Is there a way to heal the effects of violence in our communities through forgiveness?
2014 Nobel Peace Prize co-winner, Malala Yousafzai, is not only convinced there is, but she lives what she believes. At just 15 years old, she survived a brutal attack by a young “Talib” who shot her in the head on a school bus in Pakistan. Her crime – in his eyes – was having the audacity, as a girl, to want to work toward an education!
When speaking at the United Nations in 2013, she said she knew her life was threatened long before the attack, and wondered what she would do if faced by a man with a gun. She remembered thinking to herself:
“If he comes to kill me, what do you do, Malala? I thought I would take my shoe and hit him. Then I thought, ‘if you hit a man with a shoe, you would be no different to the Talib. You must not treat others with that much cruelty and that much harshly.’”
In this description of her first reaction to the Taliban threat, we may think it merely the self-defence response of a child. But in her culture, to throw a shoe at someone is a mark of deep disrespect. What Malala was really saying is that disrespect was not on her agenda. She wanted to have a conversation – to show respect for her attacker, rather than contempt and hatred. She continued, by saying:
“I do not even hate the Talib who shot me. Even if there is a gun in my hand and he stands in front of me, I would not shoot him. This is the compassion that I have learnt from Muhammad the Prophet of Mercy, Jesus Christ and Lord Buddha…. And this is the forgiveness that I have learnt from my mother and father.”
What makes her message so compelling is how her concept of compassion and forgiveness freed her in such a way that her real message to the world did not get lost in that graphic moment of violence. She continues to campaign for the rights of all children to be educated. And that is how we think of her today – as a campaigner, not as a victim.
As we struggle to understand the recent tragic shootings around the word and in our own cities, Malala’s insights into the power of forgiveness highlight a spiritual solution. It’s an approach to the aftermath of senseless violence that can bring those impacted and their families and communities a sense of peace and healing.
For survivors of violence, it can even improve their physical health. Research shows that holding on to hurt and anger or desiring revenge comes at a high cost to our health. The University of Michigan’s Institute for Social Research discovered that forgiveness in general “is positively associated with better health in terms of the heart, hormones, and immune systems,” and it eases depression.
This is not new knowledge, though. Spiritual leaders in all ages and religions have taught and lived the lesson of forgiveness and its benefits. Many of Christ Jesus’s physical healings occurred when his patients gained a better understanding of the forgiving love of God; and this freed them from a sense of guilt, anger or victimhood. He said, “You’re familiar with the old written law, ‘Love your friend,’ and its unwritten companion, ‘Hate your enemy.’ I’m challenging that. I’m telling you to love your enemies. Let them bring out the best in you, not the worst. When someone gives you a hard time, respond with the energies of prayer, for then you are working out of your true selves, your God-created selves.”
Spiritual love begins with ourselves – that is, feeling and accepting the love that comes from our divine source. Turning to that ever-present divine source of unconditional love, stills the swirling human emotions and enables us to feel loved, and therefore safe. It is from this place that we find it easier to love others as we are loved – it brings out the best in us.
Forgiveness is not weakness – it is real courage. Malala’s actions freed her to go forward and continue her vision of education for all, including for the family of her attacker. I believe it also contributed to her remarkable recovery.
We all deserve the freedom to move forward with our lives without regret or recrimination.
You can watch Malala’s 2013 address to the United Nations here –
This article was published in the Edmonton Journal HERE