Forgiveness: The Path to Reconciliation and National Unity

By George M. Kiadii


The Perspective
Atlanta, Georgia
January 13, 2005

During the past decade or more, the citizens of Liberia have suffered many tribulations. Unquestionably, the assaults on Liberians have created complicated issues because the conflict pitted neighbors against neighbors as a result of misleading information given by the leadership of warring factions. War, especially civil war, is particularly debilitating to a nation's citizenry. The trials and tribulations have been difficult to bear, and now at a time of relative peace and calm, we must consider our need to exercise the principle of mercy, and be prepared in our hearts to forgive those who have imposed such suffering on us. The deaths of tens of thousands of Liberians was the result of great evil, but we must not perpetuate evil by harboring ill feelings towards our brothers and sisters who were misled. And should we forgive our brothers and sisters, or even our enemies, before they repent or ask forgiveness, our Lord will be equally as merciful unto us. Forgiveness is always a prerequisite to justice, and if we seek the rule of law and justice, there must be forgiveness. Despite our precarious existence at this time, we must not heed the manipulative spirit of resentment and retribution to take control of our thoughts. I promise you that forgiveness of others for wrongs - imaginary or real - will do more for you, the forgiver, than for the forgiven.

We, as a nation of people, cannot afford to remain angry, because such anger will prevent us from rising above the past challenges in our lives. Anger is often associated with jealousy and selfishness. Those who would claim that others are selfish, may themselves quickly become selfish as a result of their survival at the expense or neglect of their neighbors. Unfortunately, this has been the case in Liberia's history. We must now break with this debilitating behavior to ensure the successful future of a free and prosperous Liberia.

If someone has offended you, you may hold resentment if you wish, say nothing to the other, and let resentment canker your soul. If you do, you will be the one who will be injured, not the one who you think has injured you. You will feel better and be far happier to have forgiven than to let resentment remain within. The past, and even the present circumstance will provide many opportunities to feel ill toward another. Yet among the kind and caring citizens of Liberia, those who would harbor feelings of unforgiveness in their souls are guiltier and more censurable than the one who has committed the wrong against them. Each of us must dismiss envy and hatred from our hearts; dismiss the feeling of unforgiveness; and cultivate in our minds and souls that spirit of Christ that cried out upon the cross, "Father, forgive them; for they know not what they do."

Much of life, love, home, and of happiness, is less than it might be because of tensions, resentments, and feelings of offense that separate families, that keep neighbors apart, that drive away the hallowed spirit of home and a nation, and the peace of one's heart. Sometimes we feel wronged. Sometimes we know we have wronged others. We all say things we wish we had not said, and do things we wish we had not done, yet often let our stubbornness and pride keep us from apologizing, from reconciling misunderstandings - and cannot quite seem to humble ourselves to face the facts, to clear relationships from feelings of offense. And so we sometimes rationalize - blaming others, absolving ourselves - frequently forgetting, or not admitting, that there are two sides to most misunderstandings.

The seasons of life pass so swiftly that we ought not let any of life be lived in unhappiness and unkindness when we could so often clear up offenses if we would - and we should, not only for the sake of others but for ourselves, because every lingering resentment we carry around with us is a kind of slow-eating acid that cuts and corrodes and takes us from the full enjoyment of life and loved ones. There must be forgiving. There must be forgetting. There must be an honest effort to make amends - not just a gesture, but attitudes and actions that prove we are sincere. Let friends and neighbors come closer, and let life be lived, not with quick tempers and lingering resentments, but with the understanding that knows there are two sides to most subjects. Admit errors; make apologies; clear up the brooding clouds of the mind and in the heart that keep us from enjoying life, and from being at peace with ourselves. Only after we forgive others, and ourselves, can we find a way, or make one, for the unification and rehabilitation of Liberia.

"A hundred times every day," said Albert Einstein, "I remind myself that my inner and outer life depend on the labors of others, living and dead, and that I must exert myself in order to give in the measure as I have received, and am still receiving." Along with dependence on Divine Providence, it is true and humbling that all of us are dependent upon other people - upon the Congos, Americo-Liberians, and the indigenous tribes; upon the farmers, the timber workers, the businessmen and women; upon the skills and services and faithfulness and integrity of untold people who have made possible our past, the present, and the future.

We owe much to many, and there is infinitely more yet to be done everywhere in Liberia, and any attitude that overly emphasizes ease or idleness is shortsighted and unsafe. We need a sense of history, a re-examination of purpose and principles of why we have what we have, with respect and gratitude to those who gave us what we have, and the good grace to pass it on, improved upon if possible, remembering that there is no sweeping, easy solution to anything, ever. Once we have prepared ourselves by forgiving others and ourselves, we must adopt an attitude that we shall find a way or make one to build a great Liberia and enhance the lives of all of its citizens. And we must put into this effort everything there is in within us - physically, mentally, and morally. This is the spirit of those who have made history. We have come by the trial and error, and anguish and effort of others, and just waiting for history to happen is not enough. As did our forbearers, we must make it happen, for the right principles, for the right purposes, and "find" a way - or make one. We should remember that no road is too long to the person who advances deliberately and without undue haste; and no honors are too distant for the person who prepares oneself for them with patience, understanding, and having forgiven others and oneself.

Liberia no longer has a choice between force and law. If Liberia is to survive, it must choose the rule of law. A free society, that seeks a liberal, constitutional democracy for Liberia, cannot remain free unless an overwhelming majority of its citizens restrain themselves and forgive their neighbors. If Liberians don't restrain themselves internally, then they will be restrained externally. With external restraint comes the decline of liberty. A free society cannot function without internal discipline. Without moral restraint, which includes forgiveness of self and others, humans are no longer civilized humans. The right to enjoy the protection of the law carries the obligation to respect and keep the law. The right to enjoy the privileges and protection of Liberian law carries with it the obligation to serve the nation.

We must have a genuine revival of respect for law and orderly processes, a reawakening of individual responsibility, and a new impatience with those who would violate and circumvent the laws of Liberia. An ordered society cannot exist if individuals may determine which laws will be obeyed. No nation can remain free unless its people cherish their freedoms, understand the responsibilities involved in maintaining freedom, nurture the will to preserve them, and be willing to forgive those who may have forgotten these principles in the past. Laws, civil and moral, will always be the strongest links between Liberians and their freedom. "Let reverence of the law be breathed by every mother to the lisping babe…," said Abraham Lincoln. "Let it be taught in schools, seminaries, and colleges; let it be written in primers, spelling books, and almanacs; let it be preached from pulpits, and proclaimed in legislative halls, and enforced in courts of justice; let it become the political religion of the nation." As Liberians, we must affirm this basic fact: that we believe in serving our country, and in obeying, honoring, and sustaining its laws - without which there is no liberty, no freedom, no security. Finally, it comes down to a question of the character of Liberia's citizens - their ability to forgive and forget prior abuses - without which there can be no freedom.

Oh, you prodigal children of Liberia do not allow the crises of the past to overcome us as we strive together toward a bright future. Our day dawn is breaking and we should not mistake it for a continuation of the midnights of our past. We must press forward with renewed faith, after the forgiveness, toward the great potential that is the destiny of Liberia.