Why do we find it so easy to judge and so hard to forgive?
Part of the answer might lie in the fact that holding grudges and passing judgement can seem so satisfying. As Tim Herrera wrote in a recent New York Times article, we may actually like them, as we “tend to them as little pets.” Anne Lamott, writing in her inimitable (some would say snarky) style in Hallelujah Anyway: Rediscovering Mercy, captures the same push-pull attraction when she says,
“Kindness towards others and radical kindness to ourselves buy us a shot at a warm and generous heart, which is the greatest prize of all. Do you want this, or do you want to be right? Well, can I get back to you on that?”
In our time of extreme political polarization, it may be difficult to identify the humanity amidst the ideology. The more we see religion, politics and life as a winner-take-all battle full of zero-sum calculations, forgiveness seems quaint — a lost art or forgotten concept.
This was on my mind as I entered the American Film Institute (AFI) Silver Theater last Saturday afternoon. The AFI Docs Film Festival in Washington and Silver Spring was the attraction, and there I was fortunate to see an astonishing new work: Gay Chorus Deep South. The film’s website sets up the story.
“In response to a wave of discriminatory anti-LGBTQ laws in Southern states and the divisive 2016 election, the San Francisco Gay Men’s Chorus embarks on a tour of the American Deep South.
Led by Gay Chorus Conductor Dr. Tim Seelig and joined by The Oakland Interfaith Gospel Choir; the tour brings a message of music, love and acceptance, to communities and individuals confronting intolerance. Over 300 singers travelled from Mississippi to Tennessee through the Carolinas and over the bridge in Selma. They performed in churches, community centers and concert halls in hopes of uniting us in a time of difference. The journey also challenges Tim and other Chorus members who fled the South to confront their own fears, pain and prejudices on a journey towards reconciliation. The conversations and connections that emerge offer a glimpse of a less divided America, where the things that divide us; faith, politics, sexual identity are set aside by the soaring power of music, humanity and a little drag.”
The Director, David Charles Rodrigues, spoke after the showing about his desire to make a film that, in the light of growing hate and intolerance, looked at our need to step back and begin “judging our judgements.”
Today we are quick to judge both those we know and those we don’t know. In our news cycle, the pundits who make judgement the centerpiece of their arguments seem to be the ones who command most of the air time. It is all too easy to judge someone who is “different.”
On the other hand, we find it hard to forgive “the other” yet we too easily forget that we are the ones who may most need forgiveness. That can be hard. We need to believe we are worthy of forgiveness and — if we have chosen hatred and intolerance — that we can change our minds.
Philosopher Hannah Arendt, in her book The Human Condition, said:
“Without being forgiven, released from the consequences of what we have done, our capacity to act would, as it were, be confined to one single deed from which we could never recover; we would remain the victims of its consequences forever, not unlike the sorcerer’s apprentice who lacked the formula to break the spell.”
The film had multiple stories of decades-old grudges, judgements, and separation between family, friends, and churches. It showed how those involved were the victims of the consequences of those decisions. What the Gay Men’s Chorus set out to do through their tour was to begin conversations. What these 300 singers ended up doing was to begin the process of forgiveness and healing.
Learning to forgive takes practice. But we need to understand that holding on to a judgement or a grudge is not a very good strategy for a useful life. Dr. Frederic Luskin, founder of the Stanford Forgiveness Project, suggests we,
“Get the right perspective on what is happening. Recognize that your primary distress is coming from the hurt feelings, thoughts and physical upset you are suffering now, not what offended you or hurt you two minutes — or ten years — ago.”
Judging our judgements is a good path towards forgiveness, reconciliation, and ultimately that warm and generous heart.
Have a good week.
More to come…