Sure, forgiveness is a good thing, one might even say divine. And, apparently, it’s good for one’s mental health:
Forgiveness is an act of letting go. It is not something we do for others; it is a gift to ourselves....We do not release them from accountability by forgiving; we free ourselves from the burden of bitterness. Gordon Livingston, M.D.
Things get more complicated when you away from the personal, though. A long time ago, when I was an angry self-righteous young political activist, my Dad gave me a book by Eric Hoffer called The True Believer. Hoffer said that people who want to change the world are simply trying to avoid changing themselves. I thought: if King, Gandhi, and Mandela did what they did to avoid working on themselves, we should all be grateful for that.
Disillusioned words like bullets bark as human gods aim for their mark to make everything from toy guns that spark to flesh colored Christs that glow in the dark; it’s easy to see without looking too far that not much is really sacred.
Here’s what’s pissing me off at the moment (as opposed to ten minutes from now, or ten minutes ago): Republicans. Cindy McCain said “In Arizona the only way to get around the state is by small private plane.” Phil Gramm says people should stop whining about the economy, since, presumably, nobody he knows is so strapped that the private plane is on the block. Karl Rove says Obama is just like that snooty guy “everybody” knows from the country club that, presumably, “everybody” is a member of. And yet, find a picture of a Democratic candidate wind surfing or admitting that he reads a book now and then, and an Andover graduate son of a president who used family connections to keep out of Vietnam only needs to clear some brush in front of a Fox News camera and mispronounce big words to be a man of the people. Of course, these are also the people who’ve taken on the mantle of “morality” to the point that when the word “values” appears in the mainstream media, we can assume it means “right wing fundamentalist Republican values” even as they’ve fucked the world with their ideology of avarice, bigotry, paranoia, and unbelievable greed (though, admittedly, what pisses me off almost as much is that democrats/progressives/liberals let them do it...since, y’know, we’re too postmodern to use that kind of terminology).
Keep you doped with religion, and sex and TV, and you think you’re so clever and classless and free, but you’re still fucking peasants as far as I can see.
John Lennon, “Working Class Hero”
On the other hand, King et al didn’t, as far as I know, spend a lot of time sitting around stewing in their own rage. I have friends who can barely sit still over a beer thanks to their visceral hatred of George W. Bush. I’ve also met incredibly privileged people who spend hours every day gritting their teeth with rage as Rush Limbaugh rants about the possibility that a few of their tax dollars might go to healthcare for people with nothing. I spend a ludicrous amount of time and energy coming up with angry political rants (see above), ending up emotionally drained and, thus, actually less likely to take any significant action about anything.
There’s a scene in the movie Gandhi, where Gandhi’s on a hunger strike to get the Hindus and Muslims to stop killing each other. A distraught man enters the room, throwing a hunk of food onto his blanket. “I’m already going to Hell,” he says (all dialogue is from memory), “I won’t have your death on my conscience, too.” When Gandhi asks why he’s going to Hell, the man recounts that, after the Muslims killed his family, he bashed a Muslim child’s head in. Gandhi says “there is a way that you can escape from hell. Find a child who’s lost his parents in the fighting. Take him with you and raise him as your own.” Then, after a pause: “One more thing: he must be a Muslim, and you must raise him as one.” The point of this is not that the guy needs to make some bizarre and, most likely, impossible penance to keep from going to Hell after death; it’s that he’s already in Hell because of his hatred for the Muslims for what they did and for himself for what he did because of that hatred. The only way out is to break the cycle.