It has been a sad day today. First, Nelson Mandela died. However a bigger story on my local news is the sentencing of a 23 year old man to five to fifteen years in prison. A year ago he was driving while intoxicated and crashed into another car carrying four teenagers. Two of them died.
What is very sad is that the family and news media are outraged that the 23 year old (I’ll refrain from using his name) did not get more time. They were quite angry and demanded that the Governor increase the prison penalty for those convicted of DWI and manslaughter.
What saddens me is the degree of hate and revenge the family and friends had at the news conference following the sentencing. One of them said that they hope that the hell this 23 year old will face in prison is a foretaste to the hell he will face in eternity. The only thing this press conference was doing was making things worse, fueling anger and stressing one another even more making the old adage “misery loves company” all the more true.
Nelson Mandela once said “Resentment is like drinking poison and then hoping it will kill your enemies.” When someone can’t let go, when they hold onto anger and dedicate their life to revenge, it changes everything; It changes their relationships, their attitudes and everything they do in life. There is much to lose when you hate. You don’t lose a thing when you forgive because it is not a sign of weakness to forgive someone who hurts you, it’s a sign of strength, in fact, you’ll have much to gain. Now this does not mean you have to become best friends with the person who hurt you, it simply means that you will no longer be caught in a downward spiral of anger and hurt which you may take out on other people such as family and friends.
Anger, bitterness and hate is more than a negative outlook on life. It is a destructive and self destructive power like a cancerous cell or dangerous mold that thrives in the darkness of the heart. It can be physically and emotionally damaging. As the great Buddha once said, “He who opts for revenge should dig two graves.”
I don’t know the young man convicted nor his remorse, rehabilitation or guilt, but in refusing to lay aside hatred, the family and friends are continuing to let him exert his influence over them. Meanwhile he will spend the next five or ten years oblivious to their pain, in his state imposed Ashram, exercising, making new friends, studying at the school for crime, and learning to hate society for hating him. When he gets out he will most likely be worse than when he went in and a continued burden to tax payers. Under house arrest, he and his family would bear the burden for the cost of incarceration. In prison, the taxpayer will be forking over about $30,000 per year to punish him. Nobody wins.
Someone once said that life is ten percent what happens to you, and ninety percent what you do with it. Imagine if all the hate and energy being put toward destruction and lobbying for more laws was put into restorative justice, education and awareness. These are not the last two teens who are going to be killed by a drunk driver and all the hate in the world directed at the 23 year old isn’t going to save them. Education and awareness of the evils of alcohol may. But it seems these people wish to take revenge – on themselves because that is what hatred does. Forgiving someone who hurts is us hard but everything is hard until you do it, then it becomes easy. Then we will be inspired to do something – something good. Maybe that is the scary part, it is easy to be angry and get other people to do something. Bad things will always happen, but a bad thing can be a blessing in disguise to those brave enough to forgive and do something.
For those of you who are religious, millions of people will recite the Lord’s Prayer in church this weekend. They will pray, “Forgive us our trespasses, as we forgive those who trespass against us.” I often wonder whether we really mean what we say when we repeat these words, and whether we sufficiently consider their meaning. What do you think God thinks of us when we don’t hold up our end of the bargain? And we wonder why atheists think the church is full of hypocrites.
In the Sermon on the Mount, Jesus teaches us not only to love our enemies, but even to “bless” those who persecute us. While on the cross, he prayed for those who prosecuted and sentenced him, “Father, forgive them, for they know not what they do.” So did Stephen who prayed the same thing as he was being stoned to death: “Father, do not hold this against them.”
Loving and forgiving those who hurt us is the key to the solution for the problems in our world. Hate begets hate. Darkness doesn’t drive out darkness. Only light can do that. Love is the only force capable of turning an enemy into a friend. Hate destroys and tears down but by its very nature, love creates and builds up. Love transforms. The art of being wise is the art of knowing what to overlook and to forgive.
I once came home to discover that my dog pooped on the floor. I yelled at her and she cowered in the corner. I then realized that I was the one who left her alone in the house for ten hours so in my baby voice I called her over to me. She was hesitant but her tail was wagging. When she reached me, I petted her and she danced around me and kissed me. All was forgiving from both of us. I cleaned up her mess as she watched with a sideways glance. Then we went outside for a nice run. Nelson also once said that action may not bring happiness but there is no happiness without action.