In the on-line site Slate, author Simon Doonan refers to what he calls “the forgiveness movement,” an obviously unpleasant image for him, as if forgiveness is a herd of scared cattle going wild on the plains. For example, he thinks that forgiveness is a part of “our softy culture” that does not have the backbone to stand up against injustice.
His criticism against the virtue of forgiveness, in part, grew out of this very difficult experience: At the funeral service for his murdered friend, the one giving the talk exhorted those in attendance to begin forgiving. It was too early for such a message because forgiveness usually begins in confusion and even rage. Forgiveness is a process that takes time. This request to forgive is more an issue with the messenger, not with forgiveness itself.
Mr. Doonan gives a series of examples of what might be termed hasty forgiveness, again as a way to bolster his view that forgiveness is part of a “kumbaya” culture. Yet, again, hasty forgiveness is not what forgiveness is at its essence. To forgive in its genuine sense is to know that what happened was wrong, is wrong, and always will be wrong and from that position the forgiver gives compassion rather than hatred. It takes great inner strength to do that. To forgive is not to throw justice away, but instead to let forgiveness and the quest for justice grow up together.
Not everyone will choose to forgive, but for those who do, they must be tough-minded and know that forgiveness usually comes slowly and with much courage to try to cultivate that compassion that fights against rage in an inner battle for the person’s emotions.
Mr. Doonan’s experience with the message-bearer of forgiveness at the funeral was unfortunate. It seems to have deeply affected him because in his closing comments in his essay he refers back to this 15-year-old incident as he proclaims, “Out of respect for the memory of my pal, I will carry that rage and indignation to my grave. No forgiveness necessary.”
Rage….to his grave? Truly, I wish him well, but I am concerned for his inner world and the health of his emotions if he deliberately will nurture rage. Surely, I do not blame him for his anger, and I would like to suggest that he strive for justice toward the murderer, but he is no longer among the living. When there is no recourse to justice, is rage the only or even the best option? The murderer took a life, Mr. Doonan’s friend. He also gave birth to a rage that is promised to last a lifetime. The murderer, if his intent was to inflict suffering, is even giving this from his grave.
Rage will not make the world better. Compassion will, but it comes with a price, one of struggle and even agony, but surely not in a “softy” nor “kumbaya” way.