If you are struggling with anger, if you are struggling with resentment, if someone has hurt you, if someone has wronged you, how can you possibly have compassion for them?
How can you forgive?
“You have heard that it was said, ‘You shall love your neighbor and hate your enemy.’ But I say to you, love your enemies, and pray for those who persecute you, that you may be children of your heavenly Father, for he makes his sun rise on the bad and the good, and causes rain to fall on the just and the unjust.” Matthew 5: 43-46.
How can we forgive . . . them?
How can children forgive abusive parents?
How can Native Americans forgive European Invaders?
How can the robbed forgive the robbers?
How can the Jewish People forgive the Nazis?
How can families of victims forgive murderers?
How can slaves forgive slave-masters?
How can Ukraine forgive Russia?
How could Jesus forgive his crucifiers?
How can the innocent forgive the guilty? I am not sure, but I think I know someone who can point us in the right direction. Recently, I have developed a deep spiritual connection with a very wise monk, Thich Nhat Hanh. He has helped me in so many ways, and I am infinitely grateful for his gentle teachings. Consider these words:
“The circumstances of our lives can help us water the seeds of patience, generosity, compassion, and love. The people around us can help us water these seeds, and so can the practice of mindfulness. But if a person grows up in a time of war or in a family and community that is suffering, that person may be full of despair and fear. Parents who suffer a lot and are afraid of the world and other people water the seeds of fear and anger in their children. If children grow up embraced by security and love, the good seeds in them are nurtured and grow strong.” — Thich Nhat Hanh
I believe this monk’s message of compassion contains the first steps in transforming our enemies into our neighbors. If we can touch the suffering of others–if we can see their tears, their scars, and their trauma–we may be able to understand the fundamental truth that hurt people hurt people.
Such an internal disposition does not excuse or condone acts of hate, acts of violence, acts of war, and acts of evil; such an internal disposition is a liberation. We free ourselves from our earthly tethers when we embrace the notion that all living beings deserve dignity and that our enemies are victims too. We free ourselves when we begin to comprehend that there are seeds within all of us: seeds of love, seeds of hate, seeds of joy, seeds of fear.
How can we have compassion for those who hurt us? Perhaps by reaching out and willingly touching their suffering, we can begin to feel their pain. Perhaps by looking deeply and actively loving them, we can water the seeds of goodness in them. Perhaps by growing in understanding of our oppressors, we can follow Jesus’s edict: love your enemies, and pray for those who persecute you.