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Rep. Jesse Jackson Jr. Headshot

The Power of Forgiveness and Reconciliation: Illinois Needs a Big Hug

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When one thinks about the bitter political feuds in recent years - Blagojevich vs. Madigan; Madigan vs. Jones; Jackson vs. Daley or Rush or Halvorson; the Tribune/Sun-Times vs. Stroger - one can't help but think Illinois is in need of reconciliation.

But with all of our feuding, we have much to be grateful for as Illinois has given our country, and the world, a great gift in Barack and Michelle Obama.

I'm no impractical idealist. In fact, I'm a practical realist. Therefore, I believe in forgiveness, reconciliation, and the redemptive power of loving one's enemy.

Perhaps nothing is more difficult than loving one's enemy. Yet, no life task may be more rewarding or transcendent.

True forgiveness is a compassion often reserved for victims, for the oppressed. Sure, anyone can forgive, but not all can be forgiven. It is one of life's great moments when the victim of some great wrong reaches out to the victimizer first. After all, unless you've been terribly wronged, you may lack the desire, capacity or passion for true forgiveness, which is necessary for salvaging a relationship and a prerequisite for determining why a relationship went awry in the first place.

Some leaders in history - Alexander, Caesar, Bonaparte - created great empires. They were built on force, but eventually crumbled and burned.

Other leaders - Christ, Gandhi, King - built great empires, too. But theirs were based on love, respect, and the power of forgiveness. These empires endured.

The most powerful story of forgiveness and reconciliation is found in Scripture. Humiliated, beaten, and crucified, Jesus hung dying on the cross when he admonished: "Father, forgive them; for they know not what they do."

Similar acts can occur in politics.

When Abraham Lincoln ran for president, his arch-enemy Edwin Stanton absolutely hated him. Stanton used every public stage to vilify and degrade everything Lincoln. But after taking office, Lincoln selected Stanton as his Secretary of War. "I am aware of the terrible things he has said about me," Abe said. "But after looking over the nation, I find he is the best man for the job."

The two became close allies during that horrific period. When Lincoln died of an assassin's bullet, it was Stanton who called Lincoln "one of the greatest men who ever lived" and famously said: "Now he belongs to the ages."

It was Lincoln himself who once said that one way to destroy an enemy is to turn him into an ally.

Those were the thoughts racing through my mind as I spoke to Illinois Democrats in Denver last week. I had just read a sermon on forgiveness by Martin Luther King Jr. and listened to stirring and redemptive remarks from Congressman Bobby Rush.

The delegation - my audience - included virtually every prominent Democrat in Illinois. Yet as everyone knows, the Illinois delegation is a dysfunctional family seemingly incapable of finding common ground for the public good.

Just beneath our pride for Barack is deep-seated division, competition, animus and even hatred. That must stop.

After all, Hillary and Barack had fought ferociously for two years. But they came together for the good of their constituents, their party, their country. Barack even considered Hillary as a potential vice president.

Barack's message throughout his campaign, and indeed his career, is simple: Bring all parties to the table; reconcile the differences; deliver the public what it needs and deserves.

Any successful political agenda is bigger than one person, or one party. It must be an agenda of, for and by the people.

As I spoke, I was also reminded of the day my father visited former U.S. Senator Hubert Humphrey during his final days. Reverend asked Humphrey what it was that life had taught him.

Without hesitation, Humphrey responded, "Jesse, we've got to forgive each other, redeem each other, and move on."

Illinois Democrats - myself included - have feuded for years. But our state can no longer afford such distractions.

My party, our party, your party, must stop fighting, and must start forgiving, redeeming and moving on.

Michael Jackson said it best: "I am starting with the man in the mirror, I am asking him to change his ways and no message could have been any clearer. If you want to make the world a better place, take a look at yourself and make that change."

So, when you see Mr. Blagojevich, Mr. Madigan, Mr. Daley, or someone who you have wronged, or most importantly someone who has wronged you, instead of shying away or seeking retribution, look them in the eye, hug them, and say, "Let's start again."