Mercy is the deliberate refusal to exercise power over another.
No matter what, at some moment, even briefly, you will find yourself in a position of power. With someone at your… well… mercy. Such that your response to his clearly non-constructive behavior will influence the impact of that behavior on his life.
It won’t always look like a courtroom sentencing scene. It might be as simple as not coming down on him for saying something embarrassing or regrettable.
The point is you have power over that person. And to exercise mercy is to not exercise that power. Instead, both you and that person are presented with a choice.
… a gateway into the unknown …
You get a chance to view the situation from higher up, to look beyond all possible responses and acknowledge the potential for healing made possible by mercy. Healing that allows for change, for the reparation and enhancement of our shared experience of life.
Mercy is a gateway into the unknown, a doorway out of what is comfortable and into the workings of love in the world. It’s like a sluice where love can flow into the stream of experience, and bring, clarity, growth, and positive change. It’s a chance for transformation.
And you control the lever.
A chance to evolve …
If shown mercy, that other person gets a chance to grow. A chance to evolve, having had a clear encounter with nonconstructive behaviors. A chance to see past the shields of denial that prevent clarity about his attitudes, his capacities for hurting people, his tendencies toward what is not love.
Mercy is a chance for you to join that person in his humanity, to recognize your own, and convert this mutual experience into something of value, something forward reaching, instead of just another vindication.
… a shared experience of the human condition.
It could be seen as a gift, as a moment of potential connection where previously connection had been impossible for legitimate reasons. Not intimate connection. Probably not the basis of a lasting relationship. But a basic connection set upon the recognition of a shared experience of the human condition.
It’s important to stress: mercy has nothing to do with ignoring the truth about that other person. Quite the opposite. To really show mercy you have to have a clear, realistic perspective. It requires great wisdom to show mercy properly and to gauge the right amount to show. And there may be times when it isn’t possible.
… behaviors and thinking conducive to love …
Because that other person needs to be open to it. If he’s clueless of having caused harm, or aware but unconcerned, mercy isn’t relevant. You need to be able to sense in that person some awareness of having messed up. Some desire to find a way back. Because that’s what mercy has to offer: a way back.
And once you sense that desire, it’s on you. You’re not allowed to be unmerciful. If you are, you’ve committed a crime of your own.
Because when mercy is shown, real, considered and thoughtfully chosen mercy, it provides the receiver with an opportunity to improve. To reorganize. To pull himself together and make a needed change. To gain strength in behaviors and thinking conducive to love, so that similar mercy is not needed in the future.
And no one is allowed to deny that opportunity to another.
So, mercy imposes on the receiver the obligation to make use of the opportunity. That’s important. Mercy demands an effort in the direction of maturity.
… the ascension of the species.
But instead of mercy, we tend to act on the brute need for some kind of controlled retribution—justice. Or, in moments of weakness, full-on uncontrolled retribution—revenge. In both cases we tend toward the known quantity.
The response we can understand.
The response others can understand.
Responses that are not only known and familiar, but fully quantified and systematized. Agreed upon in advance as appropriate.
And therefore, almost completely uncreative.
Very often unsatisfactory.
And far less conducive to the ascension of the species.
More in Part 2 so come on back!