OPINION: Forgiveness brings strength

Peter Stanford, a writer and broadcaster. He chaired the trustees of the national disability charity Aspire and now sits on various trustee boards

Forgiveness is, some argue, the distinguishing Christian virtue. "Father, forgive them for they know not what they do," Jesus said from the cross.

It is perhaps a sign of how far British society has travelled from its Christian roots that so many now instinctively reject out of hand any idea of forgiveness. Blessed instead is he who takes revenge. You only have to look at our overcrowded prisons to realise how many citizens are hell-bent on society extracting a pound of flesh and more.

It is almost as if we have forgotten how to forgive. Or how healing it can be for us and for our society if we do. In the third sector, I suspect, most of us understand the importance of forgiveness in the many facets of work that we undertake, but we preach and practise against the prevailing culture. Sometimes people need a wake-up call if they are to grasp what we are going on about. In which case a photographic exhibition, starting in January at the Oxo Tower in London, may be just the ticket. 'The F Word: Images of Forgiveness' by Brian Moody tells the stories of lives that have been shattered and where the victims have subsequently learned to forgive.

I spoke to two of those featured - Camilla Carr and Jon James. In 1997, they were kidnapped in Chechnya where they were working with a children's charity. Both were held for 14 months. Both were traumatised. Camilla was repeatedly raped. "My own philosophy," the remarkable Camilla says, "is that no-one is all bad. In the centre of everyone is the flame of love. In some - because of the circumstances of their lives - it can be almost obliterated, but when I talked to the man who assaulted me and knew where he came from, it helped me to forgive him. I had to. It was the major key to healing."

Camilla and Jon's story is just one of the tales in this exhibition.

There are plans that it will lead on to a wider project to rekindle a sense of forgiveness in us all. I wish it every success. As we approach a new year, it is one development that I am convinced will make our world a better place.

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