Peace is hard. It takes serious work for a person to achieve a state that is quiet, tranquil and free from disturbance (inner peace). Far more daunting is what is needed to create a peaceful society that is stable, safe and free from war or violence. It is no wonder that many consider the achievement of peace to be an impossible task.
Forgiveness, by comparison, is easy. Well, perhaps not easy, but certainly easier than negotiating a peace treaty, leading a stable community of millions or clearing your own mental and physical space. Forgiveness is a unique human capacity, like empathy and compassion. And because forgiveness is both intentional and voluntary, we have complete control over it.
So here's some good news: Forgiveness is one of the most important foundations for peace. When those who have been wronged forgive, and when those who have done wrong ask for forgiveness, the possibility for peace is born.
Can we bring about peace through a more thoughtful consideration of forgiveness? I think we can.
Nelson Mandela, one of my personal heroes and one of the most expansive thinkers of our lifetime, said "Courageous people do not fear forgiving, for the sake of peace." Such powerful words, and these were words he lived by. When Mandela was finally given his freedom and the chance to lead his people, he knew that forgiveness would be the anchor of everything he achieved. "As I walked out the door toward the gate that would lead to my freedom, I knew that if I didn't leave my bitterness and hatred behind, I'd still be in prison." What an incredible statement.
Rwanda provides another compelling example of the power of forgiveness to sow the seeds of peace. Following a civil war that resulted in one of the most concentrated and brutal genocides in human history, the country embraced an approach to deliberately facilitate forgiveness across ethnic lines. This is widely credited with allowing the country to heal, to move forward, and to realize unimaginable progress. This forgiveness has not come easily, but the commitment of leaders and citizens to its principles has been the undisputed pathway to a better future.
I became a Special Envoy for the United Nations after two decades of philanthropy. During my early philanthropic years, I focused mostly on rebuilding my birthplace of Newark, New Jersey, and on creating a national movement for mentoring young people. After the horror of September 11, I became increasingly interested in understanding the root causes of war and hatred, and I turned to the UN to see how I might support its efforts. I knew the UN is a complex, huge and challenging institution. But it is also the world's most important organization, one that is anchored in the belief that only when nations and people work together can we solve the world's biggest problems and foster peace. I was all-in.
The UN was formed in 1946 out of the ashes of World War II, and with the vision of being a Temple of Peace. Today, the UN includes 193 member nations, whose leaders and staffs work together, day in and day out, and despite innumerable differences, to make a better world and to achieve peace. It is an honor to be affiliated with the work of the UN, and despite the challenges, bureaucracy and unavoidable failures, it is simply inconceivable to imagine our world without the United Nations and all it does.
In 2001, the United Nations designated Sept. 21 as the International Day of Peace. Each year, millions of people and organizations across the globe participate in activities intended to foster peace. This year, the 70th Anniversary of the UN's founding, we know that our world is far from peaceful. So I find myself thinking about what we can do to foster peace.
- What if the Chief of the Ferguson police was able to ask forgiveness of the family of Michael Brown?
- What if the Pope could ask forgiveness for the sexual abuse perpetrated by priests over many years?
- What if leaders in Israel and Palestine could see that if the parents of children lost to the conflict can forgive, they can too?
Each of these acts of forgiveness is possible, and each would surely create change and improve the possibility of peace. So why not make it happen?
More important are these questions: What can you do to create peace in your world? Who can you forgive today? What grudge can you let go of before the sun sets? Who might you ask to forgive you for something you did or said that you know was hurtful? It's incredible what happens when one person embraces forgiveness. Can you make this year's International Day of Peace your day to forgive?
To get you started, take a look at the "Forgive for Peace" video, and catch the spirit. Make your own forgiveness video or image. Share your message on social media. And be part of a movement that holds the possibility to change the world.
As Desmond Tutu said, "Without forgiveness, there is no future."
This post is part of a series produced by The Huffington Post and "Forgive for Peace," in conjunction with the UN's International Day of Peace (Sept. 21, annually). The International Day of Peace is devoted to strengthening the ideals for peace, both within and among all nations and peoples. Forgiveness is the first step on the path toward Peace and therefore the Forgive for Peace Campaign was established. It also marks an annual day of non-violence and calls for a laying down of arms to bring about a 24-hour cease fire on September 21st. To learn more about Forgive for Peace, visit here.