“People don’t do “evil” on purpose, they do it out of “ignorance.” Socrates
For you to be able to forgive anyone, first you need to realize that the ‘wrong’ that has been made, whether from your side or the other side, was done out of stupidity (ignorance). Once you realize this and truly understand that it was not “pure evil” or a person being inherently bad, you will be able to put yourself on a mindset based on reason which will enable you to comprehend and understand. Once this is done, you will be better equipped to act properly and reasonably about the issue and with time, you will become able to forgive as well. But there are no shortcuts, understanding is needed first.
Let me elaborate further.
Your mind is a truth machine. It is constantly working to differentiate truth from falsehood. It tells you whether you are living in the day or in the night, whether you are having a cake or an apple. But, when you don’t have enough information, your mind still needs to act and make decisions, so what happens is that your brain acts and decides with whatever it thinks is the best course of action given the information it possesses.
This is the same for every person on the planet, the process of defining a course of action or belief from the limited information we have is called heuristics. Everyone functions with it, if we didn’t, it would be impossible to live as we have to act from moment to moment with the limited information we possess. This great capability is also the source of many of our problems, as acting on limited information will always leave us prone to error and is also the reason why we make such paramount stupid decisions. Because we are ignorant.
“What is the reason that we assent to a thing? Because it seems to us that it is so. It is impossible that we shall assent to that which seems not to be. Why? Because this is the nature of the mind — to agree to what is true, and disagree with what is false, and withhold judgment on what is doubtful.” Epictetus
So, could we say that a person is “bad” just for the sake of being “bad/evil”?
The answer is no. No one does evil out of pure evil, bad things are done because there is some apparent benefit behind them. If people would know that which is truly good, such as a virtuous life, what is ultimately beneficial, we wouldn’t find ourselves doing the “evil”, we just wouldn’t need to. There is always a ‘reason’ behind people’s actions.
The Banality Of Evil
When Adolf Eichmann, Nazi Colonel that executed Hitler’s “Final Solution” during the Holocaust, was caught and sent to Jerusalem, Hannah Arendt was appointed by the New Yorker to report on the trial and the man himself. She came up with the term: The Banality Of Evil. I’ll let her explain.
During the war, Ernst Jünger came across some peasants, and a farmer had taken in Russian prisoners of war straight from the camps, and naturally they were completely starving — you know how Russian prisoners of war were treated here. And [the farmer] says to Jünger, “Well, they’re subhuman, just like cattle — look how they devour food like cattle.” Jünger comments on this story, “It’s sometimes as if the German people were being possessed by the Devil.” And he didn’t mean anything “demonic” by that. You see, there’s something outrageously stupid [ dumm = ignorant, unwise] about this story. I mean the story is stupid, so to speak. The man doesn’t see that this is just what starving people do, right? And anyone would behave like that. But there’s something really outrageous [ empörend = shocking, revolting] about this stupidity.… Eichmann was perfectly intelligent, but in this respect he had this sort of stupidity [ Dummheit = irrationality, senselessness]. It was this stupidity that was so outrageous. And that was what I actually meant by banality. There’s nothing deep about it [the ignorance] — nothing demonic! There’s simply the reluctance ever to imagine what the other person is experiencing, correct? Arendt
In his mind, Eichmann was just doing his job, in his mind, he was right in doing so. But, it never crossed his mind to think about the people that he killed, and as he almost never saw them directly, it was easy to justify his actions as “good”. He was willfully ignorant.
“ There’s simply the reluctance ever to imagine what the other person is experiencing, correct?” Arendt
If evil does not exist, just stupidity. Then reason is our way out. Understanding will give you peace that can then turn into forgiveness. But when we are mad and hurt is hard to understand why someone does something, it’s as if we are blind. It’s easy to see things from your own perspective.
The way out, Understanding
But if you put yourself in the other person shoes, as much as you might hate him, you might as well understand him. Once you understand you can begin to figure out a proper resolution. The act of forgiveness begins once you understand. Once you know that he is not evil, he is just ignorant, or maybe you were the ignorant. Bear in mind that during this whole process you have to look at yourself as well and where you are being ignorant and ‘evil in the eyes of the other person’.
When Epictetus talks about people doing terrible things, he says that instead of becoming angry, you should instead pity them. Like Eichmann, thinking that he was doing right his job when in reality he was committing one of the worst atrocities humanity has ever done. He does so out of ignorance, so in a sense he is lame. Just like Epictetus was lame himself not being able to walk. Ignorance is to be pitied.
“As we pity the blind and the lame, so should we pity those who are blinded and lamed in their most sovereign faculties.” Epictetus
Understanding will give you context and with this context, you will become able to make better decisions. Now that you are working with the truth and not with ignorance. You are not blind anymore you have a light to act, whereas before you were in the dark thinking that ‘evil’ exists in reality, there’s a reason behind every action.
Every error implies conflict; for since he who errs does not wish to go wrong but to go right, plainly he is not doing what he wishes. For what does the thief wish to do? What is to his interest. If then thieving is against his interest, he is not doing what he wishes. But every rational soul by nature dislikes conflict; and so, as long as a man does not understand that he is in conflict, there is nothing to prevent him from doing conflicting acts, but, whenever he understands, strong necessity makes him abandon the conflict and avoid it. Epictetus
Understand first, truly understand. Forgiveness will come on its own, let yourself receive it once it does.
I highly recommend to read How To Be A Stoic from Massimo Pigliucci, this article was based on the book.
a great complement to this read: The Pathway to psychological freedom
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