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Have you ever been the innocent victim of a terrible wrong done in the name of being right? What does it mean if someone does something wrong because he “knows” he’s justified?
How do you tally the score for the Nazis or Rwandans or Cambodians (among others) who brutally murdered thousands in order to create a “better world?” Can you justify terrorists who seek to cleanse the earth and/or punish infidels by killing people who never did anything to hurt them? Can you celebrate the accomplishments of scientists who forced unsuspecting minority men to die a horrible death from syphilis or exposed American towns to radioactive dust in order to advance research findings? Should we join together to admire and seek to emulate celebrities, business people, and politicians who ignore the negative effects of their actions and products on masses of citizens in order to deliver maximum profits or political gain? And, what about religious leaders who use their influence to create suspicion, judgment, and sometimes violence between family members or within a community?
If there is a final reckoning of any kind, what is the score for these people? They did what they were certain was the right thing. Will they be rewarded with virgins or a seat at the head of the table or beside the Most Holy for their excellent intentions? Many were handsomely rewarded here on earth–if only for a brief time. Even if there is no reckoning, how should the society react to heinous acts of supposed righteousness? How should we react when we’re the ones on the bottom of the pile?
“To err is human…” I have to believe that human beings are remarkable for their tremendous capacity for making mistakes. I like to think that horrific choices made in the name of goodness are, in the final examination, mistakes. When I think back on the many, many times my choices were less than kind, I’m humbled. I can only hope my mistakes didn’t do worse than annoy the victims and make them shake their heads in disappointed dismay.
One religious leader writes, “…compassion must be based on respect for the other, and on the realization that others have the right to be happy and overcome suffering…” I know we don’t all agree on what constitutes a wrong, but I would guess the words “innocent victims,” “pointless suffering” and “discrimination” are often clues that we’ve stumbled on one. Although some are guided by religious texts, the texts must be open to interpretation since they’re written by men in the language of humankind.
When we were given freedom of choice, I imagine making those choices and standing responsible for the consequences were part of the meaning of life. We can’t help but ask about the religious, military, business, and political leaders who persuade their followers to commit hateful acts. Do they eventually absorb any or all of the blame for the results, or is the fact that we as human beings are so easily misled only one aspect of the test? I would guess that we can’t give away blame, only share it.
The worst pain ever inflicted on me by a family member wasn’t physical. It was an act motivated by love and informed by the directions of leaders who were certain they had a corner on what’s right. I can forgive the act, but I can’t command the hurt to disappear. Injury by someone who occupies a position of trust in your life takes the longest to heal.
I read a news story that in the middle of winter, one mother took her two small boys and left them in a dumpster to die because she didn’t want to care for them any longer. Only the kindness and diligence of strangers saved them. Others have far deeper wounds to mend than mine. Practicing forgiveness is both freeing and immensely difficult. It can’t change what happened, but it can change us.