Actor, teacher, and dancer, Maria Broom has played many parts, from Marla Daniels in HBO’s acclaimed series The Wire to her real life work with the Fetzer Institute’s Campaign for Love & Forgiveness. She is captivating, ebullient, kind, and an amazing storyteller. She is currently a theater instructor at the Baltimore School for the Arts. Last year, Maria took her experience in the classroom and with the practice of forgiveness and wrote The Village Bully, a story poem illustrated by John Malloy. The book introduces the “'circle of love”’ practice, based on an African tradition of dealing with those who are doing something hurtful—without punishment, judgment, or shaming. Instead, those in the circle of love affirm the person’s innate goodness and help them to remember who they really are at their core.
Who taught you most about forgiveness?
Vasant Paranjpe a spiritual teacher from India whose guidance I have followed for more 35 years. He taught me mind training—to be aware of your feelings and thoughts, yet not be attached to them. If something or someone hurts you, you are aware of how you feel, but you don't wallow in it. It is that training that helps to keep sorrowful feelings from lingering too long.
My mother was also a beacon of goodness. I grew up witnessing daily a woman who was giving and full of Light. She didn't hold grudges or speak negatively about anyone or anything, ever.
What role does forgiveness play in your life?
For some reason, the practice of forgiveness seems to be central in my life. I teach it constantly in every single class I offer to children, teens, and adults. It's always a part of the guided meditation that begins each class. And it has turned out to be a key point in the children's book I have written, The Village Bully. I believe forgiveness to be a tool that helps create a great deal of healing.
The most memorable thing that has occurred to me about forgiveness was years ago when I saw a documentary about young African soldiers who violated and brutalized women from their village. I kept thinking, how could I ever forgive these brothers.
One day I woke up and this thought came...SUPPOSE THE ONLY WAY THESE MEN WILL STOP HURTING THESE WOMEN IS IF YOU FORGIVE THEM.
From that moment on whenever I “teach” forgiveness to teens and adults, we first forgive ourselves, then we forgive whomever has hurt or harmed us personally and then we surround those around the world who are causing harm and damage with forgiveness so they will stop what they are doing.
What is your greatest obstacle to forgiveness? How do you overcome it?
The greatest obstacle to forgiveness for me seems to be... lingering too long on the bad feelings connected to whatever or whoever hurt me.
You just published The Village Bully, a children’s book about forgiveness. What prompted you to write the book?
A decade ago, when I read about an African tribe who dealt with people who caused hurt or damage without using punishment, shaming or judgment, it resonated so deeply. I wondered how a society that was so steeped in punishment, and even revenge, could possibly embrace such a highly evolved practice. I thought, if we start with very young children, stimulating their innate sense of compassion and forgiveness, we could grow a whole generation of young folks accustomed to creating circles of love and positivity. The best place to start this practice would be in a classroom as well as at home. That's the intention of this book.
In addition to the Circle of Love practice you share in The Village Bully, what suggestions do you have for helping children understand and practice forgiveness?
I think it would be wonderful if we found delightful ways to resurrect and constantly remind children of the Golden Rule. We don't hear about it much now and it may seem old fashioned, but I think we need T-shirts and cartoon characters and children's songs promoting a palatable ear-catching way of saying "Do unto others as you would have them do unto you."
Is there anything else you’d like to share?
I have tremendous faith in children and young people! It seems that all they need is a few pointers in the 'evolved' direction to remind them, affirm them, and reassure them that the way they are—innately loving and forgiving—is the best way to be and that we need them to constantly show us and remind us adults of that point.