Scale and Forgiveness

I almost don’t want to share this video because of how graphic it is. But it triggered an idea I wanted to share.

Here someone is horrifically lit on fire by a masked man. There’s no excuse for this. No matter how different in opinion the guy in the green t-shirt is, no matter how vile you might think he is, no matter what horrible words he says to you – nobody deserves such a brutal attack.

I reflected on the different scenes that would’ve happened after this. First is the man in the green t-shirt. I believe he survived. I wonder how he is feeling now. I wonder if he is filled with rage and hatred for the unprovoked attacker. I wonder if the pain from his burn wounds are perpetually replaying the scene in his mind. I wonder how his family and friends feel. I wonder if they are also filled with anger and hatred.

Then I also wonder about the attacker. I wonder how he feels. Whether he feels regret and remorse, or whether he is continuing a story of hatred and disgust towards the man in green. I wonder if he fears being caught by the police. I wonder if this is the first time he’s attacked in this way. I wonder if he thinks what he did was somehow justified.

I wonder about the onlookers. What were they experiencing when they witnessed that? Were there any that, just for a second thought the man in the green t-shirt somehow deserved this? Were they disgusted by such acts of violence? Did anyone trying to catch the attacker before he ran away? Did anyone try to put the flames out from the man in green? Who was the first to call the ambulance?

Here was a different angle filmed of the same scene:


I’ve been reflecting about scale recently. These videos triggered some thoughts about scale and forgiveness – and how the manifestation of forgiveness can be wildly different at various scales.

First, it’s clear the attacker should be arrested. A fair trial should then be heard before a sentencing given. For example, what if someone was threatening to murder the attacker’s family unless he carried out this act? Whatever the case, some level of punishment according to the law must be carried out. We can call this the level of justice.

Then there is the personal level. Wisdom traditions will agree that if the man in green decided to harbour hatred towards the attacker, he will inflict more damage on himself than the burn wounds have done. Forgiveness is the only rational choice. Although not easy.

What I wrote about actor vs action is relevant here also. The man in green can have forgiveness for the actor, yet utterly condemn the action.

I find it so interesting how the wisest choice at the personal level can seem so alien at the level of justice. It’s most rational to forgive the attacker at the personal level (for mental well-being of the victim). Yet it is most rational to give the maximum punishment to the attacker at level of justice. But even in giving this maximum punishment, it is not contradictory to have compassion and love.

Often these values of compassion and love are seen as ‘soft’. But I don’t think they contradict the modern world’s justice system. I don’t even think they contradict war. We make perceptions of people like the Dalai Lama as a loving, peaceful and humble man. Yet I know from Tibetans who receive teachings from him that he can be incredibly fierce in his teachings. His wisdom will make discerning judgements and decisions. Yet he can do this while still having love for everyone.

One of the most respected positions in society is the Judge. Yet there seems to be a growing view that judgement is a bad thing. Where we allow crimes to take place without justice. Where our entire society becomes a pushover because judging others is not PC. But maybe this last paragraph is for another post.

I hope the attacker is arrested as soon as possible.
I wish the man in green strength in being able to forgive.

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