[By Charmaine Au]
“To err is human; to forgive, divine”. This quote by Alexander Pope is certainly no stranger to us. Personally, forgiveness is something which makes us human – it is a sign of purity, a form of strength or maybe the sliver of light through the crack in the wall of a pitch black room. We as mere mortals are not free of our imperfections, some of which may have ticked others off unintentionally, or vice versa.
The act of forgiving is not a sign of weakness: it does not always mean you would dismiss all of the actions which have wronged you and freely allow someone to step all over you again. Instead, by being the bigger person, you are letting go of all the negativity which you would have had to carry had you continued to let your anger and grudge build up within you. If you are already struggling to cope with your work, why pile on yet another baggage which will only bring you down from within as well as affect your mental health?
I recently had the privilege of attending a talk by Canadian humanitarian and journalist Amanda Lindhout. She and her colleague were abducted by Islamist insurgents in Somalia back in 2008 and were kept in captivity for 460 days. As a young and eager woman who wanted to travel the world, she was there with her Australian photographer friend, Nigel, to tell a specific story about the civilians who had been affected by the war and were now living in massive internally displaced camps without access to some of the basic necessities.
When she shared with us her harrowing experiences while being locked up, many around me could be heard sniffling, and the two girls beside me were evidently crying silently. Initially, during the first few months of her imprisonment, Ms Amanda was not as ill-treated as she was after her unsuccessful bid to escape. She was tortured to the point of snapping where she became simply detached from her physical form and could no longer feel the horrific physical pain inflicted on her.
It was at this moment of her sharing that I wondered: “How could she even forgive someone who made her go through inhumane pain?” I sat in wonder and amazement as she eventually told us the process of forgiving her captors. The journey was not easy; she was angry at them when she was newly released but over time, slowly but surely, she came to understand their predicament and saw the little signs of goodness during her time in their hands.
Little matters such as one of her captors telling her his life story when he thought no one was listening, another bringing her a cup of tea some days – the small gestures of compassion which she searched for and rediscovered all led up to her seemingly shocking decision to return to Somalia sometime after her release to help the Somalian refugees, children and women especially, in terms of providing educational opportunities through her non-profit organisation Global Enrichment Foundation.
So I wondered, if she could have a big enough heart capable of looking past the entire episode to realise the root cause of the abductions and try to solve it, then why not us? If we could look past the little mistakes that people may or may not have intentionally done to us, this world would be a much more peaceful place to live in. Start by extending an olive branch to your enemies or burying the hatchet with someone who you had a misunderstanding with not too long ago. You will find the freedom in letting go of all the negativity that has been building inside of you and be able to lead a much healthier life.
You can read about her experience during her days in captivity in her book, “A House in the Sky: A Memoir”.