We need to forgive as an apology is disempowering
by Dr Anthony Dillon 2 June 2014
few years ago I was browsing the Aboriginal section of a bookshop and picked up Our People’s Dreaming and casually flipped through it. I came to a section on forgiveness and was amazed at what I read. The author wrote “Forgiveness is for your healing. It’s your self-healing, it’s got nothing to do with the person who
Anthony Dillon with Uncle Max Harrison, author of ‘Our People’s Dreaming’
has probably done wrong. If you want to breathe that cancer within your spirit, then you are the one who will be sick” and “It is one of the greatest achievements if you can forgive – your spirit stays free”. This is exactly what I believe. It was so refreshing to find another person who felt this way. I looked at the book’s author and saw that it was Uncle Max Harrison. “Wow”, I thought, “I have to meet this guy”.
Over the past couple of years I have had a few short phone conversations with him and was very impressed and so was even more determined to meet him, and yesterday I did. He was everything (and more) that I expected. A very humble man, softly spoken, and likes to laugh. I have written before on the importance of forgiveness and am doing so again here as a result of meeting Uncle Max. I
might also add, that apart from my blood relatives, Uncle Max is the only Aboriginal elder whom I am comfortable calling ‘Uncle’. For the many other people claiming the title of ‘Uncle’ or ‘Aunty’, it is not necessarily due to lack of respect that I do not address them as such, but simply because I do not feel comfortable calling someone ‘Uncle’ or ‘Aunty’ whom I don’t know well. I am always surprised that among the Aboriginal people who claim to be so spiritual, I see very little expression of forgiveness; in fact I see its opposite. This is quite a contrast to Uncle Max, who can sit and chat about spiritual matters and what he sees as an elder, but do it in such a way where he does not make it about himself. The knowledge Uncle Max has, he wants to pass on to others. The message of forgiveness is something that he wants to share. Thank you, Uncle Max. I dedicate this article to you. Before continuing further, I will state upfront that what I am writing is something I struggle with daily – forgiveness. I don’t pretend that I have mastered it. In a sense I am writing this article for myself so that I can learn and grow. If you the reader get something from this article, then I am pleased. This article is a refresher for me. Ghandi said, “The weak can never forgive. Forgiveness is the attribute of the strong”. I believe that. It can be difficult to forgive. It is so much easier to condemn, complain, hold grudges, and to hate. I have often seen many times in the social media and public arena, that when a well known personality or celebrity makes a mistake then publicly apologises, there is no shortage of selfrighteous ‘saints’ to shout, “No you’re not sorry”. Why is that?
Why do some people not want the person to be sorry? I believe that as long as they can keep the person guilty (in their own minds), they can feel justified in their anger. They then have the chance to focus on the mistakes of the ‘guilty’. Is it possible that those who insist on making others guilty do so to avoid facing their own guilt? If you’re a person who has nothing whatsoever to feel guilty about, then there is not much in this article for you. If you are like most people who still wrestle with some guilt, then read on. Forgiving someone does not necessarily mean forgetting what they have done, or not holding them accountable for correcting their behaviour and its consequences. It means no longer seeing the other as the source or justification for your anger. It means seeing the person in terms of what they can become. And that can sometimes take strength, as Ghandi stated. Within Aboriginal circles (such as some Aboriginal-specific websites, etc.), I see some who delight in promoting the view the white man is responsible for their well-being. They love to show the images and retell the stories of past injustices committed by the British invaders. Perhaps they do this so as to avoid dealing with the fact that Aboriginal people today are far more likely to suffer at the hands of other Aboriginal people? I tried communicating with one web administrator about this issue, only to be silenced and ridiculed. I have learnt to view these happenings as opportunities to forgive. If I am in any way feeling bitter, than the problem is with me, not them. Forgiveness is powerful. When Kevin Rudd promised his Apology in 2007, I wrote that an apology is fine, but will not
produce any significant change. To insist on an apology or an acknowledgement for some past injustice is disempowering. It puts you at the mercy of the one who can give or withhold the apology or acknowledgement. Offering forgiveness is far more empowering – and far more difficult, which is why people often avoid it. I purchased a book recently called It’s Okay to Leave the Plantation by a Black American preacher, Clarence Mason Weaver. I was amazed that he too, like Uncle Max, has endured hardships, but has also learnt the importance of forgiveness. In his book he states, “I have found something greater than racial hatred. It is called forgiveness … if we become a forgiving nation instead of an apologetic one, we would also become a victimless one … I have no control over someone else’s apology, but I can control my own forgiveness.” Thank you, Clarence, for giving us a message that is just as relevant to us here in Australia as it is to your people in the USA. Interestingly, Weaver, when referring to today’s Black American self-appointed ‘leaders’, has this to say, “They want you to be angry but never motivated … They treat black people as if we are a group of retarded individuals who need their care and concern”. I believe we have the same situation here in Australia where self-appointed Aboriginal spokespersons, like those I mentioned earlier with their websites, make it their business to keep Aboriginal people angry and discourage forgiveness. They delight in encouraging blame and resentment. But that will be a topic for my next article here at FNT. Thanks you for reading this article.
by Dr Anthony Dillon 2 June 2014 Forgiving someone does not necessarily mean forgetting what they have done, or not holding them accountable...