An Eastern story tells of a rigid and authoritarian king who wanted everyone to call him “Luminous and Noble Divinity.” He liked the name, and wanted it.
One day he discovered that there was one old man who refused to call him by that name. The king had the man brought before him and asked him why.
“Not out of rebellion or lack of respect, but simply because I do not see you that way,” said the old man. “It would not be sincere.”
For his sincerity he paid a high price. The king had him locked in an awful prison for a year, then brought the man before him once again. “Have you changed your mind?”
“I am sorry, but I still do not see you that way.” Another year of prison in the darkest cell, and only bread and water; he lost more weight, but did not change his mind. The king was angry, yet also curious.
He decided to set him free and to follow him in secret.
The old man returned to his poor fisherman’s shack, where he was welcomed with great joy by his wife.
The two talked while the king listened in hiding. The woman was furious with the king for taking her husband away for two years and treating him so cruelly.
But the old man was of a different mind. “He is not as bad as you think,” he said.
“After all, he is a good king: He has looked after the poor, built roads and hospitals, made just laws.” The king was highly impressed by the words of this old man who bore him no grudge -on the contrary, he could find his virtues. The king felt a deep wave of bitter remorse.
Weeping, he came out of his hiding place and stood before the man and his wife. “I owe you a great apology. Despite what I have done, you still do not hate me.”
The old man was surprised and said, “What I said was true, 0 Luminous and Noble Divinity. You are a good king.”
The king was astonished. “You called me Luminous and Noble Divinity. . .why?”
“Because you were able to ask forgiveness.”
Do we need to explain why the capacity to forgive is inherent in kindness? Maybe it is obvious, but let us say it anyway. We cannot be kind while we carry the weight of our resentments.
Nor while we remain too rigid to ask forgiveness. Nor if our emotions are colored by guilt or vindictiveness.
We can be kind only if the past no longer dominates us.