Sunday, March 17, 2013

The Flip Side of an Apology: Forgiveness

I had the pleasure of hearing Azim Khamisa deliver a Keynote address at the Orange County Mediation Conference yesterday.  His topic was "Forgiveness".  Mr. Khamisa lost his only son at the age of 20 to a random act of gun violence by a 14 year old gang member in San Diego.  Ironically, he had brought his son here to the U.S. to raise his family in the land of opportunity and security.  The pain, I'm sure, was unbearable.  What was most remarkable, though, is that within months, he met up with the perpetrator's grandfather (pictured at the left) and together they initiated a foundation dedicated to teaching youth in America about the risks and consequences--for both victim and perpetrator of a momentary act of violence.  Five years after Tariq's death, Khamisa met his murderer at Folsom Prison.  By that time, Tony was 19 and working towards his GED degree.  Mr. Khamisa looked deeply into the eyes of this young boy, still younger than his own son had been at the time of his death.  He thought he'd see a murderer.  Instead, he saw a tortured young man who expressed his regret and remorse.  He saw a young man who was paying for his crime in prison for his entire adolescence, and who did not see himself worthy of forgiveness.  Still, Azim forgave him his crime and offerred him a job with the Institute, teaching kids how to avoid violence and gang affiliation.  In fact, Khamisa is working on getting his sentence commuted so that he can put him to work.  That way, Khamisa believes Tony can begin paying his debt to humanity and forgiving himself now that the family of his victim has forgiven him. 
     In mediation, we often counsel clients to engage in apologies and explanations, but seldom get to the other half of the equation:  forgiveness.  Forgiving the other is only one part of that side of the equation:  the other is forgiving yourself. 
     Every member of the audience was emotionally moved by Azim's story...but when he went to the place of forgiving ourselves, the crowd of about 100 mediators was, in a word, breathless.  None of us will soon forget these wise words and Azim's message.   I wanted to attempt to capture them here.