Tuesday, May 30, 2006

Learning to Forgive

For if you forgive men when they sin against you, your heavenly Father will also forgive you. But if you do not forgive men their sins, your Father will not forgive your sins. –Bible, Matthew 6:14-15
"You have heard that it was said, `Love your neighbor and hate your enemy.' But I tell you: Love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you, that you may be sons of your Father in heaven. He causes his sun to rise on the evil and the good, and sends rain on the righteous and the unrighteous. If you love those who love you, what reward will you get? Are not even the tax collectors doing that? And if you greet only your brothers, what are you doing more than others? Do not even pagans do that? – Bible, Matthew 5:43-47
Then Peter came to Jesus and asked, "Lord, how many times shall I forgive my brother when he sins against me? Up to seven times?" Jesus answered, "I tell you, not seven times, but seventy-seven times. – Bible, Matthew 18:21-221
古之欲明明德于天下者;先治其国;欲治其国者,先齐其家;欲齐其家者,先修其身; 欲修其身者,先正其心;欲正其心者,先诚其意;欲诚其意者,先致其知,致知在格物。《礼记·大学》2
After watching the show “I Not Stupid, Too” (小孩不笨2), it is undeniable that director Jack Neo has delivered a strong message that giving praises should form part of our good habit and he has brought out the impact in the lives of some teenagers who were not being ever appreciated before by their parents. Giving praises is indeed a challenge for most of us in Asia. At the same time, I think an important element that was not being mentioned explicitly in the film is the element of forgiveness.
Gradually, we are already being made aware of the needs to praise others in the past few years. How about our willingness to forgive one another? In this article, I am looking at how the essence of forgiveness can gradually be instilled our society from the point of a teacher. Some people say that it is undeniable that the society is a much better place to live in if we can forgive one another and this is only feasible theoretically. Precisely. This is why I am embarking on the challenge to live it out practically.
The first place that I would to start is to look at the form of bitterness that arises from not being able to forgive one another, followed by some suggestions on how this could be realized in our society as a whole.
How many a times have we hold grudges against our colleagues, friends, teachers, parents, husband or wife? It the grudges we hold against each other that marred the relationship with each other. It the grudges within the child’s heart that holds him back from embracing the full love of a parent; the grudges that are engraved in a pupil’s heart that prevent him from accepting his teachers and peers in a positive light; the grudges that are waiting to be released and yet still tightly clung onto the fringes of our memory that prevent us from receiving the joy within the bond of friendship. How many a times have our grudges become the root of our bitterness and eventually hatred? Is it not the person who harbors the bitterness more prone to anger and to mental torture? The worst form of bitterness is not from the person who is the object of hatred, but from the person who harbors the hatred. For those entangled in a broken or ensnared relationship, it is always the desire of both to want the opposite party to say “I am in the wrong and I have realized my mistake. Please forgive me. I will amend my mistake”. It is in waiting for this form of sweet victory that can never be materialized that leads one to fathom all forms of aggressions, just to bring the other party to the brink of destruction and to tear down the dignity of the others.
We must learn to let go of this form of bitterness by learning to forgive others first, even before they have even acknowledged their mistakes or even before they have asked for our forgiveness. If none of us takes the initiative to forgive the other, we will forever be entwined in the web of resentfulness. It is only when one has experienced being forgiven that one is empowered to forgive the others. For the Christians, the most intimate and intense experience of being forgiven may come from God the father. But for the non-Christians, it may from another person who is magnanimous and mature enough to forgive the others. Whichever case it may be, we have the capacity and power to forgive the others. The only matter is whether we are willing to. It is a matter of willingness only.
Some people may consider it to be suicidal as the forgiving person will always be on the losing end. There are a few situations we must look at when we learn to forgive.
(1) Did the other party transgress our moral values? If he has, then we ought to point out that the committed act is against our values and remind him not to repeat it in our presence. But if the committed act involves a loss of property, then restitution should be part of the proper step to reconciliation. Restitution serves to restore our property, but the act of forgiveness is the willingness to release the opposite party from the burden of guilt and remorse from the committed act and the willingness to release ourselves from the hurt or any sense of resentment that might have resulted from this form of transgression.
(2) Did the other person violate the taboo in our society? If he has, then it could be our responsibility to educate the person of the social norm that is deemed as acceptable in our society in accompaniment to the act of forgiveness on our part.
(3) Did the other party violate the law? If he has, then he has committed a crime against the law. He should be rectified according to the penalty specified by the law that he has broken. Serving the sentence as deemed necessary by the law is one thing; learning to forgive the person is another thing. The person who serves his sentence is repaying back the damage done to one’s property (or even life) according to the demand of the law. The law does not specify the victim or the plaintiff to forgive the accused. It is however within the capacity of the plaintiff to forgive the accused. As stated in Scenario (1) above, the act of willingness actually liberates from parties from being entangled in a relationship marked with acrimony.
(4) The last scenario is when we have offended the other party and in the wake of his response, he has inflicted an act of aggression whether verbally or physically against us. It will demand more courage on our part to forgive him for the aggression against us and even willing to allow him to point out our mistake and even more radical for us to take the initiative to apologize for the hurt that we have inflicted on him. However, we must remember that two wrongs do not make an act right. It is only when one party takes the initiative to forgive first, and then the other party will be empowered to forgive. Instead of asking ‘Why should I take the initiative?’, asking ‘Why shouldn’t I take the initiative?’ is more constructive.
In all scenarios above, I am advocating that we must take the initiative to forgive. We forgive so that we could be liberated from the bitterness and hatred that arise from the anger and hurt that might have resulted from the infringement of our dignity and pride. The necessary step of reconciliation will be different in different scenario as well as the level of forgiveness demanded of us.
Learning to forgive one another can be realized at different levels in our society. At the first level, the teachers as role model for the pupils under them must learn how to forgive their pupils for the unintentional and intentional hurt that were inflicted upon them. Any acts of violation against school rules and regulations by the pupils should be swiftly dealt with. But on a personal level, the teacher must learn to forgive the pupils for the wrongs they have done. This leads me to recall a scene in another Jack Neo’s movie “One More Chance(三个好人). One of the ex-convicts said, during one of the job interviews, that the law has sentenced them to jail for a term. Their term would only last for the stated years and they will be released. But it is the society who has condemned them forever. They are never given a chance to repent.
The teachers must also learn to forgive at another level, which is between their colleagues and superiors. Even for colleague who has not been professional in his work. It is one issue to forgive him and a separate issue for justice to be sought. These two are to be handled separately. We are always in the power to forgive others. For someone to feedback on another’s unprofessional ethics, a more senior officer would be able to convey a more convincing message. Those in authority have the jurisdiction to act upon and to rectify any unjust condition existing in the working environment. They should and they must, or else it is hard for those working in an unprofessional working environment to thrive and to contribute to the well-being of the pupils under them. But on an individual’s level, we must learn to have the capacity to forgive.
At the second level, the teenagers and children in school will be learning to look upon their teachers as the role model. When they are continually experiencing the power of forgiveness from the teachers, they become conscious of it and will be empowered to take the initiative to forgive others. They need to inculcate the habit of forgiving others and to experience the power of forgiveness. They can feel it explicitly by asking them to reflect upon the difference they have experienced in their lives. This is to make them conscious that the act of forgiveness is within their capacity and power and to let the pupils experience the joy in life when liberated from the burden of bitterness and anger resulting from not being able to forgive oneself and the others.
At the third level, the parents should be involved in the chain of learning to forgive and to experience being forgiven. This is something akin to the final session of Dr Ernest Wong’s Super-Teen Programme3. The parents had experienced the liberating power of forgiving their own child when the child admitted his mistakes and asked them for forgiveness. I cannot describe how powerful it is and the impact it created during the moment when someone like our own child asked us for forgiveness and locking each other in embrace at that moment. The atmosphere was setup in such a way that the child was bestowed with the courage and sensibility to want to ask for forgiveness. I believe that the once one has that experience, it can continuously be replicated in one’s life and form part of one’s habits. Similarly, the parents need to learn how to forgive their own parents and their family members, especially their spouses. The power of forgiveness is therefore manifested within the own family members and the effect can be so enduring that even those outside the family circle can experience it.
At the highest level, the teachers, the pupils, the immediate parents and family members will influence the society at large with the power of forgiveness and this might become a conscious movement. How it is to influence the society will all depend on whether one is willing to will one’s will to forgive the others. It has to start from an individual before it can influence the family unit followed by the society and the country.
1) In this context Jesus is not saying that seventy-seven times is the upper limit, nor that the forgiveness is so unqualified it vitiates the discipline and procedural steps just taught. Rather he teaches that forgiveness of fellow members in his community of "little ones" cannot possibly be limited by frequency or quantity
- NIV Bible Expositor’s Commentary
2) 古代那些要想在天下弘扬光明正大品德的人,先要治理好自己的国家;要想治理好自己的国家,先要管理好自已的家庭和家族;要想管理好自己的家庭和家族,先要修养自身的品性;要想修养自身的品性;先要端正自己的心思;要想端正自己的心思,先要使自己的意念真诚;要想使自己的意念真诚,先要使自己获得知识;获得知识的途径在于认识、研究万事万物。
- 四书五经。现代版/夏于金主编。新潮出版社,20003
3) In 1985, Dr Ernest Wong founded the Super-Teen™ Programme, the first accelerated learning, personal development and leadership training programme for students. Over the last 20 years, the programme has transformed more than 100,000 ordinary students in Singapore, Malaysia, Hong Kong, China and Indonesia into super students. In 1988, Dr Wong became the first Asian to receive the prestigious Golden Apple Award by the Foundation of Self Esteem, USA for his contributions towards excellence in education.

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