I have a norm that helps me evaluate a decision to forgive a wrong or not. Perhaps this is partly because I believe in limited free will in the context that not every of one’s actions is architected by him. I find it quite logically persuasive.

I invite you to a thought experiment. Imagine we have a machine that makes bananas and its performance is dependant on two generalizations: the system and the operator. Our task is to evaluate which errors we can blame on the operator and which ones on the machine. How best can we do this?

Firstly, if the machine frequently produces apples instead of bananas then we have reason to believe that there is something wrong with the machine itself. The reason is that, unlike a machine, an operator’s errors do not appear in patterns or that frequently. This is the equivalence of Systematic Error in Measuring Instruments. If there is something inherently wrong with an existing system, the system shifts in a certain direction and to a predictable extent. You may think of the mistakes of this type as symptomatic of something bigger than the operator.

I think we can employ this in any life situation. It may help you to forgive and understand yourself if you inexorably do a particular wrong. From understanding that persons from your neighborhood tend to not make anything of themselves in life, you  become self compassionate and not beat yourself up for something of which you had an unfair disadvantage. 

Moreover, it may help a thinker forgive racism against him when he realises that racism in certain geographies is very common and stems from misconceptions that anyone can fall prey to. If anyone is racist against me, I have learnt to look the other way because racism is somewhat a norm where I stay. It just helps me put things in perspective and also appreciate it when anyone, out of good nature, is kind or shares a sincere smile with me.

The idea is that any act that is not an anomaly but is quite common in a certain demographic, neighborhood, race, religion etc. or can be explained  by factors external to the subjects themselves is not necessarily something worth punishing or policing but deserves leniency, compassion, understanding and forgiveness.

Secondly, what I consider a mistake on the operator’s part is when someone crosses his conscience to deal maliciously against another. Unlike in the previous understanding, this requires energy because one will be working against his apparent best self. It requires the operator to deliberately alter the usual procedure of making bananas so that he can serve a selfish end, say produce pumpkins. An example is your boyfriend cheating on you with your friend. Such can be forgiven for different reasons outside the scope of discussion but identifying things in this way helps one develop people skills and see things objectively.

Next time somebody wrongs you, instead of turning up, pause and listen to the voice of reason within you. Sometimes the perpetrators themselves will have fallen prey to structural or systemic bias in which case they’d be victims themselves.


Herbert Chakurangeyi