Tuesday, April 19, 2011

Not as bad now, I guess

Before coming over to campus this morning, I watched a bit of a program on forgiveness.

The thing that pulled me in was a woman who had - along with her college roommate - been brutally attacked while they were camping. The man who did it, even though (apparently) some of the townspeople identified him, knew who he was, got off scot-free, because the statute of limitations expired.

But I kept watching. There was a segment on a woman who had been involved in the killing of a police officer during 1960s anti-war riots. A couple of things struck me:

First: setting the scene, explaining what the times were like - I wasn't entirely aware of how violent and how scary the protests were. (One of the faults of the way American history is taught in schools? We spent enormous amounts of time on things like the Stamp Acts and similar things, and then ran out of time around World War I. So much of the 20th century history, unless I read about it (or actually lived it), I didn't know that much about it.) I knew there was rioting and violence and all that. (My parents - newly married - were on a college campus at the time, but it was a small, Southern school and my mother always said they were insulated from the worst of the goings-on. How insulated was the place where they lived? In the mid to late 60s, it was still expected women wore hats and gloves to church and for grocery shopping...)

I didn't really think about how bad it was. Until in the voice-over, the woman remarked that the student radicals saw it as "war, no less than the war we were in in Vietnam."

I don't think I could remain on a college campus where there was that attitude.

Another thing she said struck me, and made me think - she talked about how after she had finally surrendered to the authorities (she ran away, and started a new life elsewhere), she kept thinking that she'd feel better - that she'd get the forgiveness she needed.

But she couldn't, and didn't. And she said at one point how unfair it felt, that she was thinking, "Why did General McNamara [who, in her mind, had done far worse than what she had done] get off scot-free, and I have to be punished? Why can't I be forgiven?"

And finally, she realized: Part of the barrier was the resentment she still held to the Vietnam-era generals, to what she saw as an evil, faceless "war machine." That in order to be forgiven of her crime, she also had to forgive others of what she perceived as their crimes.

Of course, she wound up still paying for it - I don't know if she's still in prison or not. (I guess the state where she shot the police officer didn't have the same statute of limitations that the state where the woman and her roommate were attacked had).

But I think that comment she made so sums up a human condition, one of the big problems with human nature: "HE is getting away with something that I believe is far worse than what I did. It's not fair." Instead of looking at our own sins, and going, "Oh, man, I really did something wrong."

I've often said on here that one of the biggest things I learned as I became an adult is that the only person's behavior that I control is my own. And while it's a lot more painful and difficult to look at one's own transgressions (and to work on either making them right, or not committing them again) than it is to point fingers at others, it's really the only way to move forward.

But I think that's something we as a culture may be forgetting - that if you can do something to improve a situation, you should. Rather than blaming the other guy. Rather than claiming you were dealt a crummy hand. But I do think looking at a bad situation, going, "Well, this stinks" but then rolling up your sleeves and trying to fix things is ultimately the path to being at peace.

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