Who Do You Need To Forgive?

by Judith Rich on August 31, 2012

(This arti­cle is cross-posted at the Huff­in­g­ton Post)


Every human being who ever walked the earth has a col­lec­tion of beliefs, atti­tudes, opin­ions, behav­iors and sto­ries that speak to his or her strug­gle for self-realization and to their dis­be­lief in them­selves. We all har­bor beliefs that affirm our small­ness and deny our great­ness and thus come up short in rec­og­niz­ing and liv­ing from our high­est and great­est selves.

But if I were required to name a per­son who, for all his human foibles, approaches a state of self-actualization, which Maslow’s Hier­ar­chy of Needs defines as “what a man can be he must be,” I would nom­i­nate Nel­son Man­dela. This is not to say that Man­dela has lived a spot­less life. Far from it. But in spite of all, or per­haps because of all that makes up his own story and the story of his peo­ple, Nel­son Man­dela stands out as one who has achieved a high state of con­scious­ness on the planet today.

Look­ing at the con­text from which Man­dela was shaped, it’s hard to imag­ine that he could have turned out any other way, for he comes out of the African tra­di­tion of ubuntu – “I am what I am because of who we all are.” If we want to get a clue and catch a glimpse of what’s pos­si­ble for human­ity, Nel­son Man­dela would be a good per­son to study.

For him to for­give those who impris­oned him for 27 years, he had to know and believe some­thing that most of the world has failed to grasp. For him to emerge from prison and to state: “As I walked out the door toward my free­dom I knew that if I did not leave all the anger,
hatred and bit­ter­ness behind I would still be in prison.” He had to be con­nected to a belief about the true nature of human­ity and thus his own. He had to be com­mit­ted to liv­ing that belief, unde­terred by the events that resulted in his imprisonment.

What was that belief? I can’t say for sure, but I sus­pect it had some­thing to do with the phi­los­o­phy of ubuntu. Last week’s post: “Embrac­ing the Spirit of Ubuntu,” included the fol­low­ing story told by Mandela:

A trav­eler through a coun­try would stop at a vil­lage and he didn’t have to ask for food or for water. Once he stops, the peo­ple give him food, enter­tain him. That is one aspect of Ubuntu, but it will have var­i­ous aspects. Ubuntu does not mean that peo­ple should not enrich them­selves. The ques­tion there­fore is: Are you going to do so in order to enable the com­mu­nity around you to be able to improve?

In the con­scious­ness of ubuntu, when met with con­flict or harm, for­give­ness is the very path one must travel to know free­dom. There­fore, for Man­dela, for­give­ness was not optional. It was the only way for­ward. It was the only way for him to reclaim his own life and by so doing show the way for oth­ers to reclaim theirs. There was noth­ing to do but for­give those who impris­oned him and per­pet­u­ated the sys­tem of apartheid against his people.

This idea remains a dif­fi­cult one for many, even the most enlight­ened, to embrace. To for­give the one who hurt or betrayed you seems like just another betrayal, a sell­ing out, a giv­ing up. And yet, just the oppo­site is true.

For­giv­ing an action is not the same thing as con­don­ing it. In for­give­ness you are not say­ing that what hap­pened was OK. But instead of seek­ing revenge or ret­ri­bu­tion or need­ing to be right, through for­give­ness you are choos­ing from a higher con­scious­ness than the one who betrayed you.

For exam­ple: In a state of non-forgiveness, we close our hearts in order to pro­tect our­selves from any more hurt or pain. In this state we’re cut off from feel­ing love, not only for the per­son who hurt us, but for our­selves as well. Our belief in sep­a­ra­tion hard­ens us and builds the walls even higher.

To for­give requires a higher con­scious­ness. It requires know­ing a greater truth about the nature of real­ity. For­give­ness opens the door to the heart and allows love to return. To for­give means “To give as before.” When you for­give the very one you think betrayed your inno­cence, some­thing greater is unleashed and abun­dance flows into the open­ing. For­give­ness is a recog­ni­tion of our ubuntu nature, which is the truth of who we are.

Ubuntu tells a story about human­ity that allows us to see the big­ger pic­ture. And here, Man­dela makes an impor­tant dis­tinc­tion that is wor­thy of tak­ing notice. “Ubuntu does not mean that peo­ple should not enrich them­selves.” But he also cau­tions, “Are you going to do so in order to enable the com­mu­nity around you to be able to improve?”

This is a key dis­tinc­tion, for it requires a con­scious­ness of abun­dance and gen­eros­ity from which comes the knowl­edge there is more than enough to go around. In the con­scious­ness of ubuntu, one’s self-interest is not sep­a­rate from that of the greater whole. Nei­ther is one’s self-delusion. Enrich­ment is inclu­sive. All are ben­e­fi­cia­ries. But so, then, does vic­tim con­scious­ness and with­held love impact the whole in equally pow­er­ful ways.

When we empower oth­ers in the spirit of ubuntu, we expand our def­i­n­i­tion of who we are. The sense of “I-ness” doesn’t stop at our skin. We are more than our biol­ogy. In the act of going beyond our old bound­aries we are free to become the per­son we came to the planet to be, and thus real­ize more of our own potential.

The very will­ing­ness to take this kind of stand in the world, the world right where you already are, requires that you see your­self as abun­dant, and from this abun­dance nat­u­rally flows a gen­eros­ity. This gen­eros­ity can­not be stopped. It can­not be impeded. Gen­eros­ity flows from abun­dance like a river, with all the force of nature behind it. And thus, your ubuntu nature is unleashed.

The work begins with you. Liv­ing in an abun­dant uni­verse char­ac­ter­ized by infi­nite pos­si­bil­ity, doesn’t it stand to rea­son that what is required of us is get out of our own way so that we can be avail­able for the abun­dance that is already there? Abun­dance already is and is freely avail­able for all who are will­ing to receive it. You don’t need to grasp, strive or fight for it. You only need to receive it.

Maybe the only for­give­ness nec­es­sary is self-forgiveness. For­give your­self for for­get­ting the truth of who you are and for believ­ing in the illu­sion of separation.

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