Dealing with the f-word
Posted: 02 Nov 2006 @ 00:00
THE HIGHLIGHT of
xml:namespace prefix = st1 ns = "urn:schemas-microsoft-com:office:smarttags" />
for me was the Forgiveness
Project, an exhibition of photos, with testimony by people who have been forced
by great suffering to think harder about the nature of forgiveness.
xml:namespace prefix = o ns = "urn:schemas-microsoft-com:office:office" />
xml:namespace prefix = o />
Eric Lomax meets the Japanese
officer who tortured him during the war. Andrew Rice, whose brother died in the
, has an encounter with the mother of one of the suicide
bombers. “One day I’d like to meet Zacharias Moussaoui. I’d like to say to him:
‘You can hate me as much as you like, but I want you to know that I loved your
mother, and I comforted her when she was crying.’”
In contrast, Marianne Pearl reflects on
how much she continues to hate the murderers who killed her husband Daniel.
As secular culture has generally absorbed
the concept of forgiveness within the language of therapy and counselling (the
confessional being replaced by the psychiatrist’s couch, and all that), we
commonly represent forgiveness as something private and internal: we speak of
those who have found it “within themselves” to forgive.
This understanding of forgiveness begins
to look like an impossible change in emotional chemistry. What the stories of
the Forgiveness Project show is that forgiveness is not about magically
replacing feelings of hatred with feelings of sympathy. Often forgiveness has
little to do with how one feels.
We often sentimentalise forgiveness in
such a way that it becomes something fantastical. This, in turn, provides the
perfect alibi for those who want to reject it as impossible. It’s not that I
won’t forgive, it’s that I can’t: so goes the thought process that dismisses
forgiveness as something practised by people who are patronisingly admired as
exceptional. Forgiveness is for the barely credible figures we used to call
In contrast, those who practise
forgiveness often speak of it as much more like self-interest: a practical
strategy for survival. Forgiveness is about not retaliating in kind.
Too often, we respond to an offence by
replicating it: “If she’s not speaking to me, then I’m not speaking to her.”
Forgiveness is a refusal to copy — and thus become a copy of — the abusive
other. This conception of forgiveness takes a detour around how one “feels”,
and calls a halt
to the repetitive, self-propagating
nature of violence, through an act of defiance against the culture of revenge.
Forgiveness is a way of stopping a bloody past being endlessly replicated into
a hopeless future.
The Revd Dr Giles Fraser is
Team Rector of Putney, and lecturer in philosophy at Wadham College