Thoughts on Mercy

Mercy is not often a word we hear in our everyday discussions. It seems to be an old-fashioned term that has been replaced by tolerance and politically correct expressions. Open the newspaper and there are no stories that encapsulate the meaning of mercy. Instead stories of intolerance abound in which one group insists that they are the ones representing sanity.

For me the word mercy is closely intertwined with the word forgiveness. If one shows mercy, one is often able to forgive the shortcomings of others and their surroundings – including their religious and cultural beliefs. The merciful heart is already open to humanity and is not as judgemental as those hearts that are hardened and show no mercy. The merciful heart is also open to love – love for one’s fellow human being whether the person is a family member, friend or a stranger.

A perfect example comes to mind when I think of mercy: Jesus and the way in which he treated those in society that were often rejected because of their social standing. Think of Mary Magdalene, a prostitute, and the tax collectors he came across. He showed mercy to these people: he opened his heart to them and loved them for the human beings that they were. His actions towards them were not coloured with intolerance, misunderstanding and prejudice.

If we could be merciful towards one another on a daily basis, maybe we could work towards moving to a society that is more merciful. Maybe, once again, the word mercy can become a part of our everyday vocabulary.

What is your understanding of mercy?

(This post was inspired by this week’s Five Minute Friday prompt)

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41 thoughts on “Thoughts on Mercy

    1. Thank you Michelle. I was thinking more on the topic as I was going to work today and I realised as I was watching people that not much mercy and compassion is shown. People shove past others, many have expressions of impatience on their faces if there is someone in front of them who is walking slowly. It is really such a shame that our society seems to have lost this ability.

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  1. Hmmm…mercy. This is a loaded term. For me, mercy encompasses the giving freely of non-judgemental care in a variety of capacities. The concept of ‘forgiveness’, for me, is complicated by the underlying meanings of the word. To provide forgiveness implies that another has transgressed somehow. The ‘act of forgiving’ places me in a superior position and one that is judgemental. It is as if one has decided what actions are worthy and what actions are duly noted as a transgression.

    Here’s a complicated ethical dilemma. Someone has ordered a war. Who are the transgressors? Who should we have mercy upon and who should we forgive? Would this be the one who ordered the war? Would this be those we make war against? Would this be the collaterally damaged persons? To decide who we should have mercy upon we must make some judgements or decisions about who is in the wrong…if we say that mercy is about forgiveness.

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    1. I think of mercy more in terms of being compassionate. Compassionate towards those who, for example, have less in life than yourself (in terms of money, health, love, etc). And then to ‘forgive’ them for their believed transgressions: I think of expressions such as “she made me late”, “the people I work with don’t believe as I do and thus caused difficulties in my ability to perform”, “they should not allow their autistic child to upset my own”.
      In warfare to give mercy used to mean to save the lives of the conquered – or to end the life of a soldier who had been badly injured. In modern society I do not believe mercy in warfare is shown – both sides are too concerned with showing who is right and who is the most powerful. Maybe because a particular war has a wider audience and the warmongers feel that they have to play a certain part in the world stage.

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      1. ‘In warfare to give mercy used to mean to save the lives of the conquered – or to end the life of a soldier who had been badly injured. In modern society I do not believe mercy in warfare is shown – both sides are too concerned with showing who is right and who is the most powerful.’

        I’m re-quoting that passage, Colline because it beautifully captures the essence of what I believe modern warfare is really about…who is right and who is most powerful. It is as though we have lost all humanity when we do not see the ‘enemy’ as a human being as we see ourselves. Perhaps the only way to make war is to be inhumane. If compassion were to dwell within the hearts of soldiers towards the ‘enemy’ they would be reluctant to eradicate the enemy and perhaps more likely to die at the hands of the enemy.

        Let’s end war. Let’s not put another soldier in the position of having to develop inhumane pretenses to save him/herself. This is why peace would be a preferable option. World peace, a struggle to understand and empathize with others and a levelling of power so that one country is not aiming to be the most powerful and destructive. Rather than one country aiming to be the most powerful destroyer, it could aim to be the most powerful humanitarian leader, leading the entire planet towards harmony and abundance for all.

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        1. A beautiful sentiment Darlene. How I wish it could come to fruition. My cynical side tells me, however, that this will not happen until people as a whole begin to think of others instead of themselves.

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  2. Good post! And such an important quality in our lives that’s sadly missing or only visible in very small quantities. The comparison to the word “compassionate” is very apt! A smile or hug, a brief touch on the arm, a moment to stop and listen – how wonderful would it be if more people would be willing to share this with others!

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    1. I agree. I would make our world a better place – and the day to day lives of some so much better. And it does not take much to help a person cross the street, or listen to a lonely person on the bus, or even smile in understanding at a mother struggling with a crying child.

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  3. I suppose mercy is an unpopular concept because it is taken as being ready, willing and able to bash someone but not doing so. I imagine it is theorised that one shouldn’t be ready, willing and able to bash them in the first place, so there is no need to show mercy. πŸ™‚

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  4. A beautiful, inspiring post. Jesus is indeed the perfect example of generous love, forgiveness, of mercy. We live in a world full of hate and bitterness. Man’s pride became his curse but when we open our hearts for mercy, one day at a time, a new hope for a better, kinder world is born.

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  5. For me the word does imply that one person is in a position of power over another, perhaps because of its association with war and conflict, whereas compassion and forgiveness seem more equal, or more mutual.

    Anyway, I certainly agree that there’s a need for more of these qualities all around. Thanks for your thought-provoking post. It reminded me of Stephanie Dowrick’s book ‘Forgiveness and other Acts of Love, which reflects on ‘virtues’ such as generosity, tolerance and forgiveness, and how these can transform our relationships with one another.

    Having just come through a particularly nasty election campaign in Australia, I deeply appreciate the need for more people to observe these ways of being.

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    1. Political campaigns do seem to bring out the less forgiving side of a person as much of what is said is the antithesis of compassion and forgiveness.
      Dorwick’s book sounds interesting. I am intrigued by her focus on our personal relationships and how these can be changed by our adherence to certain qualities in our lives.

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      1. Yes, and her focus, as I recall, is about taking responsibility rather than seeking to blame or play victim. All sides of politics could learn a lot from her. But I guess vilification of your opponents wins more votes 😦

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  6. If we can show mercy to someone then we are in a better position than the person that needs it, and it means that the person depends on us for our forgiveness, assistance, humanity. Only hearts capable of love, can be forgiving.

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