On Forgiveness

What do you think is the right course of action, bringing justice by punishment or forgiving the wrongdoer? Fighting the fight for ego or forgiving? These are tough discussions to have and there is enough philosophical evidence to justify either side of the argument. I have come to believe that there is no “right-way” or “the recipe” that one can follow, one must always think about the implications, the stakeholders involved and the bigger picture and take the righteous action. Even though there is no golden rule there are set of doctrines and frameworks one can follow that is considered to be on a higher moral ground.

Most of the times when we are thinking of forgiveness, the alternate course of action is radical, extreme, one that we consider not ourselves. The reason to be in such a state is generally because our pride has been touched, the ego has been hurt and betrayal has been committed.

.. the same dualism underlies the nature and condition of man. Every excess causes a defect; every defect an excess. Every sweet hath its sour; every evil its good. Every faculty which is a receiver of pleasure has an equal penalty put on its abuse. It is to answer for its moderation with its life. For every grain of wit there is a grain of folly… Ralph Waldo Emerson (Compensation - Essays: First Series)

Emerson has very nicely said that the world is an equation and everything that is done will have a reaction. If that’s the case then does it not make sense to follow the path of peace and let nature do its job. Why should we take part in the wrongdoing? Because we want to satisfy our ego, want our pride back. What guarantee is there that the pride is restored after the action? None. Maybe it is better to live without pride, without happiness. Being neutral in every sense. Every happiness will have its sadness.

No man had ever a point of pride that was not injurious to him. Ralph Waldo Emerson (Compensation - Essays: First Series)

Note: This seems to be going into the direction of the teachings of Buddha.

Similar was the situation of Yudhishthir in Mahabharat when he was persuaded by his wife and brothers to go to war and fight against Duryodhan. This was during their time in exile. His response was that its harder to give forgiveness, it takes more energy to forgive.

Forgiveness is the strength of the virtuous. To fight is easy, but to forgive is difficult. To be patient is not to be weak; to seek peace is always the wiser course.

The epic has it that they went to war, the great battle of kurukshetra took place and after numerous tricks and deceits of Krishna (the charioteer and God) they win the war, they get their kingdom back. At this point of time Yudhishthir doesn’t have pride in winning the war, is not content to have his kingdom back. On the contrary, he is sad, in remorse, in pain, thinking about all the deaths of his teacher, his brothers, his men.

To get a piece of the earth we totally abandoned men who were equal to the earth, men whom we should never have killed. And now we live with our kinsmen dead and our wealth exhausted… like dogs we greedily went after a piece of meat! Now our piece of meat is gone, and so are those who would have eaten it. The heroes are dead. The evil is done. Our kindgom has been laid waste. Having killed them, our rage is gone. Now this grief holds me in check! Excerpts from Mahabharat - Gurcharan Das (The difficulty of being Good)

One might argue if the path of forgiveness is always the higher moral ground, wouldn’t the world be unfair. What would have happened to slavery in America? what would happen to Indians under the British Raaj ? What would have happened to Jews during WWII ? These are all valid questions and it does seem like forgiveness has a conflict with Justice in a larger sense.

One way to look at it is by weighing the deeds. Some deeds have so much evil, there is so much bad into it that it is beyond forgiveness or the psychological burden of forgiveness is too high to be granted. This does mean that its not our strength at display but our weakness at display in this case. In Mahabharat, Yudhishthir before going to war, justifies it as his duty and an act he must do even though he doesn’t like it. Maybe the idea is to look at the bigger good and act accordingly. These are nevertheless really tough decisions to make and maybe your duty is what can justify the course of action. Maybe that is how Jack Dorsey would also justify laying off 8% of the twitter workforce.

These are very tough topics to think about and to come to a worthy conclusion. All I can say and suggest is to think of the possibilities, weight all the options, see the impact and then eventually do what you feel is right. One fun learning I’ve had is that, it is much easier to write on this topic than to have a contextual discussion.