left behind.
Forgiveness does not necessarily lead to reconciliation. If you decide that the trust can never be rebuilt, you can still forgive your ex-best friend but choose to get out of this toxic relationship for good.
On the other hand, if you had chosen to keep score and hold a grudge against her, you are essentially imprisoning yourself in a cesspool of bitterness – and you’re the one who ends up drowning.
I know my examples above, while relatable, are markedly trivial next to the ongoing armed conflicts. And, yes, I know nothing is black and white. But with a bigger heart and the willingness to push the edges of our own capacity for forgiveness, maybe, just maybe, the world would be a better place. It all starts with ourselves.
About The Author: A founder of Material World, Tan Lili has previously worked in magazines The Singapore Women’s Weekly and Cosmopolitan Singapore, as well as herworld.com (now herworldplus.com, the online counterpart of Her World). She is now a freelance writer who works on this website full-time. Lili hopes to travel the world, work with wild animals, and discover more awesome Twilight fan-fiction. Follow her on Twitter @TanLiliTweets.