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By by Tom Shroder
Sunday, March 22, 2009

One thing I love about this town is that you can run across a handbill for something titled "Conflict Resolution: A Spiritual Approach," and when you decide to go, despite the suspicion that you and the speakers will share some dim, empty room the size of a walk-in closet, you discover:

1) The lecture is housed in the posh offices of the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace on Massachusetts Avenue NW, and the meeting room is appointed with plush chairs, glass vistas of downtown and bronze statuary.

2) The double room, big enough to hold at least 100 people, is packed.

I really was tagging along with my wife, who had heard about the lecture through her church. So it only dawned on me slowly, as the first speaker began to talk, how perfectly appropriate the subject was to contributor Karen Houppert's remarkable story about Bernard Williams, which begins on Page 8. One of the speakers was Ronald Moten, who co-founded an organization called Peaceaholics. Moten, who works with the District's youth to defuse the entrenched violence of the inner city, introduced Maurice Benton, the victim of a senseless act of retaliation in a feud between two neighborhoods. Benton's only offense was being from the wrong one. Three years ago, when he was 18, he was lured to a party, set up by a false friend, and then shot down. He lost all but two inches of his intestines, nearly died twice on the operating table, then miraculously recovered. After multiple surgeries, he is again able to lead an almost normal life.

But the surgical repairs were only part of what healed him. At first, he said, rage filled him with a desire for revenge. But through his work with Peaceaholics, he came to understand that the rage itself could be as destructive to his insides as those bullets. And the only way to stop the internal damage was to let go of the rage and forgive those who had shot him. "It was hard," he said. "But I did it."

And that made the difference, between carrying the pain with him, expanding it, spreading it -- and salvation.

You don't have to get caught up in inner-city violence to need the skill of forgiveness, Moten points out. "The revenge cycle happens all the time," he says. "Between Democrats and Republicans, in nonprofits, among people who are supposed to be role models."

The power of forgiving isn't his idea, of course. "It's all religions," he said. It was the foundation of the Rev. Martin Luther King Jr.'s message, and Gandhi's before him. In the New Testament, when Jesus is put on the cross, he sure doesn't say, "Father, make them regret this."

Tom Shroder can be reached at shrodert@washpost.com.


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