It seems to me that there are only two sides to any debate. Hyper-conservative v hyper-liberal policies, pro-life v pro-choice, and so on. Both sides believe themselves to be utterly moral and infallibly correct and tend to view their opponents as amoral and either ill-informed or wilfully ignorant. My prognosis for this manifestation of moral absolutism is fatal, and we are already beginning to see the death of civilised discourse. However, this terminal divisiveness may have an antidote. It’s called forgiveness.
I believe that forgiveness can be our saviour because a peaceful society without it seems preposterously utopian. Nobody is perfect, we all have our vices and we are all prone to fail each other and ourselves. It is our capacity to forgive that allows us to trust, despite being fully conscious of this potential for failure.
To knowingly trust somebody who has wronged us in the past is not naïve, it’s courageous. Although trust is the foundation on which society is founded, when our monuments constructed in good-faith are demolished by betrayal, forgiveness is the necessary bedrock on which the foundation can be rebuilt.
This is not to say that we should not punish those found to be in the wrong, but it is crucial that we do not punish them indefinitely. Frivolous semantics are the only differentiation between eternal punishment and hell on earth. If punishment is the stick, then forgiveness is the necessary carrot. Forgiveness is a carrot with the capacity to cure nihilism, because a life of punishment without the hope of redemption is meaningless.
Cowardice is not the only moat preventing forgiveness from bridging the ideological divide. Pride wielded with reckless abandon deserves a fair share of the blame. Pride is a double-edged sword. When it is wielded with ethical intent and integrity, it can defend us from tyranny, manipulation, malevolence, and ideology. It can serve as an embodiment of our values and an effective weapon to fight for the truth.
When wielded with ignorance or malice, pride has the capacity to mortally wound the world around us. When wielded as a martyr’s weapon it has the potential to make the person at the hilt just that. Choose carefully the hill you want to die on, lest you sacrifice yourself at every bump in the road. Your pride has the potential to send you to hell in a hand-basket, and you might just take the whole bloody world down with you.
The next time you feel inclined to write somebody off as an incurable bigot, fool, or deviant, instead take a moment to consider forgiveness. It might just serve us all better.
The alleged words of the late American radio-host Bernard Meltzer sum it up with brevity. “When you forgive, you in no way change the past – but you sure do change the future.”
Image credit: Mindful.org