A few weeks ago, someone asked me what I was deeply passionate about and why. I have been asked that question – or some form of it – before in job interviews, radio shows and small talks here and there. I have even asked myself that question when writing my admissions essays in grad school or during spiritual discernment and meditation.
But this time it was different for me: What is it that moves my work, grounds my mind and elevates my soul, really?
The most difficult word for me to say has been the “F” word, as in Forgiveness. Yet, once I forgave, it was, single-handedly then as it is today, the compass that has guided my work and the rationale for all love I pour into it.
My academic and professional journeys converge at the intersection of forgiveness and its role in community development and nation-building. That is my passion; what moves my intellectual curiosity and nurtures my soul, and it is the spirit bringing me to you share this reflection today.
Resilience – the North Star driving my doctoral dissertation on entrepreneurship while at Penn – transformed my trauma, but my search for meaning related to the life-altering experiences I survived, been a victim of and/or witnessed has enable me to transcend it once I learned to forgive.
A portion of my learning to forgive came from a spiritual, multi-faith perspective. I wondered, why did these things happen to me and how can I be a source of good in our world because of them? My answer came by a thousand-fold. I channeled my inner Franciscan and clung onto St. Francis’ Peace Prayer, which I have embraced as my mantra for understanding how I could be an instrument of change in our world. St. Francis’ story with the Sultan was an anchor with African Muslims at the onset of my professional career working with refugees (1997-2001) and later on it once again carried me during my academic journey conducting field research in Liberia. In addition, as an undergraduate student at Villanova I took a course on Islamic Political Thought and one of Islam’s pillars – dhikr – challenged me to remember my traumatic memories as I reconciled with what may be the will of God for me in light of the life-altering experiences I lived through – seeking to remember God as I prayed with my Roman Catholic rosary beads in hand.
That level of discernment took me to the world of community development to understand what forgiveness may look like when we do not know or have answers, but bow our heads as leaders at a decision-making table when in positions of power. I broke bread with and on behalf of undocumented immigrants, trafficked women, child soldiers, teen parents, women transitioning back into the workforce, low-financial wealth communities of color and veterans – among many others. Along the continuum of my forgiveness spectrum, I have been called to translate abstract concepts into operational needs. In doing so, I have been able to address and put forward solutions to challenges individuals and communities face thus building a more humane and non-violent society.
Forgiveness has ignited my intellectual curiosity to build a lexicon of terms by which I could peg my traumatic memories woven within the fabric of my human experience. Forgiveness has anchored my spirituality in that I humbly look at the extraordinary in the everydayness of life. Forgiveness has nurtured my conviction to listen and stand still – sometimes the hardest first step to take – so I could then thoughtfully run at full throttle toward where I am needed. Forgiveness is at the core of my work in trauma-informed management consulting through asking “What’s happened” here, rather than “What’s wrong” here.
It is my intention that through my work I can continue to be of service to the process of building peace, understanding reconciliation, human rights and transformative justice, and to facilitate a wider, global dialogue.
As to the question about why I am deeply passionate about forgiveness? I could not look at myself in the mirror and live with its alternative. Oh, and, yes; saying the other “F” word out loud at a few crosswords in my life has helped with my forgiveness, too.