HETRICK: How far would and should you go to forgive?

June 23, 2012

At Mo’Joe Coffeehouse the other day, I got into an interesting conversation.

The topic: forgiveness. The questions: How far would you be willing to go? And would you forgive because you wanted to extend a bit of emotional relief to the party who wronged you? Or would you forgive to ease your own mind?

If you’d survived genocide in Poland or Bosnia, Rwanda or Darfur, could you forgive the perpetrators?

If a camp counselor or athletic coach had sexually abused your child, could you forgive the pedophile?

If a financier swindled your life savings, could you say, “I absolve you.”?

If you’d been held hostage for months or even years, could you forgive your captors?

If your loved one had been murdered, and the perpetrator faced the death penalty, could you say, “I’ll spare you lethal injection; life in prison will suffice.”?

If your political opponents had insulted your race or religion, your record or your relatives, could you forgive them and work together?

If your loved one had died of cancer or a heart attack attributed to cigarette smoke, could you forgive the tobacco industry?

A few days after this discussion, I was in California for the board meeting of a not-for-profit. We assembled in a conference room at the David Brower Center near the University of California at Berkeley.

I didn’t know anything about Mr. Brower, so I looked him up. A leading environmentalist, he had a penchant for expressing bold ideas in blunt terms.

He said, for example, “Loggers losing their jobs because of Spotted Owl legislation is, in my eyes, no different than people being out of work after the furnaces of Dachau shut down.”

In other words: Where would you draw the line between lifeblood and blood money?

Brower’s quote brought to mind all the arguments I’ve heard over the years about the alleged evils of smoking bans.

The most common: “If the government bans smoking from my bar (or restaurant, private club, VFW hall, bowling alley, cigar bar, hookah bar, etc.), it will eliminate jobs.”

In other words, cancer, heart disease, asthma, sudden infant death syndrome, emphysema and other tobacco-triggered ailments are acceptable as long as hosts and hostesses, waiters and waitresses, bar-tenders and card dealers, salespeople and cleaning people get to work.

Variations on this theme are sometimes echoed on the campaign trail.

“We need to cut environmental regulations so businesses can create more jobs.”

This begs the how-far-would-you-go question: Is it OK to dump dioxin, mercury, lead and other chemicals into the air and water as long as polluters increase employment?

“We need to eliminate red tape for the financial industry, so investors will make more loans and create more jobs.”

This begs the how-far-would-you-go question: Would you be willing to let lenders make more bad investments, cause more defaults, trigger more bankruptcies, defraud more investors and consumers, foreclose on more properties, and risk another recession in the interest of economic development?

“We need to eliminate the Occupational Safety and Health Administration and let employers decide for themselves. Without all those bureaucratic safety standards, private businesses will create more jobs.”

This begs the how-far-would-you-go question: Would you be willing to risk an increase in on-the-job-injuries, deafness, blindness, lost limbs, falls, mine explosions, infected health workers, etc., if it would free up capital and boost the economy?

“We need to return to the good ol’ days and put people to work.”

This begs the how-far-would-you-go question: Would you forgo ATM machines, scan-your-own checkout lanes, robotic assembly lines, self-serve gas, online shopping, iPhones, Kindles, laptops, the Internet and other job-killing technologies to create more jobs for American workers?

Finally, there are the personal how-far-would-you-go-to-earn-a-living questions:

Would you work for a tobacco company, knowing your product prematurely kills half your customers when used as directed?

Could you make, market or serve the alcoholic beverage that was consumed by the driver who ran the stoplight and killed the family of four?

Would you work as an executioner? A drug dealer? A prostitute? A pimp? An assassin?

And what of politics?

If you wanted to win an election, how far would you go? Would you lie? Make stuff up? Manipulate facts? Insult your opponent? Dis your opponent’s spouse and children? Burglarize your opponent’s headquarters? Cover it up? Accept contributions from those you deem unethical? Abandon your principles? Say whatever it took to win—even if you didn’t believe it? Allow others to do all the above, and worse, on your behalf?

Life is full of hard choices. So how far would you go?

Would you take the 30 pieces of silver?

Would you sell your soul to Satan?

Would you work the furnaces of Dachau?

Could you forgive those who did?•


Hetrick is an Indianapolis-based writer, speaker and public relations consultant. His column appears twice a month. He can be reached at bhetrick@ibj.com.


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