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Forgiveness, justice and inclusiveness

from the archive, 2016

Three conditions of peace are worthy of consideration : forgiveness, justice and inclusiveness. Running through all of them, like an invisible thread, is the notion of equality.

Before a human can rationalise hurting another, or one nation justify attacking another, a judgment of inequality has to be made. Attackers must see themselves as essentially different from their enemies. They must believe that there are certain repugnant characteristics possessed by their enemies, which they are free of. They imagine themselves civilised, where their enemies are barbaric; or honest, in a fight with the deceitful; or law-abiding, up against the aggressive, etc.

Attackers must assume a kind of superiority, because attack is grounded in a sense of inequality. Forgiveness undoes this inequality at its source.

When we forgive, we are in effect acknowledging a human, not sub-human, motivation in our opponent. Either we recognise the same motivation in ourselves; or we appreciate that if we were similarly circumstanced we could succumb to the same temptation. Even if we still think we would not fall prey to the temptation, we enquire what insecurity caused the opponent to be weak. Then it follows that, being compromised, they need strengthening rather than destroying. Correction shows a way back to safety, whereas retribution terrifies with greater insecurity.

Forgiveness is not some irrational sacrifice grudgingly made. Extending forgiveness to another, we offer healing to ourselves. Previously, it was mentioned how demonisation and attack proceed from a mind of warring parts, held in dissociated fragments by shame and guilt. Forgiveness dissolves the shame and guilt and allows the mind to return to wholeness - to sanity. This applies whether the other party is receptive to the gift of forgiveness or not. However, the outward ritual of reconciliation, if or when it happens, requires the participation of both parties. There can be forgiveness without manifest reconciliation, but there cannot be genuine reconciliation without forgiveness.

If what seems to be forgiveness feels unfair, it is not forgiveness. Forgiveness and justice are complementary.

If justice means receiving desserts, what do people deserve who frighten us? Surely that depends on the ethical question broached previously - do we judge their ultimate motivation to be evil or good, albeit showing up in a tortured, twisted form. If it is evil, how can justice be compatible with forgiveness?

Only when fundamental human nature is seen as good is there no conflict between forgiveness and justice. Then what is deserved is a corrective response to a tortured cry for help rather than a punishment for a malicious act.

Another aspect of justice is as a pure defence against attack. Previously it was shown how easily the line can be blurred between defence and attack, especially regarding the cruder, physical expressions of these. For something to be a pure defence, and not some disguised retaliation, means it denies the reality of attack at its root. It denies that the tortured manifestation of the cry for help is the important thing to claim our attention; a more important thing is the insecurity and inadequacy that gave rise to it; and the most important thing is the desire for peaceful contentment that this betrays. For who in their right mind would not choose peace and contentment if they could?

Justice might be personified as an expert defence lawyer striking down all false characterisations of the accused.

There is no real justice without entitlement to a defence. To render opponents justice is to imagine oneself in the shoes of such a defence lawyer, and to imagine your opponents your client - and then to deny the ultimate malice of their motivation. “Hating the sin but loving the sinner”. This view of justice squares perfectly with forgiveness.

Another aspect of justice is that of balance - a working out of the consequences of deeds; the reaction to action. Here, Justice is the blindfolded Lady with the scales.

She corrects unbalanced desire, where the pursuit of gains by the powerful is indulged to the detriment of social and political cohesion. There is justice, and the related idea of social justice. Social justice is supposed to bring a balancing remedy of existing inequities. It is distributive and redistributive. Without social justice there can be no authentic peace.

Inclusiveness means that all stakeholders are positively engaged in the peace process.

Where unforgiveness exists, there will be some disengagement between the parties. An aloofness arises, interpersonally and internationally. Either side goes about its business to the exclusion of the other, who no longer figures in the considerations and plans of the estranged. It’s like losing a limb and pretending that nothing has changed. There might not be open warfare - but this is certainly not peace; more like cold war.

In a cold war, conflicts are fomented and fought through proxies.

Cold seems less threatening than hot war, especially when nuclear strikes are not off the table. The primary antagonists work behind the scenes and wear a veneer of respectability, denying the interpersonal mischief or the international machinations in which they are tangled up. Eventually the primary antagonists need to talk if the situation is to improve. They need to open up a ‘hotline’ if they are superpowers.

Opening lines of constructive communication is a movement toward inclusiveness, towards ditching the lie that I can go about my business as though you don’t matter.

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