World Reconciliation Day is the 2nd of April and world Forgiveness Day is the First Sunday in August. These annual memorials are little recognised, scantily publicised, uncelebrated and pass us by without much reckoning. That the world has chosen to maintain a somewhat hard-of-hearing indifference is indicative of our collective disposition to matters of reconciliation and forgiveness. On the complex plane of personal relationships, there are individuals that can neither forgive nor reconcile mainly because they find it far too hard so to do. But precisely because it’s hard, those who achieve it quite rightly earn the distinction of greatness. It was Mohandas K. Ghandi who aptly observed that “The weak can never forgive. Forgiveness is the attribute of the strong.”
There are two elements to the embrace of peace and brotherhood that reportedly broke out between the former Governor of Abia State, Dr Orji Uzor Kalu and the former Governor of Imo State, Chief Ikedi Ohakim on June 10, 2014. The first element is reconciliation. The second is forgiveness. The ugly history that necessitated this move in the first place is well documented and passionately narrated. The attempt to rise above it could not have been a decision that came easy to either man.
Responding with an act of kindness to a wrong or a deep hurt or betrayal is one of the thorniest gestures any human being could be called upon to demonstrate. When we read historical or fictional accounts of people who answered acts of hatred with demonstrations of love, we feel in our own hearts the glow and warmth of the force of goodness; the triumph of humanity over bitterness and injustice. But when if falls directly upon us to emulate such grand acts of humility, we buckle – we buckle because we find it easier to relish the arrogant notion that vengeance is a dish best served cold. Thus we forget that “Vengeance is mine. Leave vengeance to me, sayeth the Lord.” (Romans 12:19). We forget the poetic admonition of Ann Lander: “Hate is like an acid. It damages the vessel in which it is stored, and destroys the vessel on which it is poured.”
It is instructive that Kalu made the conscious decision to take his own counsel. In 2001, he brokered a truce between Dim Chukwuemeka Odumegwu Ojukwu and Dr Alex Ekwueme which had remained elusive for more than a generation. It was an initiative that was commended by all thoughtful and historically literate citizens. Ndigbo could not afford such an expensive distraction involving two of their most distinguished sons. In 2002, Kalu went a step further, venturing into a territory that was considered impregnable. He brought Generals Ibrahim Babangida and Muhammadu Buhari to Abia State and aided them in confronting each other with whatever grievances that stood as an iron curtain between them. The personal animosity that made it impossible for both men to exchange as harmless a human gesture as greetings was lifted, even if lasting pacification was not achieved. It was remarkable, and grabbed the imagination of a nation enthralled by the cold war that had simmered between the Generals since 1985.
Whatever offence on earth you care to accuse Kalu of committing, and whether he is guilty or innocent of such charges, he must justifiably take credit for these substantive efforts. If for nothing else, his actions in this respect help in sharpening the profile of a man who has an astute grasp of the dynamics of history, and whose motives are moderated by considerations of faith. Human beings are fallible. The Omniscient, All Knowing El Shaddai, made it so in order to contrast His own infallibility and omniscience.
Both Ohakim and Kalu have accumulated their fair share of life’s inevitable baggage – the good, the bad and the in-between. As actors on the public stage, they have played and continue to play their destined roles – for better or for ill. In the case of Ohakim, whose public profile lies, indisputably, in the shadow of Kalu’s, he retains a portrait that is neither better nor worse than most public servants in our benighted nation.
His legendary arrogance allegedly exceeded his accomplishments. He gained notoriety for his brazen aggression towards a Catholic priest. He was accused of confrontational approach to governance, relegating merit and promoting his kindred spirits in mediocrity. He attained a dubious reputation for not keeping to promises and agreements he reached in good faith. The allegation that he acquired a choice property in the exclusive and insanely expensive Park Lane area of London has never been satisfactory disposed. I only ever met him once, as a serving senator of the republic. And the simplest, non-pecuniary promise he made to me, he swiftly broke. And I forgive him. But Kalu’s forgiveness is larger, much, much larger. There is enormous credit in Maya Angelou’s admonition that “We cannot change the past, but we can change our attitude toward it. Uproot guilt and plant forgiveness. Tear out arrogance and seed humility. Exchange love for hate – thereby, making the present comfortable and the future promising.”
These two gentlemen took small steps towards giving substantial meaning to their professions of the Christian faith. For, Paul David Tripp told us an immutable truth when he noted that “The church is not a theological classroom. It is a conversion, confession, repentance, reconciliation, forgiveness and sanctification center, where flawed people place their faith in Christ, gather to know and love him better, and learn to love others as he designed.”
We are all one – or at least we should be – and it is our job, our duty, and our great challenge to fight the voices of division and seek the salve of reconciliation, always bearing in mind the authoritative words of Desmond Tutu when he said that “Forgiveness and reconciliation are not just ethereal, spiritual, other-worldly activities. They have to do with the real world. They are realpolitik, because in a very real sense, without forgiveness, there is no future.”
The power of the example that Kalu and Ohakim set should be understood against the backdrop of a nation riven by conflicts, divisions, hatred, bitterness, betrayal and disloyalty, from the lowest rungs of society to the uppermost crust. Central to our spiritual salvation and physical liberation as true sons and daughters of Lord, Master Adonai, is the amazing idea that you must hold back your offering, even if you intend to offer Him the entire universe (which belongs to Him, at any event), and return to your brother and seize him in an embrace of forgiveness and harmony and reconciliation before proceeding to lay your offering at the feet of Jehova Shalom. We are so instructed because El Olam knows that we can do it. He has given us the gift of grace that will take us there. M. Fethullah Gülen captures the strength of grace that resides in us: “Thanks to their hope for forgiveness, humans can rise above the dark clouds that threaten their horizon and seize the opportunity to see light in their world. It is impossible for people who have given their heart to seeking forgiveness not to think of forgiving others. Just as they desire to be forgiven, they also desire to forgive.”
Bitterness and anger serve as nothing more than weeds that cluster our hearts and deny us the freedom to live happily and harmoniously with the world and all that are in it. Doris Day minced no words in reminding us that: “We plant seeds that will flower as results in our lives, so best to remove the weeds of anger, avarice, envy and doubt, that peace and abundance may manifest for all.”
If you search your soul, reach into the deepest recess of your heart, and recall the clusters of injustice and evil and betrayal that people might have inflicted on you over the years, your blood will run cold the moment you contemplate the possibility of embracing them in the spirit of forgiveness and reconciliation. It is only when you place yourself in that psychological realm that you will appreciate the miracle quality of the act of forgiveness and reconciliation. But we need that miracle to make us whole because, according to Dag Hammarskjöld, “Forgiveness is the answer to the child’s dream of a miracle by which what is broken is made whole again, what is soiled is made clean again.”
The conscious and deliberate decision to break the chain of anger, vengeance and resentment requires a great power of imagination and strong will. We become addicted, and ultimately hostage, to these destructive emotions when we habituate our deeds and thoughts to their dictates. That is why I applaud the penetrative grasp of the imaginative essence of the art of forgiveness: “Forgiveness is an act of the imagination. It dares you to imagine a better future, one that is based on the blessed possibility that your hurt will not be the final word on the matter. It challenges you to give up your destructive thoughts about the situation and to believe in the possibility of a better future. It builds confidence that you can survive the pain and grow from it.”
If the pursuit of peace and happiness constitute some of the central imperatives of life, then tell me how anyone could attain the fulfilment that comes with a serene and happy life if his heart is congested with bitter resentments? Robert Muller could not have captured the sentiment better when he observed that “To forgive is the highest, most beautiful form of love. In return, you will receive untold peace and happiness.” And if you desire to showcase the quality of the temporal and spiritual love that animate your actions and thoughts, then listen to Francois De La Rochefoucauld: “One pardons to the degree that one loves.”
I am moved by the combination of simplicity, profundity and brevity in Mark Twain’s characteristically witty observation: “Forgiveness is the fragrance that the violet sheds on the heel that has crushed it.” This profound wit is complemented by the beautiful refrain that marked Martin Luther King, Jr’s exhortations in the 1950s and ‘60s: “Forgiveness is not an occasional act; it is a permanent attitude…. In spite of the fact that the law of revenge solves no social problems, men continue to follow its disastrous leading. History is cluttered with the wreckage of… individuals that pursued this self-defeating path.”