The Unfairness of Mercy

A few observations.

To speak of mercy amidst the mob is not a popular choice. And, sure: when the wound is fresh, you don’t go telling people to make amends.

But when can you?

Among the left, catch phrases like “prison abolition” and “restorative justice” have gained traction. It seems the act of mercy here is left to some vague other. When it comes to extending mercy and grace in our own lives, however, too often no apology is sufficient, no forgiveness is ever possible.

Nick Cave wrote eloquently about mercy earlier this year. I was disturbed to see, when searching for the link, that F0x N3ws highlighted his post, pulling a quote that’s critical of cancel culture, because of course those are buzz words that fuel the right’s unending thirst to punish and demonize the left. But Nick Cave’s post was about more than just cancel culture:

Mercy ultimately acknowledges that we are all imperfect and in doing so allows us the oxygen to breathe — to feel protected within a society, through our mutual fallibility. Without mercy a society loses its soul, and devours itself.

Nick Cave

What prompts this post?

I would only say this: if someone (me) is afraid to publicly advocate mercy for someone who has made a mistake – and yes, a mistake was most definitely made in this case, and the party in question has admitted fault – for fear of career-ending retribution, then something is wrong on a profound level. It means that mercy is no longer a shared value.

The trick is that we on the left conflate mercy with fairness. Mercy, however, is fundamentally unfair. Mercy means that revenge never comes. Mercy does not satisfy. Mercy means accepting a hurt, and that sort of acceptance is, at heart, unfair to the one who has been injured. For those in power to speak of mercy to those who are marginalized is, in many cases, wholly hypocritical.

One thing mercy does not preclude, however, is restoration.

“Restoration”: restorative.

Restorative justice.

Before asking of others that they forgive damage, injury, and insult, perhaps we should begin with ourselves, and ask what can we first restore.

It is not easy. It is not fair. It may not even be right.

It is, however, a path to freedom.

Published by Elizabeth

I alphabetize my private library.

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