Why is forgiveness essential?
Welcome to stren #61. Today’s wisdom explains the distinction between punishment and limit setting. The distinction is subtle but so significant that our survival may depend in it. Understanding the difference explains why forgiveness is essential if we are to survive and thrive in this new age. Human selection is rapidly overtaking natural selection as we master the knowledge of cause-and-effect to acquire the godlike power of creation and destruction.
Punishment is inflicting harm, often with a sense of justification – “an eye for an eye, a tooth for a tooth.” Instinct and tradition have favored inflicting harm as a means to show dominance and insure compliance with their preferred rules. It assumes that future compliance will be attained by the threat of force and loss of freedom. Punishment is primarily self-serving with little regard for the well-being of those who deviate from our tribe’s rules. We dehumanize those not of our persuasion and justify our lack of respect. Our present prison system hasn’t worked for most individuals and tends to breed more potent crime. Punishment escalates resentment and hate towards the punisher. The growing tension commonly leads to harmful confrontation as the separation of the establishment and the deviant grows. Getting hurt means getting even.
Limit-setting recognizes the need for firm and swift restriction of harmful behavior to protect ourselves while providing education and rehabilitation (re-habiting) to the source of harmful behavior. Limit-setting assumes that most anti-social behavior is primarily due to lack of appropriate education and/or the presence of inappropriate education. Harmful behavior, whether genetically programmed or learned, will continue until forgiveness and appropriate education and support provide incentives to function within the limits of civility. My experience with the prison system is that both punishment and rehabilitation are represented but there is a far greater emphasis on punishment.
Punishment is nature’s tried and proven survival of the fittest action pathway. Limit-setting is the self-initiated product of common sense wisdom that intentions benefits all parties involved.
At first glance, forgiving those whose behavior offends tradition appears illogical and dangerous, but this reaction is based on a misperception of forgiveness. Forgiveness does not free others or ourselves from responsibility; it does not ignore harmful action. It sets swift and firm limits in a manner that allows us to address harmful behavior in a way that has the most productive outcome for all parties. In addition to freeing our self from wasteful energy-draining preoccupations such as resentment, revenge, and punishment, forgiveness redirects our innate energy towards education, rehabilitation, and problem-solving.
Filial love, the concern of a parent for a child, or concern from a member of a family or tribe for one of their own, usually emphasizes limit-setting. The intent of “tough love” is to benefit all parties. The emphasis of limit-setting is redirecting behavior from harmful to constructive actions. Punishment is more common when the parent experiences rage and acts more on the pathways prewired by instinct than those determined by common sense. Filial love is more tolerant of unacceptable behavior than resentment and hate. Filial love can be turned on or turned off by hormones; in humankind, it is also learned. As a generality, women are more practiced and competent in filial love. The estrogenic hormones prevalent in women favor nurturance whereas the androgenic male hormones urge competition to establish dominance and reproductive rights. This is why I believe nature better prepares women to play a more important role in creating world peace than men. However, men are equally capable of education in the skills of forgiveness and love that are suddenly required to survive and thrive.
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