Testing our morals for forgiveness

I used to hold grudges against people for wronging me. With time I learned to forgive them, but I don’t think I ever forgot what they did to me. Interestingly, the deeds I remember the most are the ones I have been able to forgive the least. Even now I hold a childhood grudge which often times seems juvenile but I still find it difficult to forgive that person. But this post is not about my moral weaknesses. This is more about the hypocrisy that we all subscribe to when it comes to forgiveness.

Take any religious moral codex and it will emphasize of forgiving, and more about about forgiving even though one should not forget. This mantra worked well for, well, hundreds or even thousands of years, but now it seems to be coming under increasing attack. That attacks comes from the most unlikely source — the Internet!

Over the millenia, we (and by we, I mean human kind) have been able to forgive and let people start over mostly because we can forget. That is, we could forgive misdeeds because even though we remembered them at that time, we knew that our memory was fallible and so we would eventually forget the misdeeds. What’s the point of being unforgiving about something you don’t even remember? There is a lot of value in such forgiving because it makes you life a lot easier. It helps you be happy rather than be depressed by everything that has gone wrong because of someone else. In the end, if you did not forgive, then you will ending up hating a lot of people and not really know why! A tragic way to lead a life indeed.

Surprisingly, the Internet has changed all that because the Internet never forgets. So the traditional incentive to forgive (namely, that you will eventually forget it, so what’s the point in holding on to a grudge) is no longer there. Facebook, Google, Blogs, Twitter, message boards, discussion forums, all of them chronicle your life in a non-volatile fashion to enable you to recall everything about your life if you choose put your life up online. As it turns out, a lot of people put their life up online. So there you have it, now if you want to forgive, it would have to be true forgiveness, despite the fact that you will probably never forget.

How many people have such moral fortitute to be able to forgive despite not being able to forget?  Not many, I hazard to guess. In many ways,  forgetting may be viewed as our biological adaptation for a happier life. We have successfully invalidated that adaptation with the Internet. Now what?

The irony in this deal is that social networking, a mechanism created by technology to keep us happy by keeping us from becoming isolated has precipitated a side-effect that is now actively undermining the very some thing it strived to foster to begin with!

And I am not making all this up. This is not some high flying philosophical/spiritual rant with no material underpinning. Just take look at the news over the past year. Look at how many people we fired because of an indisrection that was years and years old and was discovered only recently thanks to Facebook. Consider the well-trained teachers who can now no longer teach because at some low point in their lives, they were forced to become an exotic dancer to pay their tuition and fees (Why? Because someone took her photograph during a bachlor party and put it up online). I can go on and on with more realistic (and potentially true) illustrations; but you get the point.

So now the question is, what are you prepared to truly forgive despite never forgeting. And this is not for any altruistic motive, but for a very selfish one. You happiness. Do you value your happiness enough to let someone else off the hook? Are you willing to forgive and never forget?

P.S.: Inspired by a post from Patrix and an NY Times article.

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