Last week, there was a story on our local news station about an 18 year old "man" who murdered his girlfriend's 3 month old baby girl. The baby girl was left in his care while she (the girlfriend) worked. He brutalized that baby. He panicked. And left.
The girlfriend came home, found a blood stain on the bed. And no one home. No boyfriend. No baby. She panicked. I believe she called the police and/or the hospitals in the area. A short time later, the baby was found dumped somewhere like a tattered, tired mattress or an old, shredded tire.

You hear stories like this all of time (sadly enough) if you watch the news on a regular basis.
And when I heard this one, I shook my head, felt sick to my stomach, and said to Rav, "I feel absolutely no mercy for someone like that." To which he replied, You shouldn't.
I think he saw through to what I was really trying to say which was I wish that I could find it within myself to have the capacity to show mercy to this young man, who probably has never had mercy bestowed upon him.

And this is what has gotten my wheels turning about mercy.
And how I like to think that I am a compassionate and forgiving person.
But at the root of it all, I must not be.
I have come in contact with what I believe to be closet sociopaths who probably can't help themselves - or they are at the very least chronic assholes. And though they are quite obviously ailing and hurting, I cannot find it in myself to forget. Let alone forgive them entirely. I cannot find the well of mercy that I know is buried deep within myself.
Quite frankly, if they are not the sociopaths that I think them to be, and if they have any ounce of human kindness, the punishment I hand over by withdrawing from them is nothing to the punishment they inflict upon themselves.

It is quite difficult to define and discuss mercy without bringing religion into it. And the only way I really can discuss it is by using the modern English definition which is to say that mercy involves compassionate behavior on the part of those in power and authority over another. Pardoning someone. It is wisdom tempered with compassion. In the Qur'an, Allah says, "My mercy prevails over my wrath". And in Mahayana Buddhism, mercy is the special kindness shown to those who suffer.

Mercy is offered by a government, a governor, a policeman (authority) to an offender.
Mercy is granted by a citizen to someone who has damaged their property by not asking for restitution.
And we can get into a whole gamut of things like mercy killing or mercy drugs....but that is not what I intended here.
It can also be something as simple as walking around the block with your two children in their wagon, on what is supposed to be a lovely spring evening, who are fighting with each other, screaming at each other and a stranger/neighbor sees/hears you threatening your kids with your teeth clenched and as "quietly" as possible that they need to stop or you're going home, from where they sit in their front yard and yells Wait! We have something for you. We love to spoil other people's children.
And they walk out of their home with two lollipops which now occupy both sets of fighting hands and yelling mouths.
They have bestowed mercy. They have something (lollipop). You have nothing (a lame threat).

It seems that mercy is a distribution of power. Power that many (including myself) are reluctant to give. For whatever reason, when we feel we are wronged we often lack the wisdom to look beyond ourselves. We lack the wisdom to, rather, search deep within the other person and the circumstance and past the act. Instead, we wrap ourselves in our blankets of anger and power. Despite the fact that you (not you or we, but rather a collective) have been the recipient of mercy along your journeys. Despite the fact that you are no more or no less worthy than anyone else. I think many of us are so reluctant to give it because it possibly "costs" you something. We, at times, feel that we have so little control over various things in our own lives/world. And given the chance to execute mercy, we choose not. And this is especially true of those who have suffered (and we all have in varying degrees). Those that have been so degraded, minimized, and treated so poorly. The only ounce of dignity that they think they have left is within the power they think they possess over another. And some of us just choose to dangle our power, in an attempt to elevate ourselves while we kneel and dig our knees into someone else's back.

It's all about claiming these small little victories for ourselves. The world outside our homes (and even inside of some of our homes) can be so cut-throat. And we are no longer teaching ourselves and our children mercy. And we lack the wisdom to carry it out.

Now granted that when we're talking about bestowing mercy on a criminal, that could mean giving them life in prison rather than the death sentence. But the thing is, has anyone offered that criminal any mercy way back the line? When it really mattered to them? Some of these people are so incredibly broken to begin with. And if I were to ask Rav about offering his clients mercy, he would probably feel like, "What's the point?" When he sees destructive behavior time and again. - Though I know he does offer it in varying degrees, to the best of his ability.
In the end though, that's not up to our ultimate judgement. That is up to someone/thing else.

I think about the mercy that is bestowed upon us everyday in regards to the sun continuing to shine despite the thick layer of toxic cloud that hangs in our atmosphere. The fact that the trees continue to grow and produce oxygen despite the fact that we harvest plentiful forests, farmlands and greenways. Not to mention pollute the soil. The fact that we are able to eat and drink despite the fact that we continue to pollute drinking water and the soil our crops grow in.
We are repeat offenders.
Just like many that are behind jail cells.

I'm still struggling with my instant feeling of rage against that young man who committed that sick and brutal crime. And quite frankly, while what he did is horrible, I am not in a position to offer him mercy. Rather I need to keep in my mind my own feelings of rage and to quiet them. I need to stop and think wisely. I am sorry though for whatever wrong that has happened to him to force him to make such a horrid decision. I am not saying that we should all play victim - and not take responsibility. Quite the contrary.
But what I'm slowly trying to come to grips with is that handing over mercy is not necessarily handing over power to someone else. At the basic root of it all, it's simply sharing something. And we should give each other the chance, when we can...to see what that person will do with it. If they will take it for the gift it is and pass it on to someone else. (I am constantly reminded of the Bishop and Jean Valjean). In the end giving it should not be looked at something that will hurt us or take away from us. Instead we have done well by offering it to someone who needs it. And save the everybody's bill comes due part for the higher power to do that.

This is all a great lesson to me. And I thank you for letting me try and work it out on here. I'm not even sure that I've touched on anything that I had intended to. Maybe this is just a starting point.

7 ripples in the pond:

Pippajo said...

What an incredibly complex and elusive concept. I agree, it's a very difficult one to define, let alone to practice.

I can't say I've been able to come to a satisfying conclusion of what mercy is or how to use of it properly. I know I have been the beneficiary of it throughout my lifetime, but I'm not sure how merciful I am to others. In fact, I tend to be very judgemental.

Once again, you've crawled inside my head and are making me think. Not many people can do that without thoroughly irritating me in the process! You're good!

jen said...

this is very good. i like the mercy being merciful, duh, and just.

i don't know how to manifest it in my daily life, to be truly merciful. but yes.

nice post, tab.

deb said...

This is an awful thing to say but I can understand how people kill their children or how that young man killed that child. It doesn't happen on purpose, I don't think. I think it comes with fatigue and stress and mental illness, and throw whatever else you want to in the pot, an abusive parent, no supports, isolation, poverty, substance abuse. You name it.

And then something snaps inside your head. You can't make that baby stop crying and you just want it to stop crying, if it would only stop crying. You've got nothing left inside, because you didn't have much to begin with and what little you had is gone. And then rage fills your head and you shake the baby, or slam it into the crib or throw it onto the floor and babies can't take rough treatment, they break, they stop breathing and then you realize what you've done and you didn't really want to do that, but it's too late. And then you panic.

I've never done this but I've thought of it. I've turned around and walked out of the room and it's taken everything I have to do that, every shred of willpower to not slam that baby into a wall. And I can understand how easy it would be to do.

And now you know way more about me than you probably ever cared to. Sorry.

thailandchani said...

I agree with Deb on this one. There are many reasons why people snap and do horrible things. Compassion is really just understanding someone's suffering. It's not about absolution.



Joker The Lurcher said...

i suppose what makes the difference to the decisions you make is what deb says - something makes you walk out of the room. and probably what it was is that somewhere, someone showed you kindness at some point in your life and gave you the benefit of the doubt.

i meet people at work who have no reserves, no space. i hear women shriek at tiny children as though they were adults. and i know these women were spoken to like that when they were tiny children. no one ever showed them mercy or kindness or gentleness. it is one fucked up world...

Mary-LUE said...

I finally had a chance to sit and give this post some real attention. I think your last paragraph communicates so well the personal struggle with mercy, especially:

"But what I'm slowly trying to come to grips with is that handing over mercy is not necessarily handing over power to someone else"

And I thinking bring Les Miserables into was dead on. I think for me, one aspect of mercy and forgiveness is the idea that it is undeserved. Compassion can take into account more the circumstances of someone's life--how they came to be a person who would do something wrong; however, when an authority or an individual shows mercy, it is an opportunity to say, "This is what's fair, this punishment, this consequence; but I'm going to do something different, something better."

Now, these discussions could go on and on, couldn't they? But I would like to say that when I say undeserved, I mean simply that the person is "guilty" of his/her transgression, however small or big it might be. Also, I do not think mercy is always a good idea. (Ted Bundy? No mercy--from me at least. I agree with you that the higher power is responsible for that.) I suppose that is where the wisdom comes in--to discern when mercy is something better and when it isn't.

Thanks for sharing this, Tabba.

Tabba said...

Right on, Mary-LUE. You said perfectly what I was trying to.