But when we're adults and we're hurt by others - sometimes badly - the mark of true maturity is to try to discover what motivates people, try to mentally go inside them to understand them. Try to feel some empathy or compassion for them, or at least acknowledge their humanity. Why? Because we're not perfect, either. We stand on equal ground with everyone else in this world. We too are sinners who deliberately say and do things that hurt others. Or we mistakenly hurt others out of our own ignorance, carelessness, and failings. And we would hope that those whom we hurt will try to search for our motivations and try to understand us.
Bishop Desmond Tutu says "My humanity is bound up in yours because we can only be human together."
Understanding another's motivations, mind-set, and/or circumstances doesn't mean that we excuse what he or she has done. Understanding another to some extent can help us let go of anger because we suddenly see that person as exactly that - another multi-faceted human being with a face, instead of a faceless enemy against whom we can easily seek revenge. A human being motivated by insecurity, jealousy, hatred, or mental illness perhaps, whom we may or may not ever be able to reconcile with, but whom we can acknowledge as a knowable person, even as we move toward them or perhaps move away from them to avoid further abuse.
Practicing the spiritual discipline of understanding more than we're understood is exactly that: an ongoing, daily discipline. The more honestly we seek to understand our own loud or sneaky or careless ways of hurting others, the more honestly we will delve into others' psyches to try to understand them. I can seethe inside at someone's careless or superficial remark to me in the afternoon - and then remember the careless, hurtful remark I flung at my husband this morning. I hadn't really meant anything by it, but I saw the look of hurt on his face. Perhaps that relative or friend who was so superficially hurtful to me also didn't mean it. I know how the remark directed at me hurt. So now I understand how my remark to my husband hurt him. And I humbly ask him for forgiveness. In good marriages, this can happen over and over again - the pain of hurting each other, the stinging truth of honest repentance for hurt, the healing balm of mutual forgiveness.
Desmond Tutu, black South African social rights activist and retired Anglican Bishop, had a deep understanding of forgiveness and reconciliation because he was in the forefront in the non-violent battle against apartheid in South Africa in the 1980's. Utilizing stingingly truthful speeches against racism and racist policies, peaceful demonstrations, economic tactics, and rallying world-wide opinion against the racist divisions in his home country, Tutu worked tirelessly for years until apartheid collapsed. Then he campaigned just as tirelessly for blacks and whites to understand each other, forgive each other, and move into a new political future side by side.
Tutu says wisely "Forgiving is not forgetting, it's actively remembering - remembering and not using your right to hit back. It's a second chance for a new beginning. And the remembering part is particularly important. Especially if you don't want to repeat what happened."
"Without forgiveness," he says elsewhere, "there is no future." No future for a country, a family, or an individual torn apart by outer or inner strife.
"Forgiveness," says British dramatist, spiritual writer, and philanthropist Hannah More,"is the economy of the heart....Forgiveness saves the expense of anger, the cost of hatred, the waste of spirits." We may never hear an apology. But the choice is to "forgive or relive." To move on or to stay emotionally rooted in a dark, lifeless place.
Calling upon God for help can free us from the dark, lifeless place of unforgiveness - because God has forgiven us our sins: "He delivered us from the power of darkness and transferred us to the Kingdom of His Beloved Son, in whom we have redemption, the forgiveness of sins." (Colossians 1:13 & 14."
For this gracious mercy of God, we give continual thanks, because God brings us day by day into fuller and fuller maturity, making us "fit to share in the inheritance of the holy ones of light." (Colossians 1:12.)