On Tuesday 23rd June, our fifth annual lecture was held at the Royal Geographical Society in London in front of 550 people. As Marina Cantacuzino, founder of The Forgiveness Project, reminded the audience in her introduction, our annual lecture provides an opportunity to explore the difficult, complex, slippery subject of forgiveness in depth.
This year the lecture was given by Karen Armstrong, who lent her perspectives on religion to the topic, ‘Forgiveness and Compassion: Is there a difference?’ As the visionary behind the Charter for Compassion, Karen was able to highlight the all-encompassing and practical nature of compassion as a ‘constant transcendence of selfishness’ that is necessary for us to create a viable world to hand to the next generation. In contrast, forgiveness is more specific and cannot be something that we demand of others. Both however require an abandonment of egotism, empathy for others, a sense of equality and an appreciation of the pain of the other.
The lecture was chaired by journalist, broadcaster and author Sarfraz Manzoor, who carefully brought together Karen’s lecture with the perspectives of our other two speakers – Yasmin Yar Mulbocus and Bjørn Magnus Jacobsen Ihler. Yasmin shared her story about her involvement with a radical Islamist organisation and her route out of it, powerfully quoting another former violent extremist, Arno Michaelis, who has said, ‘Hurt people hurt people’.
Bjørn told the audience about his experience on Utøya island during the 2011 shootings by Anders Breivik, and the importance for him to not dehumanise Breivik in the aftermath. Sarfraz then led discussion between all of the speakers, which highlighted the need to try to understand the motivations for people’s actions, and to recognise our own part in causing pain – we need a sense of our mutual humanity. Stimulated by some excellent questions from members of the audience, the discussion touched on various current and past events including the Charleston church shootings. Sarfraz asked about the limits of forgiveness, and how forgiving controversial figures such as Jihadi John can feel like something too extreme for many of us. As ever, it is clear that the work of The Forgiveness Project has vital contemporary relevance across the world.
At the end of the lecture, Marina introduced the audience to our new Executive Director, Tim Mungeam, who expressed his enthusiasm for The Forgiveness Project and its future. We look forward to Tim beginning work with us in September.