Review of Left to Tell: What is Forgiveness?

Left to Tell, by Immaculee Ilibagiza, kept me reading well into the night. It’s the fascinating true story of a young woman who managed to survive the Rwanda genocide, by hiding for three months in a tiny bathroom with seven other women. She credits her survival to her faith in God. In the end she forgives the soldiers who wanted to kill her, as well as those who killed her parents and two of her brothers. She encourages people everywhere to forgive their enemies and not live with hate.

I agree with the writer completely about forgiveness. Your enemy wins twice if, first, he hurts you, and second, you spend the rest of your life dwelling on it. I interpret the meaning of forgiveness in Left to Tell to mean a personal forgiveness, in the sense that you pity your enemy for his hate-filled soul and encourage his hate to be replaced with love. But it also recognizes that evil exists and must be stopped.

Therefore, it must be a SMART forgiveness. Governments need to maintain safeguards to prevent the horror from happening again. To be effective, the safeguards must include soldiers, police and prisons for those who cannot stop hating. To simply say, I forgive, and leave it at that, will allow the hate to grow again. History has shown this to be true. For example, Russia recently enforced a brutal takeover of Ukraine, and hovers menacingly near other European countries on its borders. Without safeguards such as NATO and the European Union, the wars that crippled the Western world in the twentieth century could start all over again.

To put safeguards in place does not preclude forgiveness, although the two may seem mutually exclusive. One can forgive, and promote love instead of hate through educational programs and public discussion, and at the same time erect precautions to protect society from evil. By preventing the excesses of human greed that ultimately result in war and its accompanying atrocities, those who would otherwise follow evil may instead be forced to channel their darker side in better ways. For example, if leaders fear punishment for killing their opponents, they may focus their energies on implementing policies that win voters by benefiting their communities and improving the economy in positive ways.

The ultimate goal is to not have to forgive at all, through the creation of checks and balances that prevent hatred and violence from taking over in the first place.


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