Forgiveness of others often begins with loving ourselves

This past weekend, Rachel Martin, National Public Radio’s fill-in host for Saturday’s Weekend Edition, interviewed Bruce Lisker. Mr. Lisker had served 26 years in prison for a murder he did not commit, and was recently awarded a $7 million settlement by the city of Los Angeles. Mr. Lisker had gone to prison at the age of 17 after being convicted based on evidence presented by corrupt police officers. He won release in 2009 through the hard work of a private investigator, reporters at the LA Times, and a police sergeant. The multimillion dollar settlement came six years later.

When asked by Ms. Martin what life has been like since he left prison, Mr. Lisker talked about having to learn how to use an ATM, a cell phone, a credit card and the Internet.

“How do you negotiate anger?” she asked. Mr. Lisker’s response is worth quoting in full:

Well, yeah, that’s going to come up, isn’t it? I don’t do recrimination. I don’t do bitterness. I don’t do, you know, carrying that around because that would damage me. And I came up with something that I repeat as often as I have a voice. It’s impossible to travel the road of peace unless you first cross the bridge of forgiveness. And, you know, the only hope of peace and happiness that I have is to, the minute something like that comes up – and it does. Forgiveness is not a light switch; it is a dimmer. And you know, somebody keeps sneaking over and turning it up. But you have to be – you have to be mindful. You have to not go to the fear, not go to the anger, not go to that side, but go to the love of yourself, of your family.

Mr. Lisker rightly recognizes the role forgiveness plays in reducing anger and aiding the redevelopment of peace and happiness in the person who has been harmed.

Earlier in the interview, Ms. Martin asked him, “What happened to those [corrupt] officers?”

“They retired with full pensions,” said Mr. Lisker. He went on to talk about his volunteer work among juveniles and how he views the harm that was done to him:

And some of the children that I teach are the age that I was when I was framed. And I look at them, and I can’t conceive of how a human being, an adult, could look across an interview room table at a 17-year-old kid, scared – me, scared, having just found his mother – and decide, you know what? I’m going to – I’m going to shortcut this thing. I’m going to jump to a conclusion that because this kid has long hair, he’s got nothing coming from me and, you know, least of all an honest examination of the facts. And I’m going to frame him. I can’t conceive of harming a child like that. But it happened.

Forgiving police officers — authority figures with an enormous amount of power — for something like Mr. Lisker experienced is almost beyond comprehension. He did not say, however, that he forgave them out of compassion or kindness, or even out of religious obligation. He forgave them because he loved himself enough to refrain from renting out his brain to continuing anger and allowing the anger to harden into bitterness or hatred.

Often, that is the place where we have to start the journey to forgiveness. How much do I love myself? Enough to lay down the anger and bitterness? Enough to end the resentment? Enough to forego imagining (or carrying out) revenge?

One of the great commandments in the Judeo-Christian tradition is to love your neighbor as yourself. People often complain about how hard it is to love the neighbor. Perhaps learning how to love ourselves might make it easier to love our neighbor. Forgiving for our own sake can help begin that journey to love our neighbor.

Portraits of reconciliation

Some of my friends enjoy bashing the liberal press. And it sometimes deserves bashing. But I enjoy reading the  liberal news outlets more than the  conservatives ones. Perhaps it is because of such things as “Portraits of Reconciliation,” which will appear in the print edition of tomorrow’s New York Times.

“Portraits of Reconciliation” is a photo essay about men and women in southern Rwanda who have chosen to forgive and seek reconciliation following the  genocide that enveloped the nation 20 years ago. In the piece, eight photographs, accompanied by the words of the perpetrator and the victim, tell horrifying stories of “man’s inhumanity to man” as well as the astonishing stories of forgiveness and reconciliation.

View the photos and read the stories here.