Hard science can back up the religious tenet of forgiveness, even in the most extreme settings. “Forgiveness is not just a state of mind,” Jina Moore writes for Search magazine, “it’s a physiological reality. And, scientifically speaking, it’s good for us.” Researchers have found that grief, anger, and anxiety can all be mitigated through forgiveness, and can the act lead to better health for both the forgiver and the forgiven.
The benefits can be found even in a place like Rwanda, the site of one of the most horrific genocides in recent memory. There, forgiveness is more than religious, it’s also a matter of public policy. The country has set up outdoor confessional courts called gacacas, where perpetrators of genocide confess their crimes and ask for forgiveness. Rwanda’s President Paul Kagame recently touted the system in a blog on the Huffington Post.
The courts may grant forgiveness and leniency, but they are far from perfect, Philip Gourevitch reports for the New Yorker. Rwanda has become a beacon of security and prosperity in the region, but the calm that has settled over the country is an uneasy one. One survivor of the genocide criticized the reconciliation saying, “This is all theater. It doesn’t mean anything. A killer is a killer, and you have to abandon them…. They only asked pardon because of the gacaca. Why didn’t they ask for forgiveness before the gacaca?”
The President of Rwanda and supporters of the reconciliation are urging patience, saying that the gacacas are giving the country a basis on which they can build a better country. Gourevitch makes it clear that Rwanda has a long way to go before the reconciliation can be considered a success.
“Forgiveness and reconciliation are work,” writes Moore. The person forgiving needs to both empathize and decide—consciously or unconsciously—that the person asking for pardon is deserving of forgiveness. In fact, in terms of the health benefits , Moore writes the science shows “it is as important why you forgive as that you forgive at all.”