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“To err is human and to forgive is divine” or “Ignorance is bliss”?

January 16, 2009

Driving home from work today I was listening to an interview of the director Stephen Daldry of the film The Reader, based on the book by Bernhard Schlink (which coincidentally sounds like an excellent film, wining a golden globe for Kate Winslet). In the interview Stephen said something very interesting. He claims that as humans, “… it’s impossible for us to forgive.” I thought this was a very interesting argument, and reminded me of an article I read last year. 

In the article, Mary Seery ran a study that viewed how victims of traumatic incidents coped with the events, and how that affected them. The study showed that those who did not talk about the incident actually faired better in the long run. This runs parallel with another article that surveys how the brains of the elderly. The study shows that in old age people tend to be older, and for a particular reason. In the study photographs were shown to various people ages 20-70 while they were hooked up to monitors which studied brain activity. The study shows that younger people were able to recall negative pictures better than the older cases. The test runners hypothesize that the elderly “dilute the emotional punch” so that they can live out the last few years in a happier state. 
But this brings me back to the original question, can we forgive? Can we truly forgive? It seems biologically we are better suited to forget the incident altogether than to try to rationalize the situation. Perhaps this is a semantical argument. In the strictest sense forgiveness implies the cessation of feeling angry or resentful for an action or event. And in a way this implies that we accept the action or event to be ok. But how can we ever accept the killing of another or the infidelity of a loved one to be ok? It seems like the core of forgiveness implies forgetting. Moving on the from the incident, and taking only the good from it. Instead of scorning the terrorists of 9/11 we forget them, for there is no greater punishment then to be wiped from the history books. Instead of obsessing over a unfaithful significant other we look past their mistakes and instead embrace the love that we feel towards them.
Perhaps Coldplay had it right when Chris Martin sings:

Oh, what good is it to live with nothing left to give
Forget but not forgive, not loving all you see

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