In the moment I’m editing a book of a guy who has done horrible things in his life: he probably killed a few people, raped women, hurt and stole from hundreds. He is now off drugs and says he’s come “clean” since a few years. He sits in front of me, smiling at me with friendly eyes. He has not hurt me. Still, I wonder if I can trust or forgive him. Can I put the things I learnt about him (through his own voluntary confession) behind me like he says he did? Do I really want to? How much can we ever really forgive each other?
“Forgiving and forgetting means to throw valuable experience out the window”, is what I was taught as a child. Still, I learnt that we all say and do things that in hindsight seem like poor choices – when in the moment they “needed to be done”, as we followed spontaneous reflexes and urges.
In a person with a violent track record, this reflex toward violence will always be alive. His/her body remembers the violence and the violent response, the brain is hot-wired that way. We live with our memories of violence, consciously or unconsciously (in our dreams). The question is: can we ever learn to control the physical impulse during a violent provocation? Or are we roaming time-bombs that can go off anytime our buttons are pushed? And if that happens: are we “responsible” or can we rightfully blame it on our animal side, our instincts, our body’s “self-defense mechanism”, our bad conditioning?
All these thoughts go through my mind sitting here with this man. I realize also how I identify myself immediately with the victims in his story, the easier choice. Why don’t I identify with him, the culprit? In this lifetime I haven’t acted out this kind of violence. Yes, but I haven’t been a victim of such extreme violence either. I feel comfortable using the women-are-victims, guy-are-culprits paradigm. In “Beauty and the Beast”, who wouldn’t rather want to be Beauty? Throughout our many cycles of return to this material plane, we all have been women and men. We all have been saints and murderers. To tell it as the old “men suppress women” saga means to disregard the fact that this world and everything in it is constantly turning: each one of us has been the oppresser and the oppressed, as women or men, as individual or as part of an entire gender throughout the millennia. We ALL are equally involved in this ongoing cycle and therefore equally responsible. Equally guilty – and equally innocent. Being aware of this makes forgiving each other so much easier - and blaming each other much harder.