MacBeth loved his wife too terribly well.
Achilles had a heel.
Antigone had hubris.
But it's never quite that simple, especially not on a literature exam, which historically includes the terse instruction: elaborate.
Aristotle had a solid definition of what comprised a tragic hero. In summation:
* Hero must suffer more than he deserves.
* Hero must be doomed from the start, but bear no responsibility for possessing his flaw.
* Hero must be noble in nature, but imperfect so that the audience can see themselves in him.
* Hero must have discovered his fate by his own actions, not by things happening to him.
* Hero must see and understand his doom, as well as the fact that his fate was discovered by his own actions.
* Hero's story should arouse fear and empathy.
* Hero must be physically or spiritually wounded by his experiences, often resulting in his death.
* Ideally, the hero should be a king or leader of men, so that his people experience his fall with him.
* The hero must be intelligent so he may learn from his mistakes.
Mrs. Morini---senior AP English teacher and bane of my existence; in fact, one might have called her my greatest antagonist---spoke at length and depth about fatal flaws beginning with the Wife of Bath and concluding quite cruelly with poor Nora of A Doll's House.
Helmer is playing the piano and Nora is dancing the tarantella.
Helmer. (playing). Slow down, slow down!
Helmer. Not so violent, Nora!
Nora. It has to be this way.
Helmer. My dearest Nora, you're dancing as if it were a matter of life and death!
Nora. It is! It is!
And for Nora? It was. Krogstad had already dropped the letter that would ruin Nora, and those she loved. Her fatal flaw---her tragedy---was in motion.
Ever since, I have wondered, "What is my fatal flaw? And how quickly can I find and defuse it?" (Yes, you should find it terribly telling that the fictional characters I best identify with are tragic heroes.)
I love too terribly well, at times. I not only have two heels, but have been known to act quite like a heel. I have ample hubris.
Of all my many sins---my hamartia---it never occured to me that my perceived greatest---my fatal flaw?---was my willingness to speak out. In fact, I had never even considered that when examining my navel for the fatal flaw.
I suppose I should be glad I'm the sort of person who is more likely to get a purple heart than a feather, but, well, some days it's a struggle.
Yesterday was one such day.
A friend was describing an issue she was having with someone she knew. She had never stated any boundaries to this person, but this person was, nevertheless, trampling rudely over general boundaries, and taking advantage of my friend's kindness and aversity to dealing openly with conflict.
I suggested that she find her boundaries and begin sticking to them, and if necessary, communicate them to the other person.
My friend sighed in exasperation, "We're not all like you...we can't all seek out conflict and deal with it so easily."
Deal with it easily?
Whatever in the world have I done to create this impression?
I carefully tried to explain, "I don't seek conflict, however, I won't bite my tongue bloody or suffer out loud passive-aggressively behind backs if there is something that should be said and can be said. I use diplomacy, and there are times I do bite my tongue bloody. But at some point, I realize, generally, that something needs to be said to someone to solve this, and it's likely that someone isn't going to be happy with me, but all I can do is what I think is best, right, just."
And that's when it hit me: I know why I chose forgiveness over justice.
Once a harm has been done---especially a grievous one---there is no real justice. There can---and often should---be consequence, but there is no true reparation.
You can't unring a bell.
Therefore, considering this, in the end, there is only forgiveness. Even near-perfect justice---something eye for an eye like---can feel hollow because underneath is the everlasting change from the harm.
We can't always choose justice. We can't always choose what justice is served, or whether it is even attempted. Sometimes, we can't even choose to seek justice. Sometimes, seeking justice can cause greater harm than the original harm.
But forgiveness is a choice. If we can forgive, we can accept the imperfect justice---or lack thereof---and hatred just might recede, maybe a little, and possibly further harm can be avoided.
I hope my friend can forgive me for always suggesting speaking up. I hope she can speak to her friend, and resolve the conflict. I hope she can forgive her friend, and vice versa.
Most of all, I hope we can all seek and find not just mercy, but also forgiveness.
Doing kindness is the quarry of good men, but it doesn't mean never speaking up. It doesn't mean never treading in slightly dangerous waters. It doesn't mean never hurting a feeling in the short-term to save a bigger feeling in the long-term. Mercy sometimes means facing a conflict. Justice sometimes means punishment, but no relief. Forgiveness means being able to go on, anyway, or better yet, because.
Perhaps my hamartia is so close that if it were a snake it would have bitten me by now, but I guess as is typical within ourselves, I can't see the forest for the trees. (If you'll excuse the unlyrical little mixing of cliches, metaphors, and goodness, I've lost track of what else...). And perhaps, even though it may often feel like it, my outspokeness is not actually my hamartia. However, while I hope I miss the tragic hero fate, I do hope that I succeed within some of the characteristics, chiefly, "The hero must be intelligent so he may learn from his mistakes."
I'll add two more, "And courageous enough to admit to them and take responsibility for them. Then wise enough to ask forgiveness or offer forgiveness."
And now...other thoughts on why and how we choose within justice and forgiveness:
Kaliroz wrote A thousand candles.
Jen wrote the choosing
Gwen wrote I'm Going to Let it Shine
LawyerMama wrote If Justice Is Blind, She's Also Deaf & Dumb
Andrea wrote Crime and Punishment
Feel free to comment or email your link to me if you'd like to participate. Take your time. :)
You can find the links to part one at The Justice and Forgiveness Roundtable.
copyright 2007 Julie Pippert