Ashley Belohlavek: Forgiveness: Avoiding Conflict

We have this incredibly counterintuitive phenomenon in our society where we wage war in hopes of ending conflict and establishing peace. But, isn’t that completely missing the point? Isn’t that creating even more conflict? Christian philosopher Thomas Merton laughs at this concept, as he says, “There is in reality not the slightest logical reason for war, and yet the whole world is plunging headlong into frightful destruction, and doing so with the purpose of avoiding war and preserving peace!”

As Merton puts it, “Perhaps in the end the first real step toward peace would be a realistic acceptance of the fact that our political ideals are perhaps to a great extent illusions and fictions to which we cling out of motives that are not always perfectly honest: that because of this we prevent ourselves from seeing any good or any practicability in the political ideas of our enemies.” I have mixed feelings about this quote and how this concept would actually be able to work in an unbalanced power dynamic, but I agree with the sentiment. Much of conflict starts and continues with parties’ inability to listen to people who don’t share the same views as them.

Something that will stay with me for a long time from this course is a conversation I had with Professor Mahallati. Normally, I argue that true peace is not possible without justice. Whether that idea is popular or not, whether I still believe that or not, Professor Mahallati made a very valid point by using an example. He said that during the Iran-Iraq war, Iranians insisted on avenging their people against Saddam Hussein, but in the process of getting that justice, so many more lives were lost and so much destruction continued. In the end, the cost of justice was the loss of so many innocent lives, when it probably would have been better to just wait for justice against Hussein rather than seek justice through another bloody war. Of course justice is incredibly important, but avoiding the loss of life and harm to people is also incredibly important. It is by no means black and white, the balance between peace and justice.

We’ve also discussed a lot about forgiving or forgetting negative history in order to prevent further harm. For instance, as discussed earlier in the course, one may choose to forgive someone in order to ease their own mind and let go of any kind of grudge or resentment. Sometimes, forgiving or forgetting may be what’s best for someone rather than looking for revenge or justice. This is a preference that will vary from person to person and there is no one right answer. This can be applied to a lot of the topics that we discuss in class, or even in the case of the Iran-Iraq war that I just mentioned. Some Iranians probably wanted to move on from Hussein’s damage, but the war merely made things worse and lost more lives. In other words, sometimes you have to “pick your battles” or decide what is worth a fight or not; what is worth forgiveness or not.

As Merton says in his essay, why would we seek peace by starting more conflict? There certainly is never a simple answer to these questions of whether or not to seek justice by whatever means necessary, but sometimes it is best to seek the most peaceful route. Merton clearly seeks to establish some sort of fair dialogue or compromise between people who disagree. He says that when we disagree with someone, we automatically shut our ears to their side of the story and we don’t consider their opinion because it goes against out own. Maybe the key to peace is simply being more open-minded and compassionate towards people different from us. I agree this can be helpful, but it is also much more easily said than done

Something we grapple with so much in this class is how to begin that sort of dialogue. Sometimes it is safer to consider someone’s opinion than others. For example, if someone is, say, saying that Jewish people are no longer in danger today and downplaying the destruction of the Holocaust, that can be very traumatizing and horrible offensive to a Jewish person. It suggests that their lives and emotions are not as important because they are refusing to acknowledge the immense trauma and violence that Jewish people have faced for basically all of history.

Perhaps the hardest question is whether we should expect people to forgive the people who hurt them for the sake of peace. Of course, it is only up to the person or group that was harmed to make this decision, but it is still a topic for discussion. A simple apology from country A apologizing for causing a genocide against group B will not change the fact that the genocide happened and lives were lost. An apology from Iraq for invading Iran will not change the fact that Iran was brutalized by Iraq and specifically Saddam Hussein. But for some people, this will have to do, because further violence or legal battles are too much. They will not bring peace or justice, they will only bring more suffering. At the end of the day, sometimes justice is more important than peace and sometimes peace is more important than justice; it just depends on the situation and the preference of the person who has the right to seek justice or decide to move on.

Works cited:

Merton, Thomas. Passion for Peace: Reflections on War and Nonviolence. The Crossroad Publishing Company: New York.