There were two specific instances that caught my attention. One, when the rugby team which comprises almost only whites, except for one Native African is expected to sing the newly formed South African national anthem, which is not in Afrikaans - their usual language. And the second was when Matt Damon, the rugby team's skipper (or cappie as he's called) visits Mandela's cell in Robben Island and is appalled at the tiny living enclosure. Both these instances struck me for their ideas on forgiveness.
The Native Africans had been severely oppressed by Apartheid. And then after the struggle, they were suddenly to be treated as equals. They had been severely wronged, and in no less words, deserved an apology in kind, forever. A simple beginning was just the whites relinquishing their old Afrikaans anthem and embracing the new anthem that combined stanzas in Xhosa, Zulu, Sesotho, Afrikaans and English. This many found tough to do, but interestingly, in the movie, which is supposedly based on real life events, the rugby team doesn't just mouth the words, they sing along in the World Cup! And this in effect gave the whites a chance to be the 'bigger person'. Why? Because they needed to swallow their pride, realize their folly and take steps to make amends.
Now consider the second event - Mandela was locked up in a tiny cell on Robben Island for 27 years. Matt Damon's character remarks on the evening before the final match, that he was pensive not about the match but about how one person, who was locked up in such a tiny cell, could come out and forgive those that put him there. Here, we see another aspect of forgiveness. When a person is wronged, by another and the other person comes to apologize, the wronged person has two options. One - make a big deal out of it, and make the wrong-doer feel even more small. Or graciously accept the apology, forgive and move on. And as it turns out, the latter option actually is more deserving of respect!
So in a way, in any situation, both people have a chance to prove character. The wrongdoer can step up and show that she is ready to accept her follies and apologize and make amends. A wronged person can be the 'bigger person' by simply forgiving and letting go, by proving to the transgressor that she values the relationship more than any small incident. The tradeoff though is giving up on those few seconds of garnering importance from the wrongdoer and having the wrongdoer desperately seek you out, give you importance and try to make amends. At the end of the day, it is up to each person to decide what to do. It is a tough choice to make, but the choice has to be made!
And this need not be the case only in huge communal or racial tiffs. Take a simple story - One person (Anna) has hurt another (Beth) through some action or word. The aftermath has 2 options - One, Anna comes up and of her own apologizes, or two, Beth confronts her on the same. In the latter case, it is very easy to analyze the psychological underpinnings, and say that Anna acted the way she did because of whatever reason and so, the onus is on her to ensure that the relationship is repaired. In fact, Beth would come and confront Anna with the case, if and only if she felt that their relationship was strong enough to warrant a confrontation. Usually in very strong relationships, a confrontation does indeed happen wherein Beth tells Anna why she is hurt and Anna then has to make it up.
Now take case 1, which is a bit more complex. It depends here on how much one values the other. Maybe Anna values the relationship a lot and so wants to put to rest any possible cogitations that may be bothering Beth. So she goes ahead and clears the situation. Now Beth has two options again. One, she can be the bigger person and make Anna feel comfortable, and let the issue go. Or two, Beth can perhaps act up, and make a big issue out of the whole thing, and prove her ascendancy over Anna, and make her feel small and abashed.
Now, my take is, that Anna shows character by stepping up and clearing up the situation, and Beth shows more character by letting the issue go, but not after sufficient communication. The time when Beth acts up and tries to put down Anna, is where the whole situation gets a bit dicey, since it looks like an attempt to prove an already proven point and trying to push an already pushed down person further into the earth. And this many-a-time, doesn't help Beth's image in Anna's eyes. Perhaps Anna expects a good friend to want to make her comfortable, despite the transgression and expects some 'bigger person' behavior from Beth.
So everywhere, everyone has a choice to prove character. It is up to the person always whether she wants to accept the opportunity or let it go in favor of 15 seconds of fame!