There’s a difference between true forgiveness and turning a blind eye.
“To err is human, to forgive is divine.”
This well-known adage, repeated often, is probably engrained into the neural pathways of your brain. Whether you’re a vengeful person, or posses a pardoning nature, most people would agree that for many, harsh judgments and thoughts of retribution often arise with more ease than the desire to forgive. Vendettas can span a lifetime and corrupt the soul, while forgiveness can potentially be granted in a moment.
The art of forgiveness is a human endeavor many aspire to. Plenty of the great religious traditions, including Buddhism and Christianity, hold this ability up as one of the true measures of a “good” man or a woman. Even so, it seems that tolerance for the misdeeds of others in modern society tends to be a partisan affair. Christ-like it is not.
When clemency is handed out to someone on your “team”—a person whose stated views appeal to your own sympathies—yet denied to someone with whom you might disagree, or even consider an enemy of sorts (we’re not talking Hitler here), then perhaps your forgiveness is not as magnanimous as you once believed.
When a liberal forgives a Democrat his sexual transgressions (Clinton), or turns a blind eye to extrajudicial killings (Obama), this generally doesn’t come as a shock. If a conservative pardons the shoddy military record of a hawkish president (Bush), while attacking a real soldier (Kerry), or perhaps forgives a firebrand evangelist his drug or sexual scandals (Jimmy Swaggart, Paul Crouch, Ted Haggard), yet is still able to attack the “moral” qualities of people with opposing beliefs as “un-American,” or go after folks because of their sexual orientation— well, in my book, this isn’t forgiveness at all. It’s simply giving a member of your team a “pass.” No need to pat yourself on the back for your kind-hearted ways.
Forgiveness has its limits. A human being guilty of genocide, or other heinous crimes, should probably carry the burden of his or her guilt (assuming the person in question isn’t a sociopath) for life, absent any absolution. Yet for the masses, and the cultural and political pundits allocating “forgiveness” in the first place, I believe it’s important to grasp that the true art only takes shape when you can forgive someone you don’t like, or perhaps hate, and will never understand.
For those public figures caught up in scandal, betraying their own stated beliefs, yet somehow manage to keep slithering on thanks to the forgiveness of their constituents (Mark Sanford) or followers—it might be time to stop doing that. At least modern leaders don’t have to exit public life in the same violent manner shamed Japanese once undertook (seppuku).
Of course, why exit at all when shame no longer seems to be much of a factor as to how someone conducts his or her affairs in public. There’s a difference between asking for forgiveness, and manipulating the good will of the people. Besides, Jesse Jackson can only rehabilitate so many fallen leaders at a time.
Dante believed sinners guilty of hypocrisy would be punished in the Eighth Circle of Hell (one of the worst), possibly crucified (Caiphus), while fellow hypocrites donning leaden cloaks walked over the body and crushed it. It’s safe to say he wasn’t a fan of two-faced individuals.
The man who is false at every turn will often beg the world for forgiveness when he’s found out as a liar… and sadly, its seems, he often gets what he wants, even though from my perspective an awful lot of this public crying and moral “soul searching” we witness from our leaders is false as well. Let’s just say that I appreciate Dante’s perspective on the matter.
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