Ahhhh, Facebook. It’s an odd and fascinating communications platform, when you consider that the very best of it has sometimes generated important grassroots movements, and that the very worst of it, because of the safety of our own home sitting at a computer, and that we aren’t obligated to put a human face to a name and profile avatar, has bred some of the most loathsome social behavior I’ve ever witnessed. For me personally, the gold in Facebook has been the numerous long-lost friendships that, without social media, may never have been possible. On the other end, of course, is the odd stranger that we wonder why we’re Facebook friends with in the first place, and the crazy rantings that have required the socially devastating “unfriend”ing. But every once in a great while, believe it or not, an actual life lesson can be found on Facebook. Something unexpected and valuable lurking amid the sea of cute cat videos and vomit-mouth etiquette.
Here was mine, from a few weeks ago. A friend posted a most disturbing video of a woman encouraging her child to savagely beat on another child at a playground. It was shattering to watch. And of the myriad feelings I had regarding the witness, the primary one was that we lose jobs when we’re terrible at them, and parenthood should fall within those same parameters, and I just prayed Social Services got a hold of that woman.
Many people weighed in on this post, expressing their outrage, as well. One man was so outraged that he used epithets that clearly betrayed his ignorance of his audience. The N-word was bandied about pretty freely. Gee, can you guess what race the woman in the video was? I can genuinely say that what the woman’s racial or social demographic was didn’t even enter my mind for it being so overfilled with the horror of her act (which, by the way, Put-Upon White Man, happens in every race).
Before even weighing in on the contents of the video itself, my response to the post, which included the original poster’s own words “This is so shocking!” was, “Well, it looks like there’s equally shocking right here on this thread.”
I had to wonder, too, what kind of friends my friend had that this kind of blatantly racist response was even possible, until I reminded myself that I have said yes to friend requests countless times of people I don’t personally know, because as a working artist I’m always trying to expand an audience base, and, to be frank, I have “virtually” met some pretty amazing people on Facebook over the years. And so, the reality is that with such a practice also comes the risk of inviting the periodic troll to infiltrate.
Another friend, Melanie, weighed in immediately after me. Someone I actually do know personally. Someone I regard as a pretty sage woman. She’s also African-American, like me, and had clearly also seen Put-Upon White Man’s rant too, because her comment right after mine was, “I know, Angela, right???? Lord have mercy!”
A few others made similar comments. What fascinates me still, even as I reflect on this thing that happened a few weeks ago, is that most of the comments were reactions to PUWM’s rant, not the video. His own ire at the video (we all shared that!), which just HAD to go to a very nasty place, had completely overshadowed the horror on the video. Because this nastiness was right in our backyards. Who is this friend of my friend, who would rather spit in my face than shake my hand? is the shuddering subtext. That two-degrees of separation is too damned close!
I kept tuning in to see how this thread would grow, because frankly I was waiting for my friend (the original poster of the post) to get on here and condemn this man. She never did, nor ever weighed in again beyond the original posting of the video. But I’m very glad that I did keep tuning in, because of what unfolded next.
First off, after a fashion I noticed that PUWM’s original rant had been deleted. And then somewhere down the line of this thread, maybe 10 or 12 comments in, he weighed in a second time. His comment this time was an apology. And not one of those defensive apologies we’ve all had to roll our eyes at from time to time. He owned his racial outburst, iterated that he’d been so blinded by his rage over this video, which had broken his heart, but copping to it being absolutely no excuse, and ended with “Please forgive me, ladies….” addressing the myriad women who had commented on his rant, and lastly, “Lord forgive me.” And before I could even react to it, directly afterwards was my friend Melanie’s response to that: “Thank you, Mark. That is appreciated. We need to pray for that woman and her children.”
Okay, so at this point I’ll stop calling him PUWM. He has a name. It’s Mark. And yes, even Mark deserves to be called out by his Christian name, and not Put-Upon White Man, which, admittedly, has been my way of showing him zero respect, because it’s become such a cliché, and I felt like reducing him to the cliché, because, guess what? . . . I’m goddamned mad too.
I have to admit, I was stunned by Melanie’s ready acceptance of Mark’s apology. She and I share a very similar spiritual path of compassion & empathy, and consciousness-based cultivation, and we are both huge believers in forgiveness. I just hadn’t determined whether I was ready yet. But Melanie didn’t need to decide if she was ready. Melanie leapt. Melanie forgave. Melanie chose the higher road, without question, without needing to be ready.
It really did take me a minute to adjust this thinking, to wonder how she could do this so effortlessly, to have to face that my ball of fury had just had a pin pricked into it, and was deflating rapidly into a flat, self-righteous platitude. My own initial gut feeling was that Mark was only offering this apology because he got nailed on his abhorrent behavior, and that anyone who is capable of that language, and the intent and belief behind the language, will be absolutely capable of it again. Just give him another circumstance, a fresh audience, and sumpn’ else for him to be raging about. But did I know this for certain? That his apology wasn’t genuine? That he hadn’t really thought about his irresponsible and hurtful words?
What if Mark had had his heart truly opened by this exchange, had offered his amends, and then been shunned and dismissed? What, then, would that say about the sacred principle of forgiveness? Something pretty shameful, I’d say. Melanie wasn’t about to try and second-guess Mark’s intentions; her ONLY option was to put noble principle into healing practice. If Mark’s apology really wasn’t the real thing, if there was just a whole lotta bullshit goin’ on, that’s for Mark’s soul to wrestle with.
And so, while that was murky at best for me to wade through, it was as clear as a fresh spring to Melanie, my beautiful guru-mama sister-friend.
I carefully decided to say something myself. My instinctive thought was yeah, whatever, and not to respond at all. But in the spirit of my dear compassionate friend Melanie, and my own spiritual practice of forgiveness, I also offered a “thank you” to Mark, followed by, “The video broke my heart too.”
In those simple words – Melanie’s: “We need to pray for that woman and her children,” and mine: “The video broke my heart too,” – we let Mark know that the feelings about this heinous video were shared by us all, Black and White, male and female, Democrat and Republican, Christian and Atheist. Us, them. Whatever and Whatever. That there is actually more that connects us than there is that separates us, if we’re willing to see it. What an opportunity to offer healing, when my own instinct would’ve been to let the opportunity slip right through my fingers, and remain in the huff that someone else’s hate had engendered. Mark walked away changed too; that was evident in his further comments. He probably hadn’t ever thought, for a minute, that his apology would be welcomed and accepted. And if it had just been me alone out there reacting to his rant, it wouldn’t’ve been. So, thank you, Melanie, for reminding me. Yep, folks, a true spiritual practice requires rigorous renewal every single day, and unexpected angels and bodhisattvas to show us how.
In illustrating how much more connected we are than separate, a wall was torn down. It humanized everything. And that could ONLY have happened by a willingness for forgiveness. Melanie had thrown down the healing gauntlet. In a landscape of nothing but enraged hearts, how brave to be the one.
Forgiveness is a funny thing. It shouldn’t be. It should be startlingly clear. When Dylann Roof committed one of the most heinous single crimes in our recent history, the people least likely to, the families of the shooting victims, forgave. I personally was floored. It restored my lately-waning faith in humanity. But who on earth would ever think that instead of being absolutely lifted by this example, as I was, that there would be a backlash to it? Of course, there’s always going to be a militant response to such compassionate practice, people who are natural warriors, who believe morally in an eye for an eye. And I would even venture to say that most of us who aren’t militant would look at such compassion, and admire it even as we are admitting we’d never be able to do that. But the overwhelming backlash seems to be coming from the mainstream community, and not just asserting that we can’t do it but that we shouldn’t. The angle being that it finds these forgivers to be suckers, for lack of a kinder word. The charge is weakness, gullibility, and allowance of further racist behavior.
One article I found interesting and quite intelligent, in spite of the fact that I disagree with its fundamental creed, is by Stacey Patton for the Washington Post. The prevailing thought in this article is that Black America is the only culture expected to forgive its racist perpetrators. No one expects forgiveness toward al-Qaeda or ISIS. No one expects the Jews to forgive the Nazis. But Black America is pressured to forgive when the conflict is race. And when forgiveness is given, all Black America is doing is allowing more and more offenses to be made.
“Black people are not allowed to express unbridled grief or rage, even under the most horrific circumstances.”
Allowed? At least in this country, we all have the complete free will to choose how we feel, and how we will heal. And the trap to fall in is to assume that because there is a choice made to forgive, that grief or rage are not present. Even by framing the phrase “politics of forgiveness” Ms. Patton politicizes a basic tenet of grace and love. There is no politics to this. You either practice it or you don’t. It advances no agenda other than grace and love itself.
The most poignant thing Ms. Patton says is:
“. . . offering absolution to Roof is about relieving the burden of anger and pain of being victimized. In this regard, forgiveness functions as a kind of protest, a refusal to be reduced to victims. It sends the message to the killer that he may have hurt them, but they are the true victors because they have not been destroyed.”
This I passionately agree with. But she then counters it with the pronouncement that there is a demand by White America for this forgiveness. Demand? You can bet that White America was as stunned as anyone when these families chose the higher ground. Besides, how insulting to the intelligence of these compassionate soldiers Ms. Patton’s insinuation that White America is somehow their puppet-master, pulling strings.
I also challenge Ms. Patton’s claim that when Black America, especially of the Christian ilk, subscribes to the philosophy of forgiveness, it is being done out of some investment in the hereafter, a kind of E-ticket to Glory. Heaven or not, the only true salvation for this fractured present-day culture will be in cultivating that tenet for the life we are living right here, right now.
What seems not to be a part of the argument, at least in this article, is that to refuse to forgive is to keep oneself spiritually enslaved.
It’s important to know what forgiveness is. It may be even more important to know what it isn’t.
Forgiveness isn’t permission. Forgiveness isn’t forgetting. Forgiveness isn’t remotely weak. Forgiveness IS rising above. Refusing to fuel. Bringing to the table a different kind of challenge. And just possibly, changing that landscape.
There are many valid and insightful points that this article makes, and so I do urge you to read it. But while we are cautioned by Ms. Patton not to give forgiveness quite so quickly, from my own micro-example of that very dynamic, I can personally attest that when my friend Melanie gave it quickly, the entire landscape shifted from people divided to people communicating passionately together about the original problem (that horrendous video of mother and child). Healing was right in front of us. A coming together and acknowledgement of what connects us more than what divides us that would NEVER have happened had rage been met with more rage, and heads banged. Me, I was ready to put up some dukes and be a part of the fray. But it wouldn’t have been the right choice. And a golden opportunity would’ve been tragically missed.
Angela Carole Brown is the author of three published books, The Assassination of Gabriel Champion, The Kidney Journals: Memoirs of a Desperate Lifesaver, and Trading Fours, is a recipient of the Heritage/Soulword Magazine Award in poetry, and has produced several albums of music and a yoga/mindfulness CD. Bindi Girl Chronicles is her writing blog. Follow her on Twitter, Facebook, Instagram & YouTube.