The power of for­give­ness Mind­ful­ness Man Martin Ste­pek

Sunday Herald Life - - BOOKS REVIEW - Martin Ste­pek is founder of Ten­forZen, of­fer­ing guided mind­ful­ness ses­sions in handy, 10 min­utes a day, au­dio cour­ses. Author of four books, he is fre­quently asked to speak on mind­ful­ness, his re­mark­able fam­ily her­itage, and on busi­ness. See ten­

TO err is hu­man, to for­give di­vine. This quote is from the great English poet Alexan­der Pope, though he used an an­cient Latin phrase for the first part. I think it is one of the great state­ments in the English lan­guage. Lately, both on so­cial me­dia and in ev­ery­day life, I have heard a plethora of harsh judg­ments about peo­ple who have said or done some­thing wrong.

Re­cent ex­am­ples have con­cerned two Con­ser­va­tive lo­cal coun­cil­lors who had been found to make racist and sec­tar­ian com­ments on­line, and still more re­cently an­other Scot­tish Con­ser­va­tive who had im­plied very neg­a­tive views about the Trav­el­ling com­mu­ni­ties of Scot­land.

Peo­ple were out­raged when the two coun­cil­lors, hav­ing been sus­pended, were al­lowed back to their nor­mal roles after pledg­ing not to re­peat their of­fen­sive views. Mean­while, peo­ple on­line urged folk to shout abuse at the Con­ser­va­tive who made the re­mark about the Trav­el­ling com­mu­ni­ties the next time he was in pub­lic. As he hap­pens he is a pro­fes­sional foot­ball ref­eree, he is prob­a­bly used to be­ing heck­led in pub­lic.

Mind­ful­ness has two com­po­nents to it which are rel­e­vant to th­ese sce­nar­ios. The first is em­pa­thy, the sec­ond rea­son, but they are in­trin­si­cally in­ter­twined.

Why does some­one say some­thing hurt­ful about oth­ers in the first place? The an­swer at its most ba­sic is sim­ple, and uni­ver­sal. Genes and life ex­pe­ri­ences. Na­ture and nur­ture. Things do not oc­cur with­out prior cause. Ev­ery­thing in ex­is­tence hap­pens as part of a re­lent­less se­ries of chains of causes and ef­fects. So the ut­ter­ances of th­ese politi­cians are sim­ply the re­sult of things that hap­pened to them in the past mixed in with the genes they in­her­ited from their par­ents.

Sim­i­larly the re­sul­tant out­cry about their com­ments comes from an­other set of past ex­pe­ri­ences and the nudg­ing of our ge­netic in­flu­ences.

And in turn my genes and past ex­pe­ri­ences are telling me to write this ar­ti­cle in re­sponse to the out­cry. Here’s why.

One of the things I see in Scot­land is the un­pleas­ant re­sult of a huge amount of such causes and ef­fects. Po­larised opin­ions, loss of abil­ity to stay calm and re­spect­ful while mak­ing points, the use of vin­dic­tive words to try to cause max­i­mum hurt. Th­ese things, while hav­ing causes in them­selves, also re­sult in harm­ful ef­fects, a spi­ralling of vi­cious views and state­ments.

In this at­mos­phere some pre­cious things get lost. Fel­low feel­ing. Tol­er­ance of dif­fer­ence of opin­ion. Ac­cep­tance that our side might not al­ways be right. And for­give­ness. If we never for­gave ig­no­rant or harm­ful words ut­tered by peo­ple and force them out of of­fice, there would be no-one left on the planet to fill any post. I’m not a re­li­gious per­son but Je­sus put it bril­liantly as he so of­ten did: “Let they who are with­out sin cast the first stone.” And: “Judge not, that ye be not judged.”

Those are salu­tary state­ments. We are all pro­grammed. We are all im­per­fect. We are all prej­u­diced in some way. It is use­ful to re­mem­ber this when we find our minds ris­ing in a self-right­eous way to con­demn oth­ers’ com­ments.

This doesn’t mean we should ac­cept hate­ful or big­oted state­ments, but the aim should be at the state­ments, not the peo­ple who say them.

Nor in my opin­ion should we scream, “off with their heads”, ev­ery time some­one errs in this way. If we are to live peace­fully in a so­ci­ety we not only have to learn to be more open, ac­cept­ing and wel­com­ing of dif­fer­ent cul­tures and ways of think­ing and be­ing, we must also give peo­ple the op­por­tu­nity to learn from their past er­rors and con­tinue to play im­por­tant roles in so­ci­ety.

So next time you feel the urge to pon­tif­i­cate and shout, “Re­sign!” just take a deep breath, al­low that men­tal space to re­mind you that you too, are not ex­actly per­fect, and then con­sider what re­sponse you could cre­ate that states a clear opin­ion but seeks at the same time to unify and al­low a chance for re­demp­tion.

It is so easy to rab­ble-rouse. The bay­ing of the mob is not the pret­ti­est part of our species’s his­tory. It’s a lot harder to lower ten­sions and nur­ture peace but ul­ti­mately that’s what the vast ma­jor­ity of peo­ple in any so­ci­ety want.

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