There is, in the New York Times, a regular column under opinions dealing with various ethical and philosophical issues and I read it because I find myself very frequently disagreeing with the proposals and conclusions offered. There is a subsection to this wherein readers can contribute their opinions as to the issues and I occasionally insert mine when I feel I have something worthwhile to say. The current essay (December 28 2010) deals with the matter of forgiveness. One cannot, in this current world of violent meaningless conflict, brutal official actions, massive greed and corruption and stupidity, horrific hypocrisy, and frightful misinformation and confusion neglect any means to somehow soften and contain and intelligently deal with this wholly human constructed hell. It seems an impossible task and most probably is. But we are each granted limited time in this existence and have to discover and utilize the available psychological tools to make what we can of our short lives.
My submission to the column dealt with my experience with my injured son, Tero Sand, born in Oak Ridge Tennessee in 1964. His difficulties in remaining alive after a terrible accident in Israel in 1967 where he was trying to walk across a street and was struck by a reckless driver who ignored all good sense and standard safety precautions in his determination to speed down the road. Tero barely remained alive and spent the rest of his shortened life as a hospital patient in Helsinki on artificial respiration and unable to either move or feel anything below his neck. While he lived his life overwhelmed any other consideration in the life of my wife, my other son and myself.
This is my submission to the NY Times:
I'm not sure what the word forgiveness implies. When something nasty or illegal has been done what attitude must the victim employ to make sense? Looked at analytically revenge is a form of education for the perpetrator to make him/her conform to better conduct. A large percentage of justice falls into the same category. In other words many victims seem dynamically motivated to become agents of society to make society function in a proper manner. And there is no doubt a successful act of either justice or raw revenge donates emotional compensation to the victim who has been injured.
On a personal basis, my three year old very healthy son was rendered a total quadriplegic on a respirator by a deliberately reckless driver who had done the same kind of thing before. I was not well off and the driver was a very wealthy man. His insurance company attempted to relieve itself of any responsibility and only after a prolonged court case was an award made that was minuscule and totally inadequate compared to the expense and total hospital care necessary to keep my paralyzed son alive for the rest of his thirty year life. My wife and I spent the overwhelming part of that thirty years caring for my injured son completely disrupting our personal lives and professional capabilities.
So what should be our attitude towards this callous individual who never even apologized? Should I spend any emotional resources fulminating over this total bastard? Should I forgive him in any way? Actually I resolved my attitude by realizing the man was nothing in my life before the accident and I saw no reason to expend much thought in his direction afterwards. My wife and I spent our emotional and financial resources keeping our son alive through decades of severe medical crises and giving him whatever he could attain with the resources he had left and that was a reasonably successful effort.
The driver's country (Israel) was obviously influenced by his wealth and connections and gave him a small fine for his action. My country (USA) was totally uninterested in giving me any aid. My wife's country (Finland) donated Finnish citizenship to my American born son in order to place him within Finnish medical care and saw to it he had a reasonable time with whatever capabilities he had left. I did not forgive anybody responsible for my son's loss of a decent life and am immensely grateful for Finland's response. We each have only a limited time to be alive. It is important to make the best of it and not get entangled in the righteous nonsense of justice or revenge or forgiveness.