Sometimes I feel like it is utterly pointless to talk about forgiveness and kindness. Not only because of the paradigm of anger and animus that we find ourselves drowning in, but also because of my own inability to get my heart to understand what my mind knows to be true. When someone harms us, enmity is a reflexive response; it seems only natural to be pissed off when someone pains us so. Yet my own journeys over the years have shown me that there is nothing as futile as returning fire with fire and repaying injustice with acrimony.
For years I used to dismiss the wisdom of elders who used to tell me that forbearance was a better way forward. I thought turning the other cheek was a sign of weakness that invites yet more mistreatment. Using the rhetoric of self-defense as a way of justifying petulance, most of my adult life was spent wreaking rhetorical infernos on anyone who came at me with a matchstick. In the age of social media, the need to sear and burn anyone who utters the slightest disrespect at us is the new norm. Everyone thus claims that they are being trolled yet no one claims the title of being a troll. It’s always someone else’s fault and we are always the aggrieved party. This paradigm of claiming victimization is turning our society into a morass of endless conflicts. For every one person that extends grace, there are a thousand who declare warfare.
I had a conversation yesterday with pastor Lewis Brightheart. I asked him how to forgive those who go out of their way to be petty and vindictive. I told him about my continual prayer to one day genuinely pray for people who seem to get enjoyment by trying to break others. This is one of my biggest weaknesses, my mind knows that people who do this—those who get enjoyment by tormenting others and elevating themselves by debasing others—are only doing so because they are hurt themselves. People really do one of two things when they are spiritually fractured, they lash out and try to injure others or they lash in and hurt themselves. The right thing to do in both cases is to be kind to those who are spiteful for they are only doing what they do because hopelessness has robbed them of happiness and purpose.
But what I know to be true, that people only hurt because they are hurting too, runs head on into my own brokenness. My natural inclination is to make people smile and to make sure others are having a good time. But this inclination is instantly abrogated when I am met with the slightest of belligerence. When I perceive others are trying to diminish me or trying to shine at my expense, whatever jovial nature I have is withdrawn and I lead instead with vengeance. You know that saying “how did that work out for you?”. Seeking retribution and trying to always get the last word has not been very good to me, to put it mildly. In many ways, my need to pay back hatred with animus is what landed me on a two year journey of repentance that was not of my own choosing.
Distracted by reflecting on this this travel of mine, pastor Lightheart told me a story that brought me right back to the present moment. He told me a Native American folklore of a son who was asking his father about life and the way to pursue happiness. The father turned to his son and told him:
“We all have two wolves inside us, there is the wolf of goodness and kindness and there is a wolf of evil and wickedness. The people we become and the lives we will beget depends on which wolf we choose to feed”.
This story made the most profound impact on me. We can’t control and account for the endless variables in this long journey called life. Live long enough and all of us will be visited with one injustice or another; none of us can escape the slings and arrows of injuries that others will imbue in our hearts. Agony is an invariable aspect of life, we can’t mitigate pain nor can we guarantee those who we love won’t pass it on to us. Yet, no matter how cruel of a hand we are dealt, the one thing we can control is how we react to injustice. Happiness in this way becomes a choice; we can choose to feed the wolf of vengeance and that wolf will in time devour us. Or we can choose to nourish the wolf of kindness within us and in time that wolf will liberate us. I am writing this as much for myself as I am for the reader, if I do not find a way to forgive those who hurt me, seething indignation will be my lifetime sentence.
The only way forward is kindness. The other way of animosity and revenge is bankrupt and will lead to nothing but emptiness. The easy road is to respond with emotion and to pay back hate with yet more hatefulness. Trust me when I tell you this, easy paths will lead to nothing but the dead end of loneliness and sorrow. The harder path—but the one that bears fruit—is to be kind to even those who are unkind to you. I have a long way to get there for my first reaction is still to return fire; two years of seeing the utter uselessness of this option has yet to loosen my heart of this conniption. But someone very close to me said to me last evening “we can say one day or we can see today as day one”. Day one starts with me deciding to feed the wolf of kindness and pray in time that the wolf of love will drive out the wolf that still wants to seek revenge. #WolfWeFeed
“The weak can never forgive. Forgiveness is the attribute of the strong.” ~ Mahatma Gandhi
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Check out the Ghion Cast below where I discuss the duality of life and how we go by going through darkness in order to reach the light of love within us.
Originally from Ethiopia with roots to Atse Tewodros II, Lij Teodrose is a former community organizer whose writing was incorporated into Barack Obama's South Carolina primary victory speech in 2008. He pivoted away from politics and decided to stand for collective justice after experiencing the reality of the forgotten masses. His writing defies conventional wisdom and challenges readers to look outside the constraints of labels and ideologies that serve to splinter the people. Lij Teodrose uses his pen to give a voice to the voiceless and to speak truth to power.