Reconciliation means “the reestablishing of a close relationship, to settle or resolve, or to make compatible or consistent.” (American Heritage College Dictionary)
What do you think forgiveness means?
Forgiveness means “to excuse a fault or an offense, to pardon, to renounce anger or resentment against, to absolve from payment, to accord forgiveness.” (American Heritage College Dictionary)
The current issue of Vanity Fair is dedicated to Africa, to people who are acting in various ways to raise awareness of its needs and also its strenghts. Former President Clinton has an article in the issue, the telling of a meeting with Nelson Mandela. It’s a long article but one part is the best, a quote that led to this post.
The moment Clinton describes took place shortly after Mandela’s release from prison in 1998 and his walk to freedom and return to his Presidency:
“I told [Nelson Mandela] I knew he was a great man to have overcome his anger enough to invite his jailers to his inauguration and put the leaders of previously pro-apartheid parties in his government. Then I asked, ‘But when you were walking to freedom, didn’t you hate them again?’ With wonderful candor he replied, ‘Of course I felt old anger rising up again, and fear. After all, I hand not been free in 27 years. But I knew that, when I drove away from the gate, if I continued to hate them, they would still have me. I wanted to be free, and so I let it go.”
I want this freedom for all of us. I want it for you. I want your freedom from an emotional imprisonment. While jail is obvious, emotional imprisonment is less visible (no bars), though you may sense the confines of it. Forgiveness is key to freedom. Without it, they will “have” you, like Mandela said of his former enemies. (You could argue that Mandela is just keeping his enemies close; however, Mandela’s emotional maturity and spiritual depth cannot be faked, so I’d say that he’s the real deal and a model for the good sense in forgiveness and the path to freedom that it carves.)
Forgiveness isn’t reconciliation. Forgiveness is something you can do on your own, between your head and your heart. But reconciliation requires communication with another human being, the one with whom there is difficulty. I’m drawing a distinction because I think we too often refuse to forgive those who imprisoned us because we assume that it means we have to reconcile the relationship. But, these are two very different concepts, acts, and paths.
I think both are good, of course, but they needn’t take place together, nor take place in the same year. But it’s important to forgive (including yourself) because it benefits you immediately, sets you free and, also, it’s an act of love and respect for yourself. What’s more, it will probably make you a wiser person.