"Forgive 70 times 7" was a phrase I often heard in my house -- forgiveness has been preached over my head since I was a small child. If your sibling hits you, forgive them. If a kid steals your favorite toy and apologizes, you must forgive them. Forgiveness was not just a requirement or an expectation, it might as well have been a law. Yet, no one ever stopped to question it-- was forgiveness always the best answer. Is forgiveness always, no matter the circumstances, the right thing to do?"21Then Peter came to Jesus and asked, “Lord, how many times shall I forgive my brother who sins against me? Up to seven times?” 22 Jesus answered, “I tell you, not just seven times, but seventy-seven times!" Matthew 18:22
But, what if forgiveness isn't always the answer?
The world constantly asks us to forgive: forgive the ones that hurt us, forgive the ones that violate us, forgive the one's who betrays us. However, what if always forgiving and forgetting is a part of the problem.We seek to forgive those who betrayed us, but when we review history-- forgiveness and forgetting, has never brought any real systematic change. It's never created any form of balance.Yes, forgiving seems like the right thing to do, wiping the slate clean and starting over seems like a justifiable action, but it is not always. It simply give avenue to hold on to unhealthy bounds and repeat the same mistakes-- over and over again. Sometimes, we are so focused on doing the right thing that we lose focus on what the right thing truly is.
For example, on what was probably a very cold day in Montgomery Alabama, there was a fair skin woman that was tired-- her feet ached maybe, she had spent a long day at work maybe, she needed rest most likely. Whatever the case may be, she decided to have a seat on her section of the bus-- the section marked colored. When a man, the bus driver, demanded her seat-- now, she could have obeyed, forgiven the man, forgotten what he did that was so horrible-- and moved on with her life. She could have turned the other cheek-- but she didn't. Instead, she refused-- maybe she had thought of ever white man that had ever did her wrong in that moment-- and instead of forgiving and forgetting-- she decided to fight and be remembered.
But, it didn't end there she was arrested-- and even when she was hauled off to jail-- she could have prayed in that cell and asked for forgiveness. She could have asked God to help her forgive the bus driver, and the man who wanted her seat, and the jailers who closed the bars on her-- but no, she did not. Instead, she chose to remember everything that had been done to her, and to find all those who had also been wronged, and create a lawsuit, Browder V. Gayle-- however, not only did she sue the bus drivers-- she helped the NAACP and Martin Luther King Jr. create one of the largest bus boycotts in the Nation.
Rosa Parks became a symbol of a resistance against the status quo, she became a part of a movement, and she has been etched in our memories and history books for a lifetime. Her lack of forgiveness created change that continues to date in the way minorities are treated in this country. However, if she had been docile, complacent and forgiving-- not only would the incident have been forgotten-- but that moment would be nothing but an empty or clean slate. Her forgiveness would not have stood the test of time, it would not have been a ripple in a pool that spreads for decades-- it would simply been a momentary gesture that in the big picture meant nothing.
But let's fast forward to current events: an Asian doctor was forcibly removed from Southwest Airlines in a video that surfaced online. Millions of people saw his blooded face, his complacent body as he was dragged off by security guards for no fault of his own. He was simply on an overbooked passage, allegedly on his way to tend to sick patients, and he too refused to give up his seat. In some ways that draws similarities to Rosa Parks, he was brutalized and forcibly removed.
However, he did not offer forgiveness, instead he fought his way back to his seat where he was ravaged again as he told the security guard to "just kill me." He was willing to stand and die for his human rights.
However, the story doesn't end there, as the news spread like wild fire-- flitting from cellphone to computer screen, from one social media platform to another-- the millions of viewers weren't looking to forgive and forget. When United Airlines issued an apology-- they didn't respond with "thank you for your apology. We forgive you." No, people instead responded with outrage. In fact, Asian Comedian Joe Wong, took this as an opportunity to remind us of every act of discrimination and grievance that has occurred to Chinese and Asians on American soil. He called for a boycott, which has turned this incident into a public relations nightmare for United Airlines. It's creating a ripple affect and change that is not even fully understood in this moment. Yet, forgiveness did not cause this change-- it could not. Forgetting could not cause this change. The only thing to create justice is to remember and to take action. If we simply turn the other cheek, if we simply allow these incidents to keep occurring seventy times seventy, if we sit passively by-- when will it ever change? Sometimes, maybe just sometimes, we need to remember, we need to fight, we need act on the wrong that has been done, we need to correct.
Maybe, the friend that wronged you-- shouldn't have forgiveness, maybe you shouldn't just sweep things under the carpet and forget about. Maybe, instead, you should take action by cutting the relationship permanently. Maybe, you shouldn't go back to him-- or forgive that one hit or that one slap. remember, firmly the hand implanted on your face, and take action by walking out the door. Don't forgive him and don't look back. Maybe, the man that touched you-- needs to be acted on. He should be reported, he should be charged, he should be behind a jail where he belongs. Maybe the guy that forced you to do things against your will-- shouldn't be forgiven-- maybe you should call him a rapist, remember how he sexually assaulted you-- don't sweep it under the rug-- but take action and call the police. Maybe, he shouldn't be forgive, but he should be charged. Maybe, you should go through with the lawsuit.
Just think about the lives that are changed, and the laws that have been enacted-- simply because someone choose a different path than just forgiving and forgetting.
Now, I don't say that to mean that we have to attack every situation that lands at our feet, but this is simply a challenge to access each situation a little differently. This is simply a challenge to delve a little deeper, to ask a little more questions.
What if forgiveness is not enough? What if forgiveness is not the answer? What if forgetting is not the right thing to do? What if for once-- just once-- we need to hold on to the injustice tightly, to remember and to make a stand. Remember, in the words of George Santayana: “Those who cannot remember the past are condemned to repeat it.”
Dawnell Jacobs is the author of The Shade of Devotion, Brains Not Included, Black Magic, and The Monsters of Within: Heart of Darkness. She has also published a self-help book Your Story Matters: Leaning How To Be The Author of Your Destiny. You can find all of her books on Amazon, Kindle, Nook, and Barnes And Noble. She is also a motivational speaker to young audiences. She uses her personal journey to inspire hope and change. All pictures and entries in this blog are subject to copyright laws. ©Dawnell Jacobs 2018.
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