Anthony Ray Hinton spent thirty years on death row for a crime he did not commit. He was working in a locked factory at the time of the crime that he was being accused of. When he was arrested in the state of Alabama in the United States, he was told by the police officers that he would be going to jail because he was black.
He spent thirty years in a five-by-seven-foot cell in solitary confinement, allowed out only one hour a day. During his time on death row, Hinton became a counsellor and friend not only to the other inmates, fifty-four of whom were put to death, but to the death row guards, many of whom begged Hinton’s attorney to get him out.
When a unanimous Supreme Court ruling ordered his release, he was finally able to walk free. Then Hinton was interviewed on the American television show 60 Minutes, the interviewer asked whether he was angry at those who had put him in jail. He responded that he had forgiven all the people who had sent him to jail. The interviewer asked, “But they took thirty years of your life – how can you not be angry?”
Hinton responded, “If I’m angry and unforgiving, they will have taken the rest of my life.”
The above is a real story that I read in the book ‘The Book Of Joy.’ When I read Hinton’s response I was stunned. How can a man forgive those people who took his life’s thirty years? I shut the book and my mind was clouded with many thoughts. In fact, my mind recalled all the people, situations, events when I was hurt. Even childhood wounds were still hurting me. Why?
Because I was unforgiven to them. I was holding them.
Hinton says, unforgiveness robs us of our ability to enjoy and appreciate our life, because we are trapped in a past filled with anger and bitterness. Forgiveness allows us to move beyond the past and appreciate the present.
Then I went deep into forgiveness and tried to find out how can I free myself from this burden which I was carrying for so long?
While there are many adequate definitions of forgiveness, this is the one developed by Dr Robert Enright, the founder of the International Forgiveness Institute who has studied forgiveness for more than 25 years:
To understand what forgiveness is, it is important to consider what forgiveness is not. The act of forgiveness does not suggest you have forgotten the injustice. Nor does it imply you condone or excuse the wrongdoer. You are not condemning; that only leads to forgiveness that stems from moral superiority. What’s more, you are not seeking compensation.
When you forgive someone who has deeply hurt you, you let go of resentment and the urge to seek revenge, no matter how deserving of these things the wrongdoer may be. You give the great gifts of acceptance, generosity, and love. Though the wrongdoer does not deserve these gifts, you don’t let that stand in your way.
You give, not out of pity, not out of grim obligation. Rather, you give because you have chosen to have a merciful heart. A heart with the power to free yourself so you can live a better life.
Yes, forgiveness is a paradox–something that may sound illogical but still works. It is the foregoing of resentment or revenge when the wrongdoer’s actions deserve it. It is giving the gifts of mercy, generosity, and love when the wrongdoer’s actions indicate that he/she does not deserve them.
Forgiveness is not the same as exoneration nor does it mean to release an offender from judicial consequences. Forgiveness is an acknowledgement of injustice. It respects the full emotional impact on the victim in condemning the offence. While still providing a way past the burden of anger and resentment toward the offender that can keep a victim trapped.
Now, you must have understood what is forgiveness and what is not?
But still, there are common misunderstandings about forgiveness. Let’s look into it.
This article first appeared on justmorealive.com .
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