The Role of Forgiveness in Advocacy Work

Two guide dog users and one cane user walk down a sidewalk, a large state Congress building is in the distance.

The Role of Forgiveness in Advocacy Work

By Daniel Hodges

As advocates, we find ourselves in the service of those who have been disadvantaged, harmed, or otherwise left behind. Regardless of whether these injuries arise from circumstance or human error, they are vividly painful to witness. With so much injustice in the world, the temptation to disdain those whom we perceive as perpetuating such harm is quite understandable. However, for the reasons I outline below, I believe we do a disservice to ourselves and others by indulging this tendency.

Like so many others with disabilities, I have endured numerous hardships over the years that were entirely unnecessary. My mind is full of painful memories that refuse to fade with time. Even now, I am constantly reminded of my perilous place within society. Nevertheless, I believe that these experiences can be refined into clean-burning fuel for my advocacy work. These trials may wound me, but I refuse to let them break my spirit.

I recall a talk that I recently heard in church on the topic of forgiveness. In her remarks, the speaker covered the spiritual and psychological benefits of allowing this practice into our lives. This was not a call for us to lower our standards or allow people to walk all over us. Rather, she spoke of recognizing our right to be angry, yet surrendering that right for the sake of our own well-being.

With that in mind, I return to some questions that I've been churning in my mind for some time now. Perhaps you have pondered similar queries:

  • Does anger provide us the clarity of thought we need in order to envision achievable solutions?
  • Will rancorous debate lead to mutual understanding and collaboration?
  • Does impugning the character of those with whom we disagree lead to sustainable empathy?
  • Are these feelings, however justifiable, helping me be the best advocate I can possibly be?

Personally, I would answer each of the preceding questions in the negative. Meeting people where they are sounds great in theory, but it often involves extending an uncomfortable measure of grace. Likewise, prioritizing results over revenge feels counterintuitive at times. However, the true cause of justice is to bring equity to those who have been marginalized. If we must set aside convenience and expedience for the sake of efficacy, so be it.

Please don't mistake these thoughts as a means of justifying weakness. In fact, I would argue that the opposite is true. Victory requires us to find strength in the most difficult of spaces, rather than fleeing from them. When our response is measured, respectful, and kind, it draws out the best in others. Upon that foundation, real change can occur.

Forgiveness is one ingredient in the cocktail that allows us to lead with such mental toughness and clarity. Accordingly, it is a source of immense power. May we all strive to reach a little further toward this goal—not because any of us deserve it, but because it works.