Forgiveness is a controversial subject. Some say you shouldn't forgive too quickly, that it takes time to fully process the injustice you just suffered. Others look at the persecutor and worry about letting him off the hook. Shouldn't justice be served? Shouldn't everyone be held accountable for their actions?
This attitude presumes that unless we hold others accountable they won't be. It ignores any sense of cosmic justice, known to many as "karma." Even those who profess to believe in the concept of karma can get triggered towards vengeance when some particularly heinous crime is committed. It seems so passively inappropriate, to just stand by while innocents suffer.
I agree. But who says you have to passively stand by? That sounds irresponsible to me. No, regardless of our theories, when something happens we react. If you're on the battlefield and someone shouts "Duck!" that's not the time to ponder meaning. Duck! It could save your life. And if you're on the scene of a crime and have a chance to intervene, who wouldn't screw up their courage and do so? Hopefully, we'd step up when called.
But that's different than retaliation.
If vandals broke into my house and began destroying it, I'd take action. But I wouldn't need to express the same irrational rage they were. Of course, the question arises, would I be able to actually do that? Could I keep my head and act in an emergency, without surrendering my moral values and becoming like the "bad guys?"
Mumbai was such a test. I wrote about how we handled the terrorist attack in my book, Forgiving the Unforgivable. None of us had specific preparation for what happened as the siege began. Yet all of us had day-to-day preparation in how we lived our lives. To the extent that we were answering the questions I raised above, learning how to respond in actual situations with expressions that we chose – like love and compassion – rather than expressions that arose from knee jerk reactions – like anger and hatred – we found ourselves prepared to handle that emergency exactly the same way.
Life holds us all accountable. And I'm not inferring some sort of final Judgment Day when we are called to atone for our sins. I'm being practical. The life we have now is the result of our choices of expression since the moment our soul was conceived in the incomprehensible reaches of the past. Every moment has counted... that's real accountability! You can call it karma, cosmic justice or just "the way things are." Every action has its consequences, as does every inaction. Every thought, every word... Imagine that! How diligent we might become if we really believed that.
In a way, there's virtue to the selfishness that understands this principle. It may seem that forgiveness, for instance, is a noble trait. It is. But, it's really enlightened self interest. If something painful occurs to me, I helped create it. That doesn't let the perpetrator off the hook; it simply includes me in the causative equation. So, in the moment, does my reaction add weight to the "injustice" (empowering more of the same) or does it introduce the very opposite and help move me in a different future direction?
All of us are invited to choose in every moment – enforcing human justice or flowing with universal accountability. And regardless of our fears or theories about future possibilities, the only time we can really do anything about this is always now.