One of the most popular images in all of philosophy is Plato’s cave. He challenges us to go beyond what we know in that cave, to the sunlight, to knowledge that goes beyond the conventional, beyond the ordinary.
I now wonder where modern societies fall when it comes to the question: Should we put more energy and effort into making our cave comfortable, or should we deliberately challenge ourselves, to be open to the unusual, to the risks that can bring suffering as we stretch ourselves to grow?
Forgiveness is one of those developments in life that challenges us. It does so by asking us to strive to understand those who have not understood us. Forgiveness challenges us to suffer as we try to bear the pain of what happened to us so that we do not pass that pain to others. Forgiveness challenges us to understand and to act upon the paradox that as we are good to those who were not good to us, healing can occur within our hearts.
And yet, I wonder. How much of a challenge is modern man willing to endure, given that he can slink back into the man-cave, pop a cold one, and turn on any number of distractions from the pain.
Does modern cave dwelling help us to become better forgivers…….or does it soothe us to the point of not accepting the challenge?
While watching a college football game yesterday, I began to focus on the commercials. One showed a confident, strutting person, who seemed to have it “all together,” climb into a car, pet the steering wheel as if some kind of spiritual height had been reached, and the message was delivered to the viewer: If you want to be “all together,” if you want to reach the spiritual heights, you must—-must, with no exceptions—desire this car, covet this car, go into debt to buy this car. This car is your life!
Then there was a video of some kind of bun with melted cheese and bacon on it. The cheese was bubbly, the bacon sizzling and crisp. The video was in slow motion as camera panned ever closer to the heavenly bun. You must—-must—-desire this confection, covet it, go into dietary debt to buy it. This bun is your life!
And we almost insist that the sellers make such commercials before we buy. Go ahead, trick me first and then I will buy. Create the fantasy. I live for fantasy. Fantasy is my life!
And so it goes. I began to wonder. Have we created a world of fantasy, not only in books or films but also in our-everyday-life-as-a-lived-fantasy? Go ahead, trick me. And so, do we do this with regard to the injustices of life now? Do we deny serious wrongdoing as we go about filling our pain with the bun or even, on rare occasion, with the new car? I am not all that hurt…..no, really……pass the buns.
Do we also engage in the opposite of this? Do some create false injustices and play the role of victim to garner sympathy………and power? After all, if in the world of fantasy, I can falsely accuse you of harming me and you falsely believe it, then I am controlling your behavior. I win……at least temporarily in the world of fantasy.
Such fantastic fantasy, I think, keeps us from forgiving. On the one hand, as we deny that we are in pain, then there is no one to forgive. As we deny that others are manipulating us by playing the victim card and controlling our behavior, then there is no injustice to stand against, to correct, to courageously confront with the truth. There is no one to forgive.
Oh well, this is all too strenuous for me anyway. Perhaps I am wrong. If you have the time, would you please pass that bubbling bun?
Some have said that forgiveness can make a person weak, reduce the resolve to fight for what is right. Yet, it seems to me that the opposite is true. We become better at discerning what is right and wrong in our world when we forgive because forgiveness occurs precisely in that time in which we have been wronged and now we are injured. The more that we struggle with our injuries from injustice, then the better we understand what injustice is, which can strengthen our insights into justice itself.
As we then understand the serious consequences of injustice, this may strengthen our resolve to fight for justice in a challenging world. After all, as we see the injuries that the self and others can suffer from others’ wrongdoing, then we may be motivated to lessen those injuries by trying to lessen the injustices. We then become fighters for justice.
The mistake is when we think in “either-or” terms: Either we forgive or we seek justice, but we must not do both. This is faulty reasoning. What other virtues must occur strictly in isolation from the other virtues? If I am patient, must I refrain from kindness? If I am courageous, must I throw wisdom out the window? No. The virtues are meant to complement one another: Forgiveness and justice; forgiveness and courage; forgiveness and the wisdom to know when to start forgiving. Together, these virtues help us to avoid extremes such as forgiving and then putting up with nonsense and doing so repeatedly.
Forgive and stand up for justice.
When we have been treated deeply unfairly by others, there is a tendency to look backward far too often. We brood, we engage in the “what ifs” of life……we begin to live with discouragement.
Forgiveness helps us to tie up the burdens of the past so that we are not continually unwrapping the package of bad memories. Yes, we have been hurt. Yes, we might even have been hurt by our own actions. Yet, that is not the story of whom the other is or of whom we are as persons. Our past does not define us and forgiveness helps us to see that because we can overcome the past so that it is not our obsession of regrets.
Forgiveness helps us look forward……to our new-found ability to love others more deeply. Today, I will try to be of service to those I meet. Today, I will try to ease the pains inside at least one other person because I have been in pain and know what it is like.
Forgiveness points me to a future of being able to love no matter what. Pains of the past will not stop that. Other people’s harsh judgments of me will not stop that. My own past failings will not stop that. I can love…….and I choose to do so……now……and in the future.
I will be defined now by what I can do in love rather than by what has happened to me in the past.
I wonder. Today I visited the Wikipedia entry on Genocide and found 558 scholarly notes there. This impressively detailed article generated a thought that I would like to share with you. Suppose that a person’s ancestors experienced genocide 500 years ago. Is it possible that people today are still experiencing the effects of such horror? It is easier to see the passing on of anger and stress when we can concretely see, for example, an angry father who has raised up an angry son. Yet, what of the passing on of the anger and stress that might reach back half a millennium?
I think it is possible that the deeply felt anguish of a genocide can be passed to the next generation…..and then to the next….and the next…..until it is our turn. Maybe the felt emotions are not the exact same as happened under genocide, but they may be painful nonetheless.
If this idea has merit, then how do we forgive that which we are not even aware because it has been blotted out of history? Perhaps it is not necessary to have to reach back and forgive all who have passed on the pain. Perhaps it is sufficient to forgive a parent who has caused you pain and this suffices to quiet the emotions. Someone has to stop the intergenerational transfer of pain if a subsequent generation is to be set free from a pattern that might have lasted for centuries. If so, then forgiveness is even more important than I had thought.