By James Roswell Quinn
In Support of Project Forgive
In 1981, I attended a
talk in Evanston, Illinois, I will never forget. The speaker, A Course In
Miracles teacher, was famous for his
"forgiveness" messages, so most of the people in attendance had a pretty
good idea of what he was going to be talking about. It promised to
be an inspirational evening to people quite open to his concepts.
This was not a hostile crowd.
I discovered in an impromptu survey of several people around me, I was
probably the only person in the audience that hadn't read any of his
books. I decided to remedy this situation, and went to the lobby and
bought one. I thought that perhaps I would be able to get it
The speaker came out to a rousing ovation, and spoke for over an hour
on the power of love and forgiveness. He would tell a story which
evoked tears from us, then had us laughing a few minutes later. He
spoke beautifully and effortlessly. Everyone was having a marvelous
Then he said something that I would never have
said in a public talk. "You have to forgive your enemies," he began, "and
you have to forgive family members who've hurt you." So far, so good.
"You have to forgive strangers
who've stepped on your toes, or even accosted you," he continued to even
more applause. "You must forgive yourself for the people you've hurt."
"Forgiveness is the key to peace and happiness." He was on a roll and
we responded with continued applause and cheering ... until he said ...
"In fact, the Jews will never
be free until they forgive Hitler."
Our celebration of good feelings hit a wall and there was an abrupt
silence. You could actually hear a collective gasp of disbelief at what
had just been spoken, followed by an "explosion" of vehemence the likes of
which I have never witnessed.
Almost as he spoke the words, "In fact, the Jews will never be free until
they forgive Hitler," a tiny woman in the third or fourth row, stood up and
started screaming at him. Her tirade was a mixture of profanity, insults and
tears which was quite difficult to decipher. However, what I did understand
sent a chill down my spine.
This lady was a survivor of the Dachau concentration camp. It was clear she
had a hate for the Nazi's which would not tolerate any attempt to diminish
her resentment and loathing.
She lived in nearby Skokie, where many survivors of concentration camps
settled after World War II. I imagine there were several holocaust survivors
in the audience... and perhaps many of their children. This was not the
place to say, "In fact, the Jews will never be free until they forgive
For several minutes she spat her hate at the speaker, and then literally
collapsed of exhaustion into the arms of the people sitting next to her. She
was totally spent.
I had been watching the speaker during her attack. Never have I seen a man
so naked before. He just stood there and took it. You could see the depth of
compassion on his face. I watched him struggle to find something, anything,
to say to her. Of course, there was nothing he could say to relieve her
However, he knew this woman really did need to forgive for her own sake.
But, any response on his part such as "Hating the Nazi's is killing you," or
"Forgiveness is divine," would sound like a cheap platitude and he knew it.
His mind appeared to be running a mile a minute. He could not find the
words. His talk was destroyed and he had nowhere to go, so he simply stood
there looking compassionately at the woman as she tried to regain her
Then I heard someone crying. The only noise in this theatre of stunned
listeners started to attract attention.
I turned to see a young man standing and weeping uncontrollably. Finally, he
spoke but it was difficult to understand his words, because of his crying
... and his thick German accent. But if I live to be a thousand, I hope I
never forget what he said that evening.
"Ma’am," he began "nobody has a right to hate more than you do. I can't
imagine the horrors that you've lived through. I can't imagine anybody
treating another human in the ways you were treated."
"What makes it worse for me, however, is you are literally speaking of my
parents and grandparents. It shames me as a German. Nobody has a right to
hate more than you do," he said kindly and with compassion.
"But," and he pointed at the speaker and continued quite firmly, "you must
listen to this man. I have been having the holocaust shoved down my throat
since I was a child. I have been made to feel guilty and responsible. It has
made me angry because I was not alive when these atrocities occurred."
"I am not alone," he continued. "Thousands, perhaps millions of young
Germans are getting fed up with being judged for acts that were committed by
others and if it keeps up, they will react. You did not deserve to be
treated the way you were treated, and we have not deserved to be made guilty
for it. Keep on hating ... Hitler would approve."
The speaker visibly sighed with relief, as the young German made his way
through the crowd. When he reached the woman, they embraced. I watched as
people reached in and hugged the people who were hugging the people who were
hugging the two of them.
I would have given anything to have been a part of that hug, but I was too
far away. However, the speaker was being ignored. So I was able to go up on
the stage, give him a hug, and have him sign my copy of his book.
Finally, he got everyone to take their seats and spoke some beautiful words
in an attempt to bring closure to what we had all witnessed. However, I knew
it was the words of this young man that we would all remember.
I have repeated this story many times.
Hate begets hate. Just perhaps, hating the haters is not the answer. Or, as
comic-pianist, Tom Lehrer once said ...
"I know there are people in this world who do not love their fellow human
beings, and I hate people like that."
About The Author...
James Roswell Quinn was born in Seattle, Washington in 1950. He graduated
from The University of Southern California in 1972.
A dynamic and powerful speaker, Quinn is deeply committed to finding and
sharing methods for people to increase their effectiveness by identifying
and overcoming limitations resulting from Control-Based leadership and
Fear-Based reactions. He describes the process as one of creating
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