The beauty of forgiveness is that it releases us from patterns where we are caught. It releases us from being a victim and being caught in situations we do not like. Forgiveness changes our perception. When we see situations differently, things actually are different for us. Basically, all healing has to do with changing our perception and seeing things in a new light. Forgiveness allows us to live in a way that raises us above the situation, thus the situation changes.
Acknowledgement for What Purpose?
Some Aboriginal people and their advocates who see the past (specifically, the actions of the British colonisers and past governments) as the cause of their problems today, believe these past events must be acknowledged. They claim that until today’s non-Aboriginal people acknowledge the past, a brighter future for Aboriginal people is unlikely to be achieved. These advocates have not been clear on how such acknowledgement by non-Aboriginal people today (who had no connection whatsoever with colonisation) will resolve the problems facing Aboriginal people. Nor do they give a response to the fact that so many Aboriginal people today are not suffering from the past and indeed are flourishing, despite lack of such acknowledgement.
The idea that an acknowledgement by non-Aboriginal people is needed in order for Aboriginal people to feel good and engage in society and attain the standard of living most other Australians take for granted essentially implies that the happiness and well-being of Aboriginal people today is under the direct control of non-Aboriginal people. Clearly this is disempowering for Aboriginal people, as well as false. This is not to say that an official acknowledgement is inappropriate, but only that it is not necessary to enable Aboriginal people to move forward, succeed, and thrive.
In 2008, then Australian Prime Minister Kevin Rudd gave an apology to the Aboriginal people for the past practice of forced removals of children from families. Many people felt that this apology given to Aboriginal people was sincere and much needed. But I believe a vitally important action on the part of Aboriginal people is also called for. Specifically, the action of forgiveness is required.
We cannot change the past, but we can forgive those from the past who we believe have wronged us either personally, or collectively as a race. Forgiveness is very often an emotive topic, but it is in fact necessary for those who see themselves as victims of the past but wish to move forward. While many have in effect forgiven and moved on with their lives, there are still many who have not offered forgiveness. Offering forgiveness is far more empowering than receiving an apology – and far more difficult. The beauty of forgiveness is that it brings healing, even if an apology is not given, thereby empowering the one forgiving.
Forgiveness is not something that can be easily taught, so I make no attempt here. But I will offer some advice from Aboriginal (Yuin) Elder, Uncle Max Harrison in his book My People’s Dreaming. Quoting from his book: “Forgiveness is for your healing. It’s your self-healing, it’s got nothing to do with the person that has probably done wrong.” In other words, we forgive for our benefit, not for the benefit of those we believe have wronged us. In a similar manner, Black American Mason Weaver in his book appropriately titled It’s Okay to Leave the Plantation has stated: “Instead of waiting for the apology, try forgiving. Instead of demanding that the master’s descendants recognize the harm, try releasing the legacy, by forgiveness.”
On a final note, for those who insist that non-Aboriginal Australians must offer some apology or acknowledge this country’s history, not are only are disempowering Aboriginal people, but you are also promoting resentment. Many non-Aboriginal Australians are growing tired of being that they must acknowledge the sins of their ancestors. To make someone feel that they must acknowledge something or say sorry is an attempt to make them feel guilty. I believe that our attempts to make others feel guilty are always an attempt to alleviate our own hidden guilt. If you want to make some acknowledgement of something or say sorry to someone, then fine, do it. But don’t insist that others do it. Allow them to do it because they want to do it.