This rather personal post departs somewhat from my usual fare – and replaces my usual Monday Musings, for a reason that will become obvious at the end.
Last week I saw the film The Railway Man. For those of you who haven’t seen or heard of it, it is about Eric Lomax, a British soldier who was fearfully tortured when he was a POW on the Burma Railway. Many years later he met and befriended the Japanese interpreter involved in his torture. I admit that I haven’t read his 1995 autobiography (also called The railway man), upon which the film is based, but in the film he says (and, in interviews, his second wife has quoted him as saying):
Sometimes, the hating has to stop.
I so admire this – this ability to stop hating and to forgive instead – just as I admired Izzeldin Abuelaish’s I shall not hate (2010), which I reviewed a couple of years ago. Abuelaish is the Palestinian who lost three daughters and a niece in an Israeli bomb attack on his home in Gaza. I quoted him in my review:
I believe in co-existence, not endless cycles of revenge and retribution. And possibly the hidden truth about Gaza can only sink in when it is conveyed by someone who does not hate.
Nelson Mandela would of course agree. In his autobiography, The long walk to freedom (1995), he wrote
No one is born hating another person because of the colour of his skin, his background, or his religion. People must learn to hate, and if they can learn to hate, they can be taught to love, for love comes more naturally to the human heart than its opposite.
There are many others – writers, philosophers, “ordinary” people who have suffered extraordinary things and, of course, Gandhi – who have spoken similarly, but I’ll end with the person I always name when I’m asked to name my “hero”. It’s Martin Luther King Jr – and today, Monday 20 January, is a federal public holiday in the USA dedicated to his memory, Martin Luther King Jr Day. One of the many things he said on the subject of hatred is:
Returning violence for violence multiplies violence, adding deeper darkness to a night already devoid of stars. Darkness cannot drive out darkness; only light can do that. Hate cannot drive out hate; only love can do that.*
“Civilisation and violence”, he said in his Nobel Prize acceptance speech, “are antithetical concepts”.
None of these people, from what I’ve read, came to their positions easily. It was hard work but, as Gandhi said, “the weak can never forgive. Forgiveness is the attribute of the strong”. I readily admit that I have never been tested in the way the people I’ve quoted here have been – but I hope that if ever I were, I would rise to their challenge, that I would turn hatred into love, or at least forgive rather than strive for vengeance!
If you are interested in the subject of forgiveness, particularly in reading about people who are its embodiment, you might like to check out The Forgiveness Project.
* This quote abounds on the web, but I took some time to track down its source. I eventually found the following: From “‘Where Do We Go From Here?’ as published in Where Do We Go from Here : Chaos or Community? (1967), p. 62; many statements in this book, or slight variants of them, were also part of his address ‘Where Do We Go From Here?’ … A common variant appearing at least as early as 1968 has ‘Returning violence for violence multiplies violence…’ An early version of the speech as published in A Martin Luther King Treasury (1964), p. 173, has : ‘Returning hate for hate multiplies hate…'”