Originally Posted on March 13, 2012 by Dr. Gail Feldman
How great are your powers of forgiveness? What would motivate you to make a deliberate decision to forgive the gang member who killed your son? Would the impulse to retribution outweigh any urge toward reconciliation? Would the pain of hatred and anger drive to seek its target? Could it be that the weight of feeling a victim might eventually birth a desire for freedom from the past? And might forgiveness be an integral part of that last stage of grief we call acceptance?
The man who was named Spiritual Hero of the Year last month by the United Centers for Spiritual Living met with me at the headquarters of his foundation in San Diego. Azim Khamisa’s twenty-year-old son was murdered by a fourteen-year-old gang member sixteen years ago. Since then, Azim has devoted his life to teaching forgiveness and nonviolence. Through his talks and foundation programs promoting the Safe School Model, he has reached over one million students. The presentations are all the more powerful because the grandfather and legal guardian of his son’s killer partners with Azim in this work. Through forgiveness, “we became brothers in grief- brothers in our determination to end the cycle of violence.” Azim also forgave Tony Hicks, the young man who gunned-down his son. Hicks has completed his GED in prison, is working on a degree in child psychology. He now looks to the day when he might be released and begin work with his grandfather and with Azim to save the lives of young people. Currently, 75 kids are shot each day in this country and 200 are arrested for violent crimes. As Azim says, “There are victims at each end of the gun.” From the research being done in the Stanford Forgiveness Projects,
http://www.learningtoforgive.com, it appears that there are a number of good reasons to practice forgiveness. Physically, there are significant reductions in perceived stress and physical symptoms of stress, such as cardiovascular problems and immune system performance. There are also reductions in depression and anger. People who forgive experience an increase in optimism, overall well-being and vitality. Finally, forgiveness may even be crucial for survival of the species. Studies with chimpanzees at Emory University’s Yerkes Primate Center demonstrate that “In a cooperative system, it is possible that your biggest rival is someone who you will need tomorrow.” http://www.cnn.com/HEALTH/9905/20/forgiveness/ What this research points to is that great strength of character is required to commit acts of forgiveness that enhance the lives of everyone in the community. Azim Khamisa is a living example of the power of the compassionate heart. Mahatma Gandhi’s words remind us that it is not the weak who forgive. “Forgiveness is an attribute of the strong.”