Values have two relationships, that of an internal identity and of a relation from it manifesting with another person. One may value kindness, but in their behavior exhibit it with ruthlessness and/or even cruelty. The abuse of children comes to mind here, where the parental authority finds it a kindness within the context of a belief in “spare the rod, spoil the child.” The result is the belief that not physically reprimanding behavior would be a greater evil. Each value that is identified by a person can manifest through their worldview, in ways that are seemingly the opposite to those who are on the receiving end of the behavior.
In thinking about values, the dual relationships found in them immediately point to disparities in how people live their lives and engage with others, particularly in dialogue. The “Pro-Life” camp seeks to exploit the value of life, though any honest consideration of the “Pro-Choice” side would see that they no more hate life than their counterparts, no more than the other side hates choice. Both have the same values, but in that value’s relationship to other people is found contention because of the behavior it inspires. There is no particular meaning that is so wholly different that another person can’t identify with it, even as there may still exist disagreement.
Let’s consider forgiveness. This is not synonymous with condoning nor is it necessarily connected with denial of self-worth in the face of tragedy. There is not a person alive with any amount of life having been lived who has not looked in the face of an “oops” moment and lamented at their failure to live to their highest standard; nobody who has not had a moment of wonder at what came over them, of thinking that some other person possessed their mouth or body to have said or done the things they did. Put aside for a moment the knee-jerk reaction to the phrase “I don’t know what came over me” and consider it not as an excuse, but an honest declaration of identity confusion. The self-narrative of one’s life gets run over by the variables of social pressure and the free-will crushing reality of neurochemistry.
Practicing forgiveness is honoring the self in this context, the reality that we do not define all that we are and are at the mercy of forces beyond our comprehension more often than we care to admit. This is not a denial of responsibility nor a declaration that consequence is meaningless. Rather, it is an attempt at seeing action within a broader context of human relational reality.
If we are able to accept and move on from the moments of action that were not the greatest example of our stated values, then surely we can learn to apply the same understanding to others. Indeed, I challenge all to attempt this shift not just to those who are perceived to have directly done us wrong but those who haven’t, those we see in the news and in our walks to work and play who don’t match our view of the world. In doing so there can be a growing appreciation that while their actions we may find abhorrent, they are not so removed from us that makes them unworthy of forgiveness. There is an understanding that holds them in their personal context, that accepts they too hold the values of life and liberty and love, but have not seen better ways of showing them.
In every desire for condemnation can be found the potential for forgiveness, as we recognize the other person shares the values we too hold. In doing so we can engage in a greater dialogue about the thing that truly binds us all together, our humanity.
© David Teachout