In the Christian tradition, the idea of forgiveness can be very important. I should pause here to distinguish between more liberal forms of Christianity – which I think of as Jesus-centric, and the kind of right wing Christianity which takes its inspiration from the angry bits of the Old Testament. Not having a book to turn to for wisdom quotes, it’s down to individual druids to decide whether they want to forgive those who wrong them. I like this. I prefer to make ethical judgements as situation specific as possible. My experience has been that one-size-fits-all positions always have moments when they don’t really hold up.
There are a number of interesting considerations here. What does the act of forgiving, or not forgiving do to my own sense of self? Who do I want to be? What we forgive defines something of who we are. Do we forgive serial killers? Child abusers? Those who commit genocide? Or is it better to hold a position of anger and hatred there? Do we follow the Catholic model of hating the sin and loving the sinner? And equally, the refusal to forgive small shortcomings, minor offences. On a previous blog someone remarked about being told off for leaving the washing up liquid open. Who do we become when we insist on punishing the smallest failings and the most imaginary of slights?
Then we might consider whether the other person in some way merits forgiveness. Where apology is offered, attempts are made to redress the balance, errors atoned for and justice voluntarily respected, it is not hard to forgive a person. Not least because it feels more like human error than malice, and we all make mistakes. Compassion for the unwitting errors of others has to be a good thing. But what about the person who is unrepentant? Is it appropriate to forgive someone who is full of self justification, a sense of entitlement, or superiority? A person who would do the same thing again given the chance? This is a sticking place for me.
Carrying hatred about can be a lot of hard work. Hatred is a large, fierce, all consuming kind of emotion that can warp and twist all aspects of a person into its service. The Revenge Tragedy genre is full of stories about the violence that comes from hatred. Think Hamlet, Othello, Titus Andronicus. Interestingly, other themes in this genre are pride, hubris, and jealousy. They do tend to go together. Pride can be a huge barrier to forgiveness. Jealousy can invent offences, and succumbing to hatred can lead us to self destruction. We won’t all end up like Hamlet or Othello, but hatred can so readily sap the joy and humanity out of us. I think that’s too high a price to pay for the sake of the people who have wronged you. There are also a lot of stories out there about people who, in their hatred, end up turning into the very thing they wanted to destroy. That’s not a path I would care to walk.
On the whole, my experience of Druidry pushes me towards a desire to live with compassion and to try and understand those around me. It does not incline me to cultivate jealousy, resentment, or malice. These things do me no good at all, and I care about that! But part of my ability to hold boundaries has to include recognition of the unacceptable, and ways of dealing with that. Where there is relationship and meaningful exchange, forgiveness is not difficult for me. To err is human. It’s what we do after those mistakes that really gives me the measure of a person. If someone has the courage to apologise, or to make good, to ask how they can fix things, and the decency to act, then it soon feels that there really was nothing that needed forgiving. This is a line I try to walk, whilst trying to make sure I am not pushed into apologising any more for things not of my making, for imaginary offences, or for the consequences of other people’s jealousy. Again, when there is real and honourable relationship, I have found these just do not exist as issues.
I have found an answer, which works for me, when it comes to things I find unforgivable. It is a solution that means I do not cart a weight of hatred with me, and it protects me from being eaten up with anger. The answer, I think, is pity. Because whatever an unforgivable person has done, they have to live with it, and with being the kind of individual their actions reveal. To be beyond my capacity for forgiveness, they would have to have no visible signs of honour, no integrity, no capacity to admit a mistake and no capacity for good relationship. And ye gods, is that something to pity.