Notes Toward a Politics of Forgiveness.

Via D. Patrick Miller
on May 18, 2013
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Can we begin to imagine a politics of forgiveness?

We’ve had the politics of one-upmanship, deception and belligerence for so long that we may assume this way of doing things is human nature.

If we believe that we must fight against our own nature to change our politics, then peace, justice and human equality become romantic ideals that can never be achieved—although they can still be used as excuses for more war and sacrifice.

The extent to which we think world peace is possible is precisely the extent to which we think our own minds can someday be peaceful through and through. If we cannot comprehend why wars are fought over territories, national pride, or religious beliefs, then we need look no further than our fight for a parking space, the struggle to succeed against our competitors, or the aggressive ministry to convert one more soul to our church.

But human nature encompasses more than our destructive habits; it also has within it the potential for surrender. If we think of surrender as raising the white flag before our enemies, nothing within us will change.

The surrender that matters is giving up the belief that we have any enemies. It doesn’t matter whether humanity achieves that surrender tomorrow or a thousand years from now; simply remembering to make the attempt whenever possible is what will eventually undo the world as we know it.

How could our politics begin to express forgiveness? Imagine politicians debating publicly in order to learn from each other and educate the public, striving to outdo each other only on the attempt to make sure all parties have been fairly heard. Imagine the media hesitating in its rush to judgment of people and events—hesitating in order to place their reporting in the context of the most profound questions of human consciousness and moral evolution. Imagine our country’s diplomatic envoys arguing for peace in international venues by admitting our warring history and tendencies first.

Are these radical departures from politics-as-usual really beyond human nature?

Not if they are within our imagining—and if we can couple our imagination with an intense desire to end the human habit of alienation.

Forgiveness is one of the most undersold propositions of all time. When you first begin to grasp the potential of forgiveness, you will cheerfully trade all prior investments in aggression for the peace of its action.

Forgiveness blossoms at a certain moment in time, when you are ripe and ready to release some of the dead past. It is the intent to forgive that actually speeds up time, collapsing old schedules of suffering and bringing unimagined possibilities inestimably nearer.

flowerForgiveness unifies one’s own awareness and will unite the consciousness of all humankind, which has been so long shattered into opposing egos, cultures, religions, and ideologies. Yet forgiveness also allows a creative diversity of ideas within one’s own mind and instills a passionate tolerance of others’ opinions and beliefs. Forgiveness will eventually preside over the raucous house-of-commons of the human soul, leading it with rigorous benevolence toward home.

Anger exiles hope to the mind’s dark and stuffy attic, cluttered with nostalgic curiosities. Forgiveness clears a space in the mind where hope finds enough room to devise practical strategies of change.

Forgiveness sends a healing message much further than you might believe. As you develop a forgiving demeanor you become an automatic transmitter within the network of human consciousness—changing minds less by your words than by your example, saving souls less by your program than by your presence.

A conviction is a strong and fixed belief; to be convicted is to be found guilty of something. There is more than a semantic connection between belief and guilt. Whenever we believe we know something for sure in this uncertain, paradoxical world, we will be perilously close to convicting ourselves or others of unpardonable crimes. Forgiveness gradually and carefully relieves us of our dependence on believing, increasingly enabling us just to be. Then our actions can arise from an instinctive wisdom that draws from our practical knowledge, yet transcends our limited grasp of truth.

Forgiveness is a curious paradox of accepting everything just as it is while working tirelessly for a complete upheaval in our behavior and consciousness. Some activists believe we must be constantly aggrieved to set right the injustices of the world—that good anger corrects bad anger. But an enlightened activism respectfully acknowledges all anger and sorrow while demonstrating the superior strategy of mercy, pooling ever deeper within and rhythmically flowing without. The most effective and lasting actions arise from profound stillness and radical clarity.

Ultimately, forgiveness means letting go of this world, a darkened, fractured glass through which we see love only dimly. As our frightened grip on all that is temporary relaxes, we will increasingly find our authentic strength in that which is timeless, boundless, inexhaustible, and omnipresent. Heaven is learned, not simply entered with religion’s passport.

As forgiveness liberates your energy, you may be moved to sing, dance, write, make art, or otherwise celebrate. Don’t let your day job get in the way.

As forgiveness liberates your thinking, you may find yourself looking beyond the world-wearying drives of self-promotion and competition. Congratulations! Now you are consciously evolving, no longer running the treadmill of humanity’s favorite follies. Now you will be led by inspiration everywhere you are needed.


Excerpted from The Way of ForgivenessPhotos by D. Patrick Miller.


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Ed: Brianna Bemel


About D. Patrick Miller

D. Patrick Miller has been a seeker and researcher of spiritual wisdom for over two decades. He is the founder of Fearless Books and the author of a dozen books and over 100 magazine and online articles for such periodicals as Yoga Journal, The Sun, Columbia Journalism Review and San Francisco Chronicle. His research spans a wide variety of subjects, including A Course in Miracles, the Enneagram typology of personality, the I Ching, Jungian psychology, yoga, shamanism, cultism, spirituality in the workplace, psychic phenomena, altered states of consciousness, and advanced human capacities. He is the author of THE FORGIVENESS BOOK: Healing the Hurts We Don't Deserve (Hampton Roads, 2017), UNDERSTANDING A COURSE IN MIRACLES, and LIVING WITH MIRACLES: A Common Sense Guide to A Course in Miracles. He also provides other writers with editing, independent publishing assistance, and professional representation through Fearless Literary Services. Connect through Facebook.


7 Responses to “Notes Toward a Politics of Forgiveness.”

  1. Mark Ledbetter says:

    "Are these radical departures from politics-as-usual really beyond human nature?"

    To me, the answer is a clear, YES.

    Remember the first Obama-Romney debate? Obama's part of the debate was the only time I know of when any politician ever came close to the "forgiving" style of debate recommended here. What a wonderful demonstration of confidence on the part of the president! He displayed no obvious desire to 'win' the debate, no debating tactics, no tricks, no rebuttals, no attacks, no need to show us his formidable debating skills. He just stated what he believed and otherwise let Romney do all the debating. For me, it was the most mature political 'performance' I have ever seen. It wasn't exactly a debate based on forgiveness, but his lack of any effort to attack was pretty close.

    The next day, Republicans were in ecstasy and Democrats in shock. Neither side seemed to have a clue about the sublimity of what Obama had done. Second debate, he reluctantly (it seemed to me) came out boxing, to the cheers of Democrats. Neither "side" in the Great American Culture War, I'm afraid, is interested in a forgiveness-based debate.

    Speaking of forgiveness…

    Bush and Obama's policies on all the big issues – solving the financial crisis, policing the world, helping people in need – are remarkably similar. Their main difference is simply one of style. Yet supporters of neither side seem willing to forgive the other side its sins, or even see that their own sins are the same. Forgiveness is only for people you can identify with, people who talk like you, dress like you, eat like you, like the same kind of music, humor, and books as you, display the same cultural icons as you. Or else it's for people from other cultures who are clearly less blessed in worldly things than you. But it's not for people on the other side of the our culture war.

    Nah, I just can't see forgiveness happening in politics. To paraphrase Madison, "A policy of forgiveness would only be possible if men were angels."

    The political speculations here seem a bit divorced from human nature, but I love the thoughts on forgiveness! It's hard to choose among them, but my favorite might be this, partially because it's probably the hardest of the group to accept:

    "Whenever we believe we know something for sure in this uncertain, paradoxical world, we will be perilously close to convicting ourselves or others of unpardonable crimes."

    I gave a big YES up above to H. P. Miller's question. Patrick himself says, NO. I REALLY hope I am wrong and he is right!

  2. Mark — You may notice that my piece begins with the question, "Can we begin to imagine a politics of forgiveness?" This is my acknowledgment that, as a culture, nation, and species, we're nowhere close to realizing this kind of politics; it's rare that it's even imagined. Nonetheless, there are other big ideas, like racial and gender equality, that were once imagined by only a few, and have made some progress since. We imagine a lot of things, good and bad, and the world-as-we-see-it tends to proceed from our imagination, for better or worse. I'm just voting for something better….

  3. jack says:

    Interesting post, along with thoughtful comments from Mark. Human nature is something we must learn to live with, but humans are remarkably flexible, both as individuals and as cultures. As you point out, Patrick, the rise of racial and gender equality are good examples. The growing acceptance of the LGBT folks in some societies is another. Scandinavian countries have done well at stabilizing birthrates and moving away from destructive consumerism. There is, however, a long way to go, and many serious problems lie ahead for our planet — the greatest of which is a growing excess of human beings.. I fear that things will get worse before they get better.

  4. Mark Ledbetter says:

    Greetings Patrick. Yes, we've done a good job on some of the big ideas. This one, though, simply seems beyond the reach of human nature because it relates directly and clearly to the acquisition of power. You don't gain or keep political power by forgiving except in very special and limited cases. In my opinion. But I still hope you're right and I'm wrong.

    I notice, though, another of your quotes I like, and so appropriate to activism, political and otherwise…

    "Some activists believe we must be constantly aggrieved to set right the injustices of the world…"

    Thinking on that, maybe I see your point a bit. At the fulcrum of electoral politics, where politicians need to win elections and defend power, forgiveness is not going to get you very far. People don't vote for it. But for activists outside of politics, or on its periphery working to influence it, forgiveness can do wonders. And actually, forgiveness can probably do wonders off the campaign trail in the smoke-filled rooms.

  5. litchick13 says:

    As long as the paradigm of forgiveness isn't exploited as a way for one side to cause harm without having consequences, it's ideal.

  6. Genuine forgiveness cannot be "exploited" because it's always an inside job. It means taking responsibility for one's own perceptions, and then opening them up in order to become smarter, more inclusive, more understanding, more merciful, and more creative. It always leads to greater strength, not weakness.

  7. litchick13 says:

    I wish there was an evolved word for this. "Forgiveness" is such a catch-all.