Forgiveness and Loneliness
‘Now I must learn to be alone’. These are the words spoken by King Henry II as the rift becomes final with Thomas à Becket, the man who had been his great friend, but is now Archbishop of Canterbury. At least that’s the version which appears in Jean Anouilh’s version of the story made into an award-winning film starring Richard Burton and Peter O’Toole. This complex film contains a number of themes as relevant now as when the film was made over fifty years ago. One of those themes is forgiveness. Its main characters in the story succeed or fail at the business of forgiving those who have hurt them deeply.
We showed this film last night as part of the Forgiveness Project event in our community. The accompanying exhibition features many stories of forgiveness ranging from Ruanda to Northern Ireland to South Africa to Israel-Palestine and other places which have seen very destructive conflict. It invites us to admire courageous acts of forgiveness and call a halt to the spiral of violence in our own world.
Whether the hurts are personal or societal, where forgiveness does not take place certain consequences are bound to follow. People will be increasingly cut off from others whom they must once have cared about if they are capable of inflicting such deep wounds. If we do not practise forgiveness, we shall have to learn to be without each other – to be isolated. Isolation like this may very well leave us struggling with disabling bitterness, often barely recognized or articulated. Within ourselves, we will grow resentment - a type of silent violence. An inability to forgive and be forgiven can be very destructive to everyone involved.
Today is the day when the United Kingdom was due to leave the European Union. Whether it happens at all or what form it may take is impossible to say even at this eleventh hour. But this three-year process, like so many other long-running feuds, is leaving real social and national wounds which will take a long time to heal. People are still arguing vigorously both inside and outside the Palace of Westminster and across media of all kinds – not to mention in pubs, living rooms and argumentative encounters across the land.
We live in a world where we are encouraged to speak our minds, claim our rights, stand up for what we believe. In this blog, we have often celebrated the importance of standing by our convictions. But in Brexit discussions and so many other conflicts, highly-developed professional skills in mediation and reconciliation including insights into the dynamics of forgiveness seem not to be recognised as part of the solution. Superficially, at least, they seem to be in short supply. We often wonder why they get less ‘air-time’ in our world.
Unless we are willing to learn the skills of offering forgiveness, and, no less important, receiving forgiveness, we shall all have to learn to be alone. Isolated. Entrenched in our comfort zones. Listening only to like-minded people. It is an inhuman way to live.