Saturday, 20 April 2013

Let’s ‘FACE UP’ not ‘FACE DOWN’!

I don’t think I’m alone in being a fan of Charles Bronson’s ‘death wish’ movies. Each plot has an appealing simplicity......... violent crimes committed by merciless thugs against helpless (usually) female victims, followed by retribution carried out with cold efficiency by a steely and mostly silent Bronson. It’s a time-honoured narrative and as viewers we cheer along with the spectacle.

‘Revenge’ fiction is not the sole preserve of the male of the human species.  Fay Weldon’s  novel, ‘The Life and Loves of a She Devil’ deals the pain of  relationship betrayal, where the jilted wife meticulously plans  and slowly enjoys serving up revenge  on her cheating  husband. This popular story has enjoyed two film and one TV adaptation since its publication.

This desire for revenge comes naturally. It taps into a deep-seated urge to want to see harm come to those who hurt us. It is what theologians describe as the ‘sin nature’ in all of us, acted out across the world every day within and between countries, tribes, families, former friends and other social groupings including churches.

Many rational people explicitly defend the desire for revenge. In her book ‘Wild Justice’, the author Susan Jacoby argues that revenge stems from, “a need to restore ‘something missing’ – a sense of physical and emotional integrity that is shattered by violence.”  Revenge is therefore ‘natural and self-satisfying’, and needs to be acknowledged as a legitimate response by a victim. Suggesting otherwise is to rob victims of their dignity.

Twentieth century icon, Martin Luther King, spoke of a different path based on his understanding of the Biblical concept of forgiveness. By contrast, Friedrich Nietzsche the 19th century German philosopher thought forgiveness was a sign of the weak making a virtue out of necessity.

 So what is forgiveness?  It is not condoning, excusing or forgetting. It is more of a process, rather than a single act. It involves an honest confrontation of wrongs committed and a search for ways to overcome attitudes of resentment and anger felt in response to injury and wrongdoing. 

There are many heart warming examples of forgiveness that we can draw on. In the early days of post apartheid South Africa, many anticipated a bloodbath as Black African leaders took control. Nelson Mandela, freed after 27 years of imprisonment, chose forgiveness over revenge for the stolen years of his life. As President of the new South Africa, he made frequent gestures of forgiveness, such as offering his white gaoler a position of honour at his inauguration. He saw forgiveness as the only way forward.

In the new South Africa, a Truth and Reconciliation Commission was set up and its success shows how forgiveness can work at both a personal and political level.  Determined to avoid the mistake of sweeping past crimes under the carpet, but wishing to avoid a judicial model, the Commission offered amnesty to those who would own up to crimes and violations of human rights. To gain amnesty, full public disclosure was required, and the victims had to be given a voice during the process.

The history of the Commission makes for extraordinary reading. The power of public confession and the accompanying release of anguish it brought was powerfully displayed. Most notable were the extraordinary moments of forgiveness that began the nation’s healing

Archbishop Desmond Tutu, chaired the Commission. He entitled his memoire about this time ‘No Future Without  Forgiveness’. His work was bound to his faith, of which he said that ‘only because God had reconciled us to him by sacrificing his Son Jesus Christ on the cross did true and lasting reconciliation between humans become possible.’

Like Desmond Tutu, I’m up for the process of forgiveness, truth and reconciliation and I know it works. Are there any people out there prepared to take the risk ? 

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