Leadership, Love and Forgiveness: A Perfect Fit

“The love of a single heart can make a world of difference.”
--Immaculée Ilibagiza, Rwandan genocide survivor in Left to Tell

This sentiment resonates with us here at the Fetzer Institute, especially in a governance project initiated by our partners at George Mason University. Led by the Love and Forgiveness Team at the School for Conflict Analysis and Resolution at GMU, the project celebrates individuals whose leadership is informed by love and forgiveness. They can be governmental officials or anyone who has the ability to affect a wide population.

Nominations are being taken at http://www.beyondintractability.org/lfg/exemplar-nomination and the project site already includes several compelling stories.

In Rwanda, Immaculée Ilibagiza narrowly survived the mid-1990s genocide in her country, losing her entire family in the process. Yet when she was taken to the prison cell of her family’s killer, she forgave him.

Other stories aren’t yet on the Beyond Intractability site, but might be. In Uganda, Angelina Atyam and other parents made the shared decision to forgive the Kony Revolutionary Army and abandon thoughts of revenge despite crimes committed against their children. Atyam’s daughter was abducted and raped by the revolutionaries. She says letting go of that anger and resentment was her community’s only path to healing.

Sometimes the use of forgiveness comes in the form of an apology. In 2008, Canada took the unprecedented step of issuing a formal apology for poor conditions, abuse and cultural insensitivity at state-run schools housing aboriginal children. While it doesn’t change the sad facts of history, it does create a new basis for relations and work between the Canadian government and First Nations leadership.

In Indonesia, the resource-rich coastal area of Aceh had been torn by civil strife for a quarter century before a devastating tsunami struck in late 2004. Recognizing the need for a peaceful, united local culture as a vital part of rebuilding efforts, leaders forgave offenses and bannings of opposition leaders and agreed to a more generous share of natural gas royalties for the area.

“We said, ‘Why not use another approach’,” recalled Indonesian President Susilio Bambang Yudhoyono. “An approach of love and care, of heart and mind, and finally forgiveness.”

The approach helped in the recovery from the flooding and is a step toward healing a fractured society.

We wholeheartedly support the work of these leaders and hope the GMU program turns up many more stories from which we can learn and be inspired.