A friend and I were driving to Tel Aviv, and we argued about forgiveness. Most of our discussion revolved around spiritual principles governing the interaction between individuals. To some degree all of us understand what that means, but what about peoples and nations?
No, don’t worry. I’m not going to throw religion at you. That’s not the point of this blog. However, you should know that counselors and therapists have long understood the secular basis for forgiveness.
Let me stray from foreign policy for a moment and talk about that. I’ll go back on-topic in a moment. I promise.
I once read something profound from M. Scott Peck that I paraphrase here:
One of the most difficult challenges facing a therapist, is to convince patients to forgive the people that have abused them.
That point is utterly profound and incredibly difficult. Why?
Why? Well, for one thing, we cannot truly recover from our experiences unless we DO forgive our abusers – no matter how horrific the abuse. And I’ve had to work with some people whose abuse has been truly horrific.
The alternative is to become infected with bitterness, or even become an abuser yourself.
By the way, some of you will feel shock and horror at what I’ve just said. Please understand me. I’m not saying that you are to ignore your abuser’s guilt. I’m not saying to forget and repress what has happened. You can’t.
What I’m talking about is compassion and understanding. Even love, if you have that ability.
If you can do that, you will have freed yourself from a terrible burden.
But, this blog isn’t about relationships, and I started talking about peoples and nations. What’s the connection?
I have noticed that nations that cannot have compassion for their enemies, that cannot forgive those that have abused them – they cannot truly thrive. More than that, they become bitter. They become the very abusers that they hate.
Hitler used national bitterness to capture Germany, and murder the Jewish people.
But notice that France was invaded by Germany twice in the previous century, yet France and Germany couldn’t have the extremely close relationship that they have today if France had not forgiven Germany.
And Israel would not be the thriving country it is today, if she hadn’t forgiven Germany for the murder of more than six million Jews.
Does France forget the crimes of Germany? No. The memorials to war litter the French countryside. They cannot forget.
Does Israel forget the evil of Nazi Germany? Or even the evil of those who STILL harbor Nazi sympathies? No. They also cannot forget. Every Israeli of European descent lost someone in the Holocaust. Every year, on Holocaust Day, we remember those who were murdered.
We. Do. NOT. Forget.
I cannot hate the German people. Some of the most wonderful and lovable people that I have ever met are German.
Although you hear me rant and rave about French foreign policy, I generally find the French people delightful, when I can understand them.
The same also goes for Arabs. In fact, what surprises me most about Israel is her willingness to forgive. That astounds me.
Are Israelis upset that six million of their family died at the hands of the Nazis? Yes. Are they upset at what the Arabs have done to them? Yes.
And, there are some Israelis who forgive nothing, and they are some of the most bitter people that I know.
But, the Israeli people as a whole have an incredible capacity to turn away from the past and have compassion on peoples who have tried to kill them.
Unfortunately, I see very few examples of this among the Arabs. Very few Arabs can forgive what has happened to them. In fact, they still haven’t forgiven Europe for the Crusades.
If they haven’t forgiven Europe for something that happened almost a thousand years ago, do you think that they’ll forgive anything that happens today?
Now think about the bitterness that poisons the soul of the Arab nation.
Can you now understand why peace with them is so hard to find?