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Forgiving

To The Editor,

I read with some interest The Last Word in the February 17th edition of The Review. Forgiveness is something I’ve spent some time thinking about and it is interesting, and a little sad, that there seems sometimes to be a lack of it today.

It’s certainly true that this seems to be a new phenomenon – there is no doubt that people are quite keen to rush to their soap-boxes and make clear their lack of acceptance for the small (or large) errors we make. Perhaps it is because of what used to be called “Beat the Clock” in journalistic circles. There’s a need to get one’s views and proscriptions out before someone else steals one’s five minutes of fame. It’s actually not that new, however. The difference is in the tools we are using. Like all power tools, such as the chain saw or the electric drill (or the printing press) there’re consequences for not paying due attention to what we are doing. Things like computers, the Internet and ‘social’ media are power tools for our minds and no less dangerous for that. We’re all of us guilty of not paying attention sometimes and there is a price to pay, although it may well not be us that pays it.

There is a note of caution and one of hope to be heard. Richard Holloway notes in the excellent “On Forgiveness”, that ‘We do not have ther right to order people to act in ways of which they are incapable, such as commanding them to forgive. … What is not pointless, however, is the kind of indicative approach that may help people to gain an understanding of the causes and possible consequences of their responses. Thinking before acting may enable them to take a step or two back from immediate reaction and its ramifying repercussions into the future.”
This is why I research frameworks that aim to introduce second thoughts into our online actions.

Holloway also tells us of the problems of not forgiving, with the story of a decorated German despatch rider at the end of World War One who was horrified by both the state of the people left behind in his nation and the totally unforgiving nature of the allies toward their erstwhile opponent (even Churchill proposed sending ‘a dozen great ships crammed with provisions’ to Hamburg but was rejected).
David Foster Wallace, in his essential “This is Water” talks about leading a compassionate life, where “The really important kind of freedom involves attention, and awareness, and discipline, and effort, and being able truly to care about other people and to sacrifice for them, over and over, in myriad petty little unsexy ways, every day.” We would do well to consider this next time we reach for our keyboards or tablets.
That German despatch rider? He resolved to go into politics because in the actions of the Allies he saw that “Only fools, liars and criminals could hope for mercy from the enemy.” He did go into politics, and his legacy is at least in part that of the unforgiving nature of the Allies after World War One. His name was Adolf Hitler.

With best wishes,
Dr Stephen Marsh
Dalkeith, ON.

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