The great C.S Lewis observed that we all find forgiveness to be a lovely idea...right up until we have someone to forgive. It’s true. Forgiveness is one of those virtues that’s easy to talk about, but incredibly hard to practice. Particularly when we are hurt, or when we have been seriously wronged. Yet, isn’t that sort of the point? Forgiveness wouldn’t be that impressive, it wouldn’t be that meaningful, if it came naturally. If it could be so easily tossed off.
Think of Laura Tibbetts, whose daughter was killed by an undocumented immigrant in 2018. After the body was discovered, all sorts of letters poured in. People tried to stoke her passions to make her angry. This is why we need to build a wall, they said. Those people are animals. We need to protect ourselves.
And what did she do?
She opened her home to a young boy whose parents were also undocumented immigrants and had worked in the very same fields as the man who had murdered her daughter. That’s not just a lovely example of forgiveness, it’s a profoundly virtuous and impressive thing to do. There must be so much pain in Laura’s heart, so much anger. Yet she has risen above it. She has found a way to see through the rage and the hurt to find something common in their shared humanity. Something she could support and care for, rather than dismiss or rail against.
The Stoics believed that these sorts of gestures were the essence of greatness. They believed these were the moments we train for. It’s easy to say that forgiveness is important. It’s easy to talk about sympatheia, or how we are all part of a larger whole, alongside our fellow humans. But it is so hard to do. Because life challenges us. Life throws tragedy at us. Instead of calling us to be better, to live up to a higher standard, the media and our fellow citizens often try to drag us down into the mud, encouraging our basest instincts.
We have to keep reaching for that higher standard, though. We have to push through the pain and the anger. We have to pull ourselves out of the mud. We have to forgive. We have to try to be good...and in the process, be great.