Tuesday, February 08, 2011

In response to BHD

I posted the following comment in response to a blog post by my dear friend, C, over at Blue Heron at Druid Labs.  

"Our ability to acknowledge, yet forgive, wrongdoing in others is inextricably linked to the ability to see hope and forgiveness in ourselves and by extension, to our ability to love and be loved -- in short, to our very humanity.  It doesn't mean that we have to become doormats.  It doesn't mean that we have to accept abuse and neglect when we recognize it.  It doesn't mean that we have to welcome the perpetrators of wrongdoing into our homes and our lives.    It means, simply, that we recognize the right and ability of each and every human on Earth to love and be loved.  The capacity each of us has to be better than we are."

Forgiveness and compassion allow us to rise from adversity and to accept the love of others in our lives.  It is absolutely essential to our survival as healthy humans.

My comment only addressed half of BHD's question, however.

In some respects, forgiveness and compassion are the easier part of the equation when it come to how we can both hold wrongdoers accountable and still treat them with compassion.  Those who would point to the story of the crucifixion of Christ as an example may be tempted to say that forgiveness and compassion trumps all -- that we are unfit to judge others and to mete out punishment, and that only the divine can judge the actions of humans.  We may similarly point to the Buddhist tradition to justify wimping out on holding others accountable.  If we hold ourselves the lowest, how can we judge?

If you examine the teaching of Christ and the Dalai Lama in more detail, however, neither instructs us to tolerate abuse and wrongdoing.  Christ called upon sinners to "Go forth, and SIN NO MORE".  The Dalai Lama says of the balance between compassion and accountability:

"It is not enough to be compassionate. You must act. There are two aspects to action. One is to overcome the distortions and afflictions of your own mind, that is, in terms of calming and eventually dispelling anger. This is action out of compassion. The other is more social, more public. When something needs to be done in the world to rectify the wrongs, if one is really concerned with benefiting others, one needs to be engaged, involved."

We have a system of social justice that punishes criminal activities.  But that system does not address the individual wrongs we perpetrate on each other and ourselves.  Part of loving each other, and part of loving ourselves is to acknowledge wrong actions, and to recognize and choose right actions.  To reject wrong action is not a lack of acceptance or forgiveness.  It is the ultimate act of love, and self-love, to insist upon right action and right thought.

I believe we can forgive, recognize the humanity and the ability to change in every living being, and still not expose ourselves to wrong action.  It is OK to say, "I forgive you.  I feel human love for you.  But I have not seen a change in your action, and I will not allow you to damage me further. Until you can demonstrate to me that you will 'sin no more', I cannot allow you in my life.  Be well."  Our challenge is to mean every. single. word.

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