Friday, 22 April 2011

Good Friday, Good Fortune?

As I start to write this, it is Good Friday, the beginning of the Christian religious celebration of sacrifice and forgiveness. A string of prompts occurred in the space of an hour or two in the morning, which has spurred me to sit down immediately and pour my thoughts on the page. This has, of course, delayed my plan to go out into the garden with my wife and the glorious sunshine that promises a beautiful day. Procrastination you say! No! I reply. If I went into the garden instead, it would be procrastination either way and, besides, I have got something important to say, well, important to me anyway.

It started this morning, sitting, as we do on a 'weekend', in bed, with a cup of tea, reading, reviewing, talking, relaxing. Because it is my duty to keep an eye on our finances, unusually - and rather boringly, you might say - I used some of this time to run through the 'state of the nation' that is our finances. Living, as we are doing by choice at the moment, off only one income (my wife's), this review is rather more focussed than normal; dare I say more ruthless, at the moment. Anyway, ticking off the various unavoidable items, like the rates, heating and lighting; deciding on the 'essentials' and earmarking those costs which could be eliminated, was how this particular session went. We then fell to looking further ahead to full retirement and the likely income from our pensions, such as they will be.

Every time we fall to talking about pensions, I am irresistibly drawn to musing about the first of my four different private pensions, which exist by virtue of changing employers. My first pension was with a well known steel company, for whom I had worked for the first eleven years of my tax-paying life, which was 'frozen' upon the merger with another engineering concern. Consequently, the company's ownership and name changed along with the introduction of a new pension scheme. The process of reviewing whether to leave my original pension frozen or move it into a private fund was aided by someone I 'knew' who worked with a mutual insurance company at the time. Given that this was in the midst of the Thatcher era and the new market economy, advice was abounding that pensions would become more mobile as the work force became more mobile and everyone was getting on Norman Tebbit's proverbial bike!

To cut a long story short, the outcome was inevitably that I chose to pull the funds out of the steel company pension and 'invest it in a private pension recommended by my 'friend' and, yes, you guessed, I have it on good advice (too late he cried) the fund is now worth about one third of what it would be if I had left it where it was, which actually means that the total of all my pension schemes is very significantly less than it would have been. So now, in spite of a complaint and enforced review of the private company's scheme, it is too late to make up the loss. I am left with a residual feeling of resentment, which still rankles a bit. Nobody broke the law, my 'friend' - and I continue to place inverted commas around that word, because, a few years later, he left the company to set up a brokerage and I haven't seen or heard from him since - was just doing his job or, perhaps more accurately, as for most of us, he was more concerned to earn himself, rather than anyone else, a living. I'm sure we'll survive, but how much better it could have been with more income to enjoy my retirement.

Whether or not I forgive my 'friend' for whatever proportion of responsibility he could himself reasonably shoulder for this advice, is however, pretty irrelevant, I think. This is because the next prompt in my morning of prompts occurred whilst I ate my breakfast and watched the second half of a very interesting hour-long documentary on BBC1, "What's The Point of Forgiveness?", presented by the Historian, Bettany Hughes, which took a brief look at the history of this virtue, which emanates from the apocryphal words of Jesus, as on the cross he cried "forgive them, they know not what they do...". In her thesis she presents the alternative to forgiveness as being the vicious cycle of revenge, which inhibits recovery, engenders pain and does not allow us to move on.

Two significant events that I saw, cited in this programme, were the 'Truth and Reconciliation Commission' setup up in South Africa, following the release of Nelson Mandela and his election as president, and an interview with the wife of the co-pilot of Flight Eleven, which was deliberately flown into one of the Twin Towers in New York ten years ago, who, in spite of her emotional struggle to come to terms with the loss of her husband and father to her two children, had somehow found it in her to forgive the terrorists. Both these events stand out in a way that gives us hope for humanity and human spirit. Whilst we can all understandably feel vengeful and hateful against those who harm us or our families, our tribes, our communities, it is only by forgiveness and by not antagonising the perpetrators of atrocities against humanity into a vicious cycle of destructive and vengeful argument that they may become capable of contrition and able to feel remorse. People who have achieved genuine forgiveness, like those already mentioned, accordingly become living proof that genuine forgiveness is the only road to reconciliation and peace.

So, I ask you... no, I have to ask myself first, how can I complain when I am able, as I did an hour ago, to sit in our sun-bathed garden, ringing with bird song, cup of coffee in hand, in good health and with the freedom to write what I want to say on almost any subject in this blog, here, now, any time it pleases me to do so. How can I feel vengeful toward someone about a pension shortfall, when there are people out there in the world, who can forgive acts of inhumanity that defy belief; that have caused the loss of life, the torture of innocent people, the deprivation of the most basic of human rights affecting whole communities, populations... there is therefore no need to answer this question. But one question does remain.

That question is simply this: how can I, in spite of all the good fortune I have had in my life, in spite of the fact I am no longer an angry young man - for which there may have been a little justification early in my life - and in spite of the fact that the sun is shining; how can I follow this advice and ensure that, deep down inside my soul, I can genuinely forgive anyone, who is guilty of anything, whether it be a simple thoughtless slander or the most unspeakable inhumanity. I feel this is the question I should continually ask myself and strive to achieve the only result that common sense points toward with undoubted clarity. It is so obvious to me that to forgive someone is to take the wind away from their angry or irrational sail; make it pointless for them to consider acting in such a way again, rather like a petulant child who, in moments of insecurity, challenges their parents by pushing at the boundaries, trying to get a reaction; when they don't get it and the parents show forgiving, but calm and disciplined resolve, they gradually adjust their behaviour. It has to be said, however, that if it were the easy option, we'd all be able to forgive.

It should be easy for me in my relatively privileged social and economic circumstances, but how much more difficult is it for someone who is wired differently from me; who is younger and is just setting out on life's difficult journey trying to survive; who may even have more justification for their anger or who is simply wired in an 'angry' sort of way. I don't know the answer to this, but, whatever happens, if the message of Easter is to mean anything, whether or not you are, unlike me, an active Christian, then we ought to keep on trying... to be grateful for good fortune, to forgive and move on. What better cause is there to encourage harmony whenever and wherever in the world we can.


  1. I just stopped by to wish you a wonderful holiday!
    Mad Kane

  2. Thanks Mad and I, rather belatedly, wish you the same - at least I hope you did have a refreshing Eastertide.

  3. Am highly uplifted.Thanks for putting this up here.Great post and keep it coming.God bless you.
    Meanwhile plz do pass by my blogs page read,follow and comment to aid me improve my works too.Thank you.Lovely day.

  4. Thanks very much Ebenezer, I appreciate your comment.

  5. Sorry this is delayed, but wanted to let you know what I thought after reading: Real, raw and true. Many who are non-religious can live life's essentials far better than those who repeatedly mark a whole concept with a tradition, in my experience. I shared this on Facebook as I know some friends are currently struggling with issues of forgiveness.

  6. Thanks HC. It's never too late and I appreciate your comment.

  7. So glad you wrote this instead of going and sitting out in the garden! lol On a serious note though, I personally had 'forgiveness' issues,(I suppose we all do one way or another) and it is extremely difficult to forgive people who have hurt us in some way. I belong to a church now though, where forgiveness is the cornerstone of our faith. The freedom it gives is so amazing, like having a weight lifted off your shoulders. But it has been a journey for me, and not an easy one at that.

    It's so good to find you and connect up with your very thought provoking & insightful writing. :)

  8. Louise, thank you. You've clearly done a bit of trawling through my blog to find this one, but I'm so glad you found it and that it resonates a little with you. It creates a special feeling when someone reads and comments on your writing, particularly when those comments are thoughtful and meaningful; you know all too well that it does make it feel worth while.

  9. Enjoyed reading that, John.

    Forgiveness costs a lot but pays deed rewards. One of my favourite quotes by Nelson Mandela is: Forgiveness liberates the soul; It removes fear. That is why it is such a powerful weapon.

  10. Thanks John for this Sunday Easter morning read.I seriously doubt you'll be sitting in the sun today though..even them tha's from dales couldn't winkle out the sun today.

    1. Believe it or not, JS, we have sunshine here this morning! Thanks for dropping by... again! I hope life is treating you well on this significant day? And did you ever get the names of those Sheffielders who reckoned they'd heard of 'Poetjanstie'?

  11. A well written catharsis on forgiving and forgetting ...a resurrection of positive thinking...and the ability to move on. Thank you for sharing, John.


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