Why Not Forgive?

Sunday, 1 June 2008

[Picture of Angry Man]FORGIVENESS is out of fashion at the moment.

I think it is a great shame; forgiveness is a measure of civilisation, of how far we have progressed, or advanced – how civilised we have become.

Unfortunately, the present hunger is for revenge and retribution. We demand punishment for people who have done wrong, especially when they have done wrong to us personally.

[Picture of a woman scorned painting on a car out of revenge]This trend has been around for a while now, and may reflect the post-Christian society (or post-religious secularity). So much so that we can actually laugh at revenge scenarios, of divorce and “a woman scorned”. We are so very selfish these days.

My point is that this is not good for us collectively nor individually.

At this point I would really like to begin my attempt to convince you that forgiveness could lengthen your life, and improve the quality of it as well.

In my opinion, an attitude of forgiveness, a habit of forgiving, leads to better design. Better design means a better life. Let me try to show you what I mean by that.

[Picture of Homer Simpson saying 'Doh!']Have you ever deleted something on your computer by accident? Have you ever closed down a file you were working on, and wished you hadn’t; you lost your work? That is a horrible feeling, isn’t it?

[Picture of tyre tread marks on road, swerving]Have you ever missed your turn-off from a motorway? It’s so frustrating, but you have to drive miles to take the next turn-off, cross over to rejoin the motorway going in the opposite direction, merely to then take the turn-off again — of course, not all turn-off arrangements allow immediate access over to the other side, and you can get into a right old muddle, and drive a great many miles all because you made a simple mistake.

[Picture of man frustrated]The point is that it is human to make a mistake, and we ought to take this into account when we design things — we ought to go with the natural flow, make allowances for human error, and build in options — forgiveness (not punishment).

It is not good enough to put up a few signs at the side of the road. It is not sufficient to have a pop up ask you if you really want to overwrite a computer file. You have to provide a way back, a forgiveness path.

  • Imagine a life where you do not get jumped on and penalised for every single silly mistake!
  • Imagine a world of forgiveness, or common sense prevailing (instead of job’s worth types following orders and doing things exactly by the book).

If you can imagine that world, you must surely see how much less stressful it would be — how much happier we’d all be.

That in itself would reduce much of society’s problems. And there is actually a lot of proof to back this up.

For example, the late Hans Monderman showed that people are more kind and considerate of each other when all the road markings, traffic lights, signs and pavements are removed. he managed to eliminate traffic jams, reduce pollution, save the planet, save lives and destress people. I discussed Monderman in my post “How to Stop Traffic Jams & Save Lives” of 2007-01-20.

[Picture of crazy car parking]Why have disabled parking space allocation, when people are more understanding and nicer? Having such spaces creates anger and frustration. Rules and regulations tend to do that — why? That’s right, because they are inflexible and unforgiving.

Durham County has no speed cameras; drunk drivers do not get caught by cameras, only speed offenders get caught. So their policy has been to actually do some proper policing instead. Policing is all about letting people off, it is not about being as black-and-white and clear cut as a camera. Warnings, prevention due to police presence, and having a very good excuse are all called into play in a more negotiable and potentially forgiving situation.

So while forgiveness can be built-in to certain designed things, it’s not necessarily so permanent and rigid; forgiveness can also be down to common sense and humanity.

[Picture of graffitti saying Oh No]That’s why examinations often have components — a written test, some coursework, an assessment, and so forth. This is because any person can have an off day — that’s forgiveable, isn’t it? Not everyone responds well to the pressure of an exam, so we need to forgive that effect somehow.

Forgiveness is not about letting everyone do what they want, anarchy, or being soft on criminals. No, not at all; forgiveness is about making things better.

[Picture of Judge in courtroom]

From the rigid, Kantian written laws that must be obeyed (if you do the crime, then you must do the time), to the opposite anarchistic extreme, forgiveness is found in the middle; it is the balance point — the region where you use human judgement in applying rules in the interests of fairness and a better outcome.

Forgiveness is about improvement for humanity. It’s about tolerance and understanding. It’s about listening, and helping people to aspire to their potential — haven’t we had enough of restrictions?

Letting go of the rules means that people can be free to act like people, as opposed to acting mechanically, or robotically to a set of rigid rules and instructions.

2 Responses to “Why Not Forgive?”

  1. Errol Says:

    Shit happens

  2. dave Says:

    Check out An experiment in Portishead in Bristol — proof positive that Monderman was right.

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