Nothing defines the human ordeal more than failure. History shows its clientele very little in the realm of certainty, but the theme which reverberates consistently from Constantinople to Coronavirus is that of painful failure. What sets a respectable few people apart in this long train of abuses is the recurrence of determination and forgiveness. The nonviolence movement boasts a roster of persistent, obstinate, diverse men and women; yet, we also admire them for their incredible penchant for forgiving their most bitter rivals.
One of the most common and overlooked sins in this world is the bitter grudge. The tendency of man to seek revenge for the most trivial of insults is the spark of inestimable amounts of war, persecution, and abuse. Of course, forgiveness takes time, and social injustice leaves permanent scars. I suspect that my readers will think as I am of recent occurrences of police brutality and racial prejudice in law and order and find it practically impossible to feel forgiveness at this time. It has been years since the attacks of September 11, 2001 and few Americans, even those who believe that God teaches to forgive those who trespass against us, would say they have forgiven al-Qaeda. Even though I was too young to remember the events of that day as they happened, I struggle to give up my pride and disgust and trust the matter to God’s final justice.
With this understanding of how difficult it is to forgive, I must point out that forgiveness is more of a continual undertaking than it is an instantaneous decision. Aristotle describes virtuosity as a habit; it is a muscle to be exercised and strengthened rather than a piece of clear truth which provides immediate enlightenment. This definition firmly fits how forgiveness works in this world of hate. Whether you are called to action by a reasoned choice to care about the reconciliation process or you put your faith in the teachings of a religious and moral leader such as Jesus Christ, I implore you to remain patient with those in your life who have wronged you. Do not dissociate from society because you think your neighbor is racist or backward. Nonviolence is not passivity; there has been incredible struggle throughout the history of the movement, but struggle need not turn to violence. Civil rights leaders past and present enter the haziest parts of the fray in their attempts to . It can be lonely on the moral high ground when the majority of a society has not made the climb yet. This is a time to strengthen that muscle of virtue instead of letting its power wane in obscurity. Love of neighbor does little good from the comfort of a couch.
While every circumstance requires a different hand, I believe that some rare pieces of history can provide anyone with an open ear the same amount of wisdom regardless of background and dogma. Chief among these historical sources are the writings of America’s Founders along with the texts of holy books such as the Torah, the Bible, the Koran, or the Tripitaka. The great American statesman John Adams wrote to Thomas Jefferson on 28 June, 1813 to discuss the principles of the burgeoning United States. In this letter, the American Founders’ ideas collide with ideas in religious text to articulate a point I find absolutely crucial. As a man with Unitarian and Deist leanings in his later years, Adams differed from many Americans of his time because of the doubt he held about the core theology of the Christian faith. In his letter, he describes the amazing diversity in religious conscience throughout America. He recognizes the presence even in those days of the “Deists and Atheists; and “Protestans qui ne croyent rien” [Protestants who have faith in nothing]... [n]ever the less all Educated in the general Principles of Christianity: and the general Principles of English and American Liberty.” Acknowledging the religious diversity of the founding generation while highlighting the common heritage of thought they shared promotes the same message I have tried to emphasize in this piece. America is not facing some unheard of challenge today. From her conception she has had an overwhelming amount of disagreement within her population. I admire the nonviolence movement for its history of fostering understanding between faiths, parties, and racial/cultural groups. Whether you are reading this as a Christian, Muslim, Jew, Atheist, or Agnostic: choose a story of forgiveness and love to think of, and reflect on the following words from Romans 12:14-21.
Bless those who persecute you; bless and do not curse. Rejoice with those who rejoice; mourn with those who mourn. Live in harmony with one another. Do not be proud, but be willing to associate with people of low position. Do not be conceited.
Do not repay anyone evil for evil. Be careful to do what is right in the eyes of everyone. If it is possible, as far as it depends on you, live at peace with everyone. Do not take revenge, my dear friends, but leave room for God’s wrath, for it is written: “It is mine to avenge; I will repay,” says the Lord. On the contrary:
“If your enemy is hungry, feed him; if he is thirsty, give him something to drink. In
doing this, you will heap burning coals on his head.”
Do not be overcome by evil, but overcome evil with good.
Konrad Hodgman is an ACN Peace Scholar and currently sits on the ACN Steering Committee. He is a Junior at Ashland University majoring in International Political Studies, Political Science, and History with a minor in Ethics.