…pondering on what it means to forgive and forget
In my final year in secondary school, I stayed in a small room with three roommates.
One morning, while running late for class, I started looking for my sandals. I searched everywhere but I couldn’t find them. I found this surprising: I always knew exactly where I kept my things. I wondered if they had been stolen. As only my roommates and I had access to the room, it was hard to believe. None of them claimed to know where my sandals were and surprisingly, no one else was looking for theirs.
One of my roommates then took the time to help me search the room again. He kept asking questions about where I felt I could have put them till I started getting irritated. It was at this point that he told me that he took my sandals! I was stunned. Why did he take them? According to him, I had upset him several times and not acknowledged that. He began to list several issues with specific dates and times: I was weak! I was sure we had resolved some of the issues he listed when they happened. All I could do was apologise and he promptly produced my sandals. I couldn’t help wondering why he hadn’t just forgiven me before.
I remember this incident every time I think about forgiveness and un-forgiveness. I think about the number of times I have told someone I had forgiven them only for something to happen and make me realise I hadn’t really. Or the number of times I had asked for forgiveness and then the person had turned around and done something that indicated he/ she hadn’t forgiven me.
Our society encourages us to “forgive and forget” in many cases. A man cheats on his wife; she is encouraged to forgive and forget. He beats her up: forgive and forget. A privileged child commits an offence, forgive and forget. Adult is caught molesting a child, the child’s parents are compelled to forgive and forget. Someone dupes close friends: they are asked to forgive and forget. Politician dips his hand into public funds and is caught, forgive and forget. There is always someone chanting “forgiveness is the best answer”.
Why would many people prefer to hide under the “forgive and forget” mantra instead of addressing the issues and then letting the accused face the consequences of their action? Why are many of us so eager for people not to face these consequences? Do we think about how the aggrieved person has to go through life living with the fact that the person who has hurt them will not face any consequences for his/ her actions?
Oftentimes, such people are told to forgive others “for their sanity” but can they truly forgive if the other party has not expressed repentance? A willingness to address the hurt? Should one be compelled to forgive and forget? What happens if the accused repeats the action? Are they then truly penitent?
Forgiveness is hard. It requires us to review the events, the people involved, and actions that hurt us. Then we have to decide not to think about the hurt or seek revenge. If we can achieve this, is it also possible that we forget the hurt? And what does it mean to forget?
I believe there are several levels to this. Some people can forget the matter completely. They have no recollection of the events and are unbothered. These people are in the minority of minorities. Some others remember the events that took place but cannot connect with the emotions they felt at the time, so all they have is just a recollection of events, nothing more.
Others can remember exactly how they felt when they were wronged and it is hard for them to let go of that memory. They relive the events whenever they come across the people who hurt them. Even though they may say they have forgiven, they find it hard to move away from the hurt and its impact on their lives. For them, it is once bitten, twice shy.
The final group of people choose not to remember the events and by so doing, declare that they have put the matter behind them. It is not that they do not remember, they simply choose not to. These people are higher beings and also in the minority of minorities.
Whilst forgiveness may be easy between individuals or small groups, I often wonder about how large groups like nations, for example, deal with it. Rwanda presents a good example here. In trying to put the 1994 genocide behind it, the Rwandan government acknowledged the events rather than attempting to sweep it under the carpet. They strove to make amends by bringing as many of the perpetrators as they could find to face the law, even to date. Some of the people were also able to confront some of the individuals who had either maimed them or killed their relatives and friends.
They further went ahead to document the events related to the genocide at the Kigali Genocide Memorial so that the world will not forget what had happened. They also legislated on several things such as ethnicity.These actions appear to have helped them move past the genocide.
Considering this, Nigeria can learn a thing or two from Rwanda especially as we have refused to address our civil war history from an official position. By declaring “no victor, no vanquished”, could we have forced some people to forgive and forget when they could have sought redress and reconciliation? By not documenting and teaching the civil war history to all Nigerians, could we have withheld pertinent information that could influence the state of our nationhood? Could the absence of a unified national accounting and the seeming disregard for the hurt that the Igbos suffered during the war be one of the reasons groups like IPOB and MASSOB have adherents? I often wonder about this, anyway, that is a topic for another day.
Whether as nations or individuals, forgiveness can only come when wrongs have been acknowledged and evidence of true repentance is seen. It is never up to the accused to determine how the aggrieved responds to calls for forgiveness. One should allow them to spell out their grievances while seeking to address them.
The onus lies on the accused to seek forgiveness so that they know how to right their wrongs. We cannot force forgiveness but we can show signs of true repentance and face the consequences of our actions, and this is the way I see things today.