Archive for April, 2012
Dayton, Ohio. Sherrie Lackings plans to travel to Texas prior to the execution of the man who murdered her son in 2002. Her primary reason is to offer the man forgiveness before he is executed. The meeting is being set up by the victim/offender mediation dialogue program of the Texas Department of Criminal Justice.
It was a crime so horrific that it would challenge the limits of any mother’s forgiveness.
On Halloween 2002, Marcus Druery lured 20-year-old Skyyler Browne to a party at his family ranch in rural Brazos County, near College Station, Texas. Without warning Druery shot him point-blank in the head, throat and back, then poured gasoline on his body and set it on fire. Druery paid two stunned witnesses–his then-girlfriend, Joquisha Pitts, and a younger friend, Marcus Harris–$40 each to keep mum. Druery dumped the body in a stock pond on his family’s property.
The past 10 years for Sherrie Lackings, Browne’s mother, have been a journey from shock and overwhelming grief to healing and forgiveness. It is a journey that will culminate when the Lackings travel to Texas for Druery’s execution, slated for Aug. 1.
“It’s the last thing I can do for Skyyler,” Sherrie said. Yet the couple’s journey is less about justice and more about the healing power of forgiveness and their Christian faith. In an unusual gesture, they hope to meet with Druery before his execution to offer him their forgiveness. Full report here.
When others are unfair to us, we respond in part with emotional pain. After all, we do not expect others to treat us with disrespect or to withdraw love from us. When this happens, it hurts.
An important question, then, is this: What do we do with all of this pain? If we are not careful, we could too easily toss that pain onto others or conclude that we ourselves are not worth too much if we have this much pain. Good people, we might falsely reason, are pain free and since I am filled with pain, therefore I am not a very good person.
The meaning of suffering in the above two scenarios is quite negative. What does it mean to suffer? It means that I will be mean to others and to myself.
Yet, there is a better way if we shift our focus. With some effort, we may grow into seeing that our suffering is an opportunity. It is that opportunity to not let the pain and suffering defeat us, but instead to become motivated to reach for a higher good. Our pain can be a motivator to give back good where we received unfairness. That good can extend not only to the one who caused our pain but also to anyone else now who needs a little good to come their way. We can learn to be a conduit of good to others as we become more sensitive to their pain precisely because of the pain that we now carry. Because of our pain, and now our motivation to leave good in the world, someone else may be a little less pained, suffer a little less because we now desire for them a better way than we have had.
Suffering, put into service to others, gives meaning to the suffering. It gives meaning to life. As others benefit from this, the paradox is that we ourselves find that our suffering is reduced.
Forgiving others is one such path of taking our pain and putting it into service to others, particularly those who have created the suffering in us.
It is the beginning of the baseball season, a time when no team is yet in last place. Hope springs eternal even for the futile. That is what makes early April so special as the baseball fan is allowed to have great expectations no matter which team is his or her favorite.
I read a recent blog in which one fan took great pains to explain which of the Chicago Cubs players he is forgiving for losing the 2003 National League Championship Series to the Florida Marlins. This exercise is occurring 9 years after the loss. He listed 5 players and gave detailed explanations of their underachievement as rationale for his forgiveness.
His forgiveness leads to three questions: Can we forgive athletes for losing? What if they were underperforming, which then led to losing? What if there were good intentions and yet they lost? Can this still be a moral wrong?
Let us take each question in turn. First, can we forgive players for losing? The question presupposes that certain behaviors are so reprehensible that they are deemed unjust regardless of intentions or other circumstances. And there are such behaviors: enslaving another person is an example. Yet, this cannot be the case for a sports loss because the game is set up deliberately so that one team loses. It is part of the game to which all agree, players, fans, everyone. The act of losing, therefore, is not unjust by itself.
Then, to our second question. Is underperformance unjust? Yes, we can think of certain instances in which underperformance is immoral. A mother who underperforms in feeding her infant, depriving the baby of much-needed nutrition, would seem to be behaving unjustly. Yet, our question centers on athletic performance, not on a failure to give crucial nutrients to an infant. In the context of athletics, underperformance by itself would not seem to constitute an affront—a disappointment, yes, but not an actual offense. There is no wrong, for example, in trying and underperforming in a sporting event. Thus, we cannot judge underperformance by itself without factoring in effort or intentions.
The third question centers on intentions. Can one forgive someone who has good intentions and fails? Yes, I suppose we can think of examples, such as a car driver who is not paying attention to the road, intends to drive well but fails, and runs into another car. The consequences of not paying attention are so great that good intentions here are not sufficient to exonerate the driver. Again, however, the example has taken us away from athletics. Surely, all of the Cubs were trying. This was not the Black Sox Scandal of 1919. The only consequence was losing. The outcome of losing, as we have already seen, is not an immoral act.
The act of losing in sports is not unjust and therefore is not a forgivable offense.
Underperformance by itself is not unjust in the context of sports. This is so if the athlete is trying.
Trying and failing is not unjust because the consequence, losing, is not unjust.
There is nothing to forgive here. The Cubs players did nothing wrong.
It seems that tolerance is gaining ascendancy as a new, primary virtue. For Plato in The Republic, justice is the epitome of the virtues. Yet, in our society in which we do not wish to hurt the feelings of others, I wonder if tolerance trumps many of the virtues. If tolerance is gaining in popularity, perhaps it is time to ask the question: Are tolerance and forgiveness the same and if not how do they differ?
First let us examine the similarities between these two moral qualities. Both include patience as the person restrains from harshness toward someone who is annoying or unjust. Both include mercy at least in the sense of restraining oneself in the face of one’s own anger. Both respect the other as a person and so one’s own thoughts, beliefs, or actions are not imposed on the other or others.
Now to the differences between these two seemingly-similar terms.
First, when one tolerates another’s actions, he or she can do so at a distance. To tolerate is to “put up with” another’s behavior. I can tolerate a screaming child and not attend to him or her and not enter into that child’s life. To forgive is to make oneself available to the other, to try to enter into the other’s world through loving that person. Of course, this will not always happen if the other does not wish to reconcile, but I want you to see that forgiveness is far more than “putting up with” a person’s actions or the person him- or herself.
Second, to tolerate means to recognize and respect the rights of others. Because a right in this sense is never a wrong, tolerance cannot be forgiveness, which takes place in the face of another’s wrong.
Third, “to put up with” certain actions is not always moral. If you put up with a person’s compulsive gambling habit or drug addiction, you are hardly helping this person in a moral sense. So, there are aspects of tolerance that degenerate into immorality—an offense of omission or a failure to act when it is appropriate to do so. Forgiveness in its true sense is never immoral. Please see our post in Ask Dr. Forgiveness (March 28, 2012) on the issue of “false forgiveness” for more information on this.
Are tolerance and forgiveness the same? Although they share certain moral characteristics, there is a substantial difference between them.
Chicago Sun Times. Louis Zamperini, age 95, spoke at a Barrington High School recently, recounting his heroism and harrowing experiences prior to and during World War II. He was the featured person in Laura Hillenbrand’s (Seabiscuit) best-selling book, Unbroken. A key to living well, he told the students, was learning to forgive. He used to have nightmares about one particular Japanese soldier who abused him. Asked by one of the students what he would do now if he met that soldier, he said he would forgive and hug the man.
As a 19-year-old track star known as the “Torrence Tornado” for his hometown in California, Louis Zamperini went to the 1936 Berlin Olympics and met Hitler.
But his dramatic life story hadn’t even begun to be written until several years later, when his plane was shot down in the Pacific Ocean in World War II and he went on to cheat death many times in dramatic fashion.
It’s a story that was turned into a best-selling book, Unbroken: A World War II Story of Survival, Resilience, and Redemption by Laura Hillenbrand, author of another bestseller, Seabiscuit: An American Legend.