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Before we close today, we have more one piece of important work to engage in: the work of forgiving each other. I think many of us have been hurt and angry in the past 24 hours. To move forward, I contend that we need to forgive, especially those in our own community who have hurt and angered us.

Diversity is supposed to be this beautiful concept — a celebration of the differences and variety and beauty among us. In many of our workshops, we have celebrated what it means to be different and what that brings to the table. But diversity engages also with anger and hate, and prejudice and brokenness, and hurt and pain. I think as a culture and as a community we hardly ever talk about diversity — really, genuinely, and authentically talk about it. We’re usually quite politically correct, because whenever we do talk about difference, someone is bound to get hurt, and angry.

I know that I walked away from last night’s film session angry. I know that many people in this room also felt angry, or hurt, or shocked or some combination of those things, whether at the film itself or at the discussions afterward. I was angry that people seemed misinformed or that they just didn’t care and were indifferent. I was also angry that perhaps people were purposefully trying to hurt each other. Maybe because they themselves felt hurt or offended in the first place.

But I still urge us to forgive each other. The guy sitting a few rows in front of us, the girl in our workshop who offended our values. Choosing forgiveness doesn’t mean choosing not to be angry. I think that anger is natural. It’s an instinctive and important response to being hurt. If someone punches me in the face, whether it was intentional or unintentional, I’m going to be mad. And that’s okay, and it’s even good. Choosing forgiveness does not mean choosing not to be angry. But I’m also going to want to punch this person back, or kick them somewhere where it really hurts. Because they hurt me. So I want to hurt them back — more than they hurt me, if possible.

Choosing forgiveness means that I give up the right to hurt the person who hurt me. That I give up the right to make them pay for what they did, to punish them, to guilt them, to shame them. It’s hard, so hard, to forgive those who have hurt us. Why should we? There are many answers to that, but let me volunteer one for now. Nelson Mandela, the celebrated South African anti-apartheid revolutionary, famously chose to forgive the white Afrikaners who had imprisoned him for 27 years in prison and oppressed his black people for decades. He sought justice against the crimes and oppression committed against blacks in South Africa — forgiveness does not mean we do not seek justice — but he contends, “Courageous people do not fear forgiving, for the sake of peace.” He understood an important truth. We fight for what we believe in, but we also forgive those who oppress and hurt and offend us. Because only this brings real healing to our communities. We can’t cut each other out of our lives, because we’re working to build a diverse community. We live and study and play with each other day in and day out. How can we make this place a better one?

I challenge you to forgive someone who has hurt and angered you. I’m going to give you a minute of quiet silence right now to think of someone who has hurt you. It can be someone who’s spoken up during Diversity Day, or if not someone who’s hurt you in some other part of your experience at NMH. Or it might be a group of people of whom you find yourself resentful. I invite you and dare you to picture yourself walking up to that person and to tell him or her: “You have hurt me because of this-and-this, and I’m angry at you. But still I choose to forgive you, and to give up my right to hurt you back and make you pay for what you did.” If you’re skeptical, this is just hypothetical and in your head. Why not try? I promise it’s more freeing than staying bitter.

Let us quiet down for a minute. I hope for your own good and for the good of our school community that you were able to forgive. Remember, forgiveness means giving up the right to hurt someone who’s hurt you. It doesn’t mean that you can’t still be angry and fight for what you believe is right. But I urge you to examine your intentions when fighting. Don’t try to hurt others with your ideals. 

I’m going to leave you with a challenge: whoever you imagined just now, I challenge you to actually tell them that they’ve hurt you, that you’re angry, but that you give up the right to hurt them back. Make a commitment to yourself right now to do that, if you’d like to. Yes, I will confront and forgive so-and-so. More daringly, you might go up to someone and ask for forgiveness. Make a commitment to yourself to seek healing and reconciliation. Here’s to the bonds of forgiveness that bind us together as a community more than any bitterness or hatred could.


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