The Power of Forgiveness to Find Peace: 9/11 Survivors

After I submitted my last post – on forgiveness, I had another flash of insight, that I will share it with you first before switching to the current post. Our minds tend to apply what we believe, to all that we know and experience. If you do not believe in forgiveness, you have just painted yourself into a corner. The reason for this is that when you make mistakes your unconscious mind will make choices that tend to punish you (unconscious self-sabotage). You will continue to punish yourself until you let yourself off the hook. This is what forgiveness does; it lets you off the hook. When we do not forgive others, we are unable to forgive ourselves because we are judging ourselves. If you cannot forgive yourself, you will unconsciously continue to punish yourself, and no one can punish you to the degree that you punish yourself. If you can learn to forgive others, you can learn to forgive yourself. It is easier to let others off the hook first, because we often question whether we deserve forgiveness.

As we approach the 10th anniversary of 9/11, I thought it would be helpful to consider some cases where forgiveness created healing. Phyllis Rodriguez’s son was killed in the World Trade Center attacks on September 11, 2001. Aicha el-Wafi’s son, Zacarias Moussaoui, was convicted of a role in those 9/11 attacks. He is serving a life sentence. Phyllis Rodriguez noted that while both mothers had lost sons, she was treated with sympathy and Aicha el-Wafi was treated with hostility. These two moms have come to understand and respect one another. They have since appeared together throughout Europe and the US. Their friendship demonstrates the power of dialogue and forgiveness.

To see the TED video you can go to:
After 9/11 some of the survivors who lost loved ones decided they wanted justice not vengeance. They understood that a war on terror was not an answer to our problems, so they refused to have their country retaliate in their love ones name. Instead, they chose to pursue peace in the name of those they had lost. They realized that responding to the violence with more violence would just create more of the same. They sought to find nonviolent solutions to our conflicts instead. Many people were surprised that these people did not want vengeance when they certainly entitled to it. The September Eleventh Families for Peaceful Tomorrows is just one of many organizations formed after 9/11 to express that our shared humanity is more important than our need for vengeance. You can go to this website to see the many stories. People have come to understand that retaliation, which has happened countless times before, has never made things better. There is certainly enough information and stories to make this entire post about 9/11 and forgiveness, but I have added one other story that demonstrates how forgiveness can be important to healing.

My previous post shows how using Restorative Justice can help us escape from the ongoing cycle of crime, punishment and victimization we seem to be caught up in. In the documentary, “Concrete, Steel and Paint,” healing takes place over time between prisoners in a maximum-security prison outside Philadelphia, and the victims of various crimes. Some of the inmates have been incarcerated for homicide while the victims are men and women that have been damaged by the murder of a loved one, sexual assault, or some other deep violation.

Jane Golden, director of the Mural Arts Program helps the inmates connect with the victims in ways that allows both sides to process their pain, anger and mistrust. Golden had spoken about her mural work to the prison’s art class. Afterwards, many of the inmates wrote to her expressing the desire to create a mural that could be given to the city. They wanted to make a contribution, leaving something besides the crime they committed behind. The connection between these two sides did not happen overnight. After a year of back-and-forth dialogue between inmates and victims, Jane Golden presented the inmates idea for a mural design to the group of victims. The victims group was very upset because the mural only represented the inmates, not the victims. Golden was afraid that she had only succeeded in opening up old wounds, but then wounds must be opened in order for the poison and pain to come out, and the wounds to heal. The victim’s group was unsure of the remorse of the inmates, but Restorative Justice gave the victims something they had never had before, a voice.

Eventually two murals were painted, one to represent the inmates and one to represent the victims. Restorative Justice allowed the humanity in both sides to rise to the surface as they moved through this process.

You can see the murals at:
After it loads, click on: browse murals
Then click on: healing walls
Explore Mural window pops up. You can click on the right and left arrows at the top of that window to move between the two murals

Robert Koehler wrote an article on the Healing Walls where he says, what “Concrete, Steel and Paint” demonstrates is that the human urge to connect is stronger than anger, stronger than hatred, stronger than fear.
© 2011 Dan Amato

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6 Responses to The Power of Forgiveness to Find Peace: 9/11 Survivors

  1. Susan Callaway says:

    A beautiful illustration of how the beautiful lotus can arise from the pond muck…the potential for transformation is always there. Hope. Thanks.

    • Dan Amato says:

      Thanks Susan! I agree the potential for transformation is always there, unfortunately so much stays potential because it is easier to hang onto our pain than face it.

      • Asif says:

        Two people insatntly come to mind when I think forgiveness My husband and my step-dad. All through high school, my step-dad (who has now admitted to this, since finding Christ) did everything in his power to make my life harder. I was already struggling with depression and self-esteem issues because I had just started to really make friends when they decided to get married. We had to move to the other side of the country. I had an even harder time making friends in California. I didn’t agree with a lot of things my peers were doing, I was extremely shy and just packed on another shell to hide my true self when we moved, and on top of that, my step-dad refused to ever let me leave the house without the rest of the family. He has changed a lot, but in some ways he hasn’t. I still have some problems with him, although I’ve learned better, more mature ways to deal with these problems. I’ve forgiven him for a lot but I am definitely still a long way from the end of that journey. As for my husband, we have just had a LOT f ups and extreme downs. With both people I listed, there was a lot of emotional/psychological abuse as well as small amounts of physical abuse. That is something that I have always been afraid of and felt I would never be able to forgive someone for. I CAN’T forgive someone for it. However, I have given it to God and he can cleanse that from our lives and our minds. Things are not fully resolved, but we are working to eliminate these things and to forgive and leave the past in the past.

        • Dan Amato says:

          I’m sorry for all you have been through. You need to give yourself credit for being strong enough to get through it. It is important to remember that forgiveness takes courage, and that when you get down to it, forgiving them is the way to free you from having to carry them around with you emotionally for the rest of your life. Take care of yourself!

  2. Saba says:

    Wow. So beautiful how you tied forgiveness, peace and “justice”. Very moving and touching.

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