Welcome to another Five Things I’ve Learned review. Today I have a read which was both highly engaging and deeply thought-provoking, and as it consists of a collection of personal stories I am going to submit it for the Non-fiction Reading Challenge hosted by The Introverted Reader, in which I have chosen to participate. Hence the comfortable chair.
I received a copy of The Forgiveness Project: Stories for a Vengeful Age by Marina Cantacuzino (and others) from the publishers via Netgalley, and I am very glad to have done so because it’s been a while since I’ve read a book that lays out its concept so simply, but with such depth of thought behind it. Allow me to elaborate.
In 2004 in London, Marina Cantacuzino opened a photographic exhibition called “The F Word”. Featuring pictures of victims of all sorts of crime and trauma alongside their perpetrators, the exhibition drew both congratulations and controversy, so loaded is our diverse sense of the act of forgiving. In this book, Cantacuzino has collected personal narratives from those who have chosen to forgive, rather than seek vengeance. Featuring people from all nations, and victims and perpetrators of everything from street crime, to incest to terrorism and genocide, this book is striking in its breadth, as well as in the depth to which the process of forgiveness has changed the lives of those whose stories are collected here.
So here are Five Things I’ve Learned from
The Forgiveness Project
1. Forgiveness does not have to have a spiritual connotation.
2. For many people, forgiveness is a process, rather than a final destination.
3. It appears that its possibly to forgive even the most heinous and unimaginable of crimes, given the right context.
4. To forgive is to invite judgement.
5. The power of art and narrative, simply expressed, is undeniable.
I admit that I was a little afraid when I picked this book up that it would be replete with graphic and disturbing recollections of terrible events, with a bit of a focus on why forgiving is a good thing. Happily, this collection is nothing of the sort and, in my opinion, much the better for it.
The book begins with a comprehensive, yet very readable, introduction from the author, explaining the original photographic exhibition and the response it garnered, both positive and negative. While many were pleased and moved by the imagery and stories on offer in the exhibition, others were angered about everything from the stories featured to the title of the exhibition connoting forgiveness with a swear word. This introduction sets the tone beautifully for the real essence of the book. It is not meant to be a prescriptive, everyone-should-forgive-and-this-is-how-you-do-it sort of guide, but an in-depth exploration of the concept of forgiveness: what it is, how it works and the different ways in which individuals have used the concept to achieve a desired end in their lives.
The great strength of the collection, I think, is the variety of stories and individuals featured and the myriad ways that they have engaged with the concept of forgiveness. For some, forgiveness arrived as a creative way to take their identity or personal power back from their perpetrator. Others undertook forgiveness as a conscious choice to release their right to revenge, or as a means to break a cycle of violence. Some of the narrators have a background featuring a spiritual understanding of forgiveness, while others are more pragmatic about the concept and still others wish not to label their actions as “forgiveness” for reasons personal to their story.
Many of the narrators note how loaded the concept is and mention the backlash they received after seeking to forgive. This backlash could come from many corners – from fellow survivors, who consider forgiveness as trivialising or excusing the event or behaviour; from family or friends, who could not understand how one could forgive certain heinous crimes; from non-forgivers, who feel judged because of the magnanimity of those who do forgive.
Overall, I found this to be an incredibly important reading experience in what does seem to be a “vengeful age”, as well as a litigious one. I would recommend this book to anyone with an interest in peaceful responses to violence and injustice, or indeed anyone who is simply looking for some incredibly gripping and inspirational personal narratives from around the world, presented in simple, bite-sized chunks.
I realise it’s only March, but I feel pretty safe in saying that this is one of my “Top Picks of 2015”, were I to engage in such list-making.
Progress toward Non-Fiction Reading Challenge Goal: 3/10
Until next time,