Saturday, July 01, 2017

Forgiveness And Shakespeare

Shakespeare's play “The Merchant Of Venice” stars a Jewish merchant named Shylock. He lends some money to an entrepreneur; the entrepreneur fails to pay it off; so Shylock keeps demanding his “bond” of a pound of flesh. Eventually a female judge named Portia stops this situation by calling Shylock on his sin.

There is some truth to that situation. Judaism is not big on forgiveness, and the Old Testament, or the Torah, posits “eye for eye, tooth for tooth.” Whereas Christ commands people to forgive – a command that not all Christians follow, but that is there regardless.

For a long time I have been a lot like Shylock. I would forgive nothing at all. In part it was because of how my mind works. The negative things that people say stay in my head, and they remain there until I refute them. In some cases it works for the better, as there are all sorts of attitudes out there that need to be refuted. In other cases – such as when someone says injurious lies about me – it works for the worse.

There have been two things that helped me to forgive. One has been a sense of perspective. The other has been empathy.

In the first case, I was comparing my situation to that of any number of others, who have forgiven far greater wrongs than anything that anyone has ever done against me. If the Chinese can trade with the Japanese and the Russians with the Germans, or if Julia can forgive a man who has brutally beaten her for 15 years, then I can forgive the people who have wronged me as well.

In the second case, I have been looking at where these people were coming from. In most situations they really thought that they were doing the right thing. Their sin was that of ignorance and bad thinking; and these are easier to forgive than ill intent. There were only a few situations in which people wronged me while deliberately intending to wrong me. And none of these were nearly as grave as what happened to Julia or what happened to the Chinese and the Russians during the Second World War.

Of course there are all sorts of credible arguments against forgiveness of everything. There was a man on the Internet who said that murder should never be forgiven. When some idiot raped and murdered a little child, her mother said that she will never forgive him. When Idi Amin died, a man from Uganda told me that Ugandans are forgiving people. I told him something to the effect of that if you are willing to forgive someone who killed 500,000 of his own people, but not willing to forgive a woman for disobeying her husband, then that creates a wrongful set of incentives within society.

I suppose that it is up to every society to decide what they are willing to forgive outright, what they are not willing to forgive at all, and what they should forgive after a punishment or a reformation. As for me I have forgiven the people who've wronged me, and I feel lighter by several tons.


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