Monday, November 25, 2013

Intercultural Conversation on Justice - Mercy - Revenge

Our third Intercultural Conversation this semester at the Loyola Intensive English Program (LIEP) took place on Thursday, November 14. Each Intercultural Conversation is an opportunity to exchange ideas on a timely topic from different cultural perspectives, bringing together LIEP students, other members of the Loyola community, and interested New Orleanians. Our facilitator is Dr. David O’Donaghue, the founder and director of the New Orleans Lyceum and of Chautauqua New Orleans for life-long learning.

For this final Intercultural Conversation of the semester, we decided to include something speciala time for LIEP students and New Orleans participants to visit informally in small groups before coming together for our larger discussion. As we visited at small tables, we enjoyed cheese and fruit, as well as delicious brownies and lemon squares baked by one of our New Orleans participants.

Natsumi Akiyoshi of Japan
Natsumi Akiyoshi of Japan remarked that she enjoyed the conversation at her table of four, with two other LIEP students and one New Orleans participant. Natsumi said that the conversation turned to political and religious differences among Japan, Venezuela, and the United States. Natsumi was impressed that there are so many Christians in Venezuela, where religion is a prominent part of a person’s education and is discussed in daily conversation. Natsumi said that Japanese do not often talk about religion, so this difference interested her.

Soon it was time for us all to come together for the Intercultural Conversation. Because our class had read and discussed Shakespeare’s The Merchant of Venice, we chose a related question:

What do we do when someone has committed a wrong?
What factors lead to revenge or justice or mercy?

In class, we had seen how revenge, justice, and mercy work together in Shakespeare’s story of the Christian merchant Antonio and the Jewish moneylender Shylock.

  • REVENGE: Hurting someone excessively to get back at someone for a prior hurt. In The Merchant of Venice, we see revenge operating in the Jewish moneylender Shylock, who has been deeply and frequently insulted by Christians like Antonio. Shylock is almost gleeful in his anticipation of cutting a pound of flesh from Antonio’s body.
  • JUSTICE: Exacting a penalty that matches the wrong done. In The Merchant of Venice, we see a kind of justice in the penalties required by the Venetian legal system for someone who  seeks to take the life of another.
  • MERCY: Wholeheartedly accepting a lesser penalty than an offense merits, or possibly foregoing any penalty at all. In The Merchant of Venice, mercy is discussed at length, but is very scarce in practice.

For this Intercultural Conversation, we looked at how revenge, justice, and mercy work in our own responses when someone does something wrong. The participants focused largely on finding positive ways to handle wrong-doing by others.

RESOLVE ISSUES OR LET GO. A student from Saudi Arabia said that he always strove to follow the advice of his father, who counseled that peace of mind comes from letting go and forgetting about it when another person behaves annoyingly. Others cautioned that sometimes, if an issue is not resolved, it can fester and possibly lead to harmful revenge. We agreed that it is best to talk about an issue and resolve it if possible, but when no resolution is possible, it is best to let go fully.

TRY TO TEACH THE OTHER WHAT IT FEELS LIKE. Another student from Saudi Arabia said that people are often unaware of the effects of their actions. This student believes that it helps if an offending person can feel the effect of his behavior from the receiving end. With a close friend or family member, if explaining the effect of offending behavior doesn’t help, this student will try to create a situation where the tables can be turned and the offender can be given a taste of how it feels to be treated as he has been treating others. We agreed that this can be effective if used very sparingly as a teaching tool in a close relationship.

PUT YOURSELF IN THE OTHER’S SHOES. One of our LIEP instructors suggested that the offending person may intend no offense at all. This instructor tries to put herself in the place of the offending person, which often helps to change her perspective. She has come to see that some offenses are completely unintentional.

DISTINGUISH BETWEEN INTENTIONAL AND UNINTENTIONAL HARM. A New Orleans participant said that he finds it easier to respect and deal with a person who is intentionally hurtful. To him, this makes the issue very clear and easy to confront. But some people, he said, hide an intention to hurt, even from themselves, causing them to say or do hurtful things while proclaiming good will. In such cases, the issue is blurred and cannot be confronted openly.

FINAL THOUGHT. Dr. David O’Donaghue offered a final important thought—Harm is not a good teacher. People find it hard to learn from revenge, whereas there is a much greater chance of learning when justice or mercy is offered.

Thank you to Dr. David O'Donaghue and to our LIEP students and New Orleans friends who participated in this thought-provoking Intercultural Conversation.


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