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If You Want to Convict Someone, Forgive Them

03/18/2014 03:42 pm ET | Updated May 18, 2014

"Let me tell you something that makes me sad," Emmanuel Bamporiki said. "I am the man who killed your children. Can you forgive me?"

Beata Mukangarambe collapsed to the ground.

A few days later Emmanuel came to her again, asking whether she had forgiven him yet. "Do you think you deserve to be forgiven?" Beata asked him. "Or do you deserve to die?"

So begins a haunting yet moving recent documentary, Beyond Right & Wrong. It is a film about each of us.

Although the film shows how people around the world have dealt with heartbreak and suffering, it ultimately is about each of us because it illustrates how a moment-by-moment choice determines how we deal with our own mistreatments and frustrations.

Let me illustrate with a story of my own.

Years ago, when my son was in his early teens, I came down hard on him for something he had done. I remember this experience because he ran away. Which made me furious! I had recently bought him a phone, so I stalked out to the backyard and dialed him. No answer. I dialed again. Nothing. How dare he not answer me! I fumed. The ingratitude! The utter lack of respect!

Finally, after probably thirty tries, my son picked up. I could hear the tears through the phone. "Where are you?" I barked. "I don't want to tell you," he whispered. "You better!" I threatened.

I know, a model father.

When I finally broke him enough that he told me where he was, his answer cut me to the core. "I'm at the church," he said.

Click. The phone went dead.

I stood under the nighttime sky in silence, my phone still to my ear despite there being no one there -- a statue of stupidity.

My idiocy had sprung from a single, foundational mistake: my failure to recognize that my son was every bit as much a human being as I was.

When we see others as people, we see their hopes, needs and fears, and this willingness to see and understand informs everything we do with them. When we see others as objects, on the other hand, we give ourselves license to treat them inhumanely. In order to feel justified, we don't allow ourselves to consider the positive in them.

One of the things illustrated by Beyond Right & Wrong is that mistreatment usually is perpetrated by those who see others as objects. A second point, not quite so obvious, is that mistreatment by a perpetrator provokes the victim to see the perpetrator, too, as an object. Who could blame Beata, for example, for seeing the man who murdered her children as an object -- as a kind of animal, in fact? No one.

What this misses, however, is the ongoing cost of this to the victim. Another person in the film, when speaking of the anger he carried toward a man who had devastated his family, said, "I was carrying him all over. My mind was full of him. He was in prison, but I was his prisoner."

As one who is sometimes the father I have described, it is illuminating to see how people have escaped from the grip of anguish and despair. Their stories bring clarity to mine.

"It was a gradual process," Beata said, of her interactions with Emmanuel after he was released from prison. As the film closes, we hear her words as she is walking away: "I have forgiven you," she says. "I will never be angered by you again."

To which, one might say, "How could she let him off the hook like that?" But the stories in the film tell a different tale: Sometimes we mistakenly believe that carrying venom toward others keeps them on the hook for what they have done to us. The reality, however, is that our venom is what lets people off the hook. It gives them reason to blame us for our behavior rather than to take responsibility for their own.

In the meantime, we ingest our own poison.

My son answered my call and my question when I had given him good reason to do neither. His goodness toward me is what finally allowed me to question my own goodness.

By seeing me as a person, he convicted me.

This post is part of a series produced by The Huffington Post and Beyond Right & Wrong in conjunction with the Beyond Right & Wrong One Million Viewer campaign, an effort to garner one million unique online views for Beyond Right & Wrong and, thanks to generous donations from Operation Kids Foundation and Share the Mic, support charities at the same time. Find out more about [the Beyond Right & Wrong One Million Viewer campaign here. Read all posts in the series here.