I read recently about a beautiful example of forgiveness for a wrong that happened 50 years before.
Elwin Wilson had been a white supremacist, and one of the mob who, in 1961, severely beat up Freedom Riders demonstrating for integration and African Americans’ civil rights.
Over time, Mr Wison came to feel great remorse about what he had done. When he learned that Congressman John Lewis was one of the young men he hurt, he apologized to him in a private meeting and publicly on TV, an apology that Congressman Lewis, deeply moved, accepted completely. He said that of all the men involved, Mr. Wilson was the first and only one to apologize, and spoke of him with deep respect.
It can be challenging to ask for forgiveness or to forgive someone, but these two men offer inspiration for what is possible.
What were the elements of this amazing transformation?
1. Be open to a changed attitude. Elwin Wilson was open to changing his thinking and beliefs about the rightness of his actions. “My daddy always said, ‘Only a fool doesn’t change,’ ” Wilson said.
2. Be willing to take responsibility for your actions. He said that what he had done weighed heavily on his heart. He was willing to take responsibility and make amends.
3. Put down the burden of hate. John Lewis, was willing to let go of any resentment or ill will, quoting Martin Luther King, who said, “Hate is too big a burden to bear.”
4. Accept the apology. John Lewis was open to seeing Mr. Wilson’s transformation and accepting his apology as sincere.
Elwin Wilson died earlier this month. Because of his willingness to change his thinking, and to take action to apologize, he, along with John Lewis, will be remembered as an inspiring example of how we can transform and forgive where there was hatred and misunderstanding.