Sin and mercy
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Sin and mercy attempts to explain the interplay of sin, mercy, and self-image in the context of trialogue. It also contains other moral feedback loops, such as punishment and respect.
- Sin is the act of performing deeds that are against social norms.
- Guilt is the negative moral inference of the deeds. Also, it is the negative feeling related to the inference. The feeling can be perceived by the person who did the deed, but also by other people.
- Regret is the perception that if the person could go back in time (or if a similar situation would occur again), he/she would act differently and avoid the sin.
- Mercy is the removal of the negative moral inference of a particular sin of a particular person. This does not imply that similar deeds are morally neutral after mercy.
Trialogue, sin, and mercy
It is important to notice that in this context each node in the graph (see below) is an information object (or topic) in the sense of trialogue. Thus, they are all social constructs and jointly developed by using communication between you and me (you can mean one or more people, the whole society, or even imaginary persons with assumed opinions). Therefore, even self-image is not an image only developed by the individual him/herself, but a social construct that is heavily dependent on other people's opinions on the individual.
Self-image is a central issue here. It is the description of an individual as a member in the society: what is his/her role, how does s/he apply social norms, what kind of deeds can be expected from him/her, what are his/her relations to other individuals in the society. The self-image is a dynamic description, and it is heavily dependent on the individual's own beliefs and behaviour. However, it is also influenced on by how other individuals describe him/her. People tend to behave according to the expectations, whether or not they were well-founded in the beginning. As an example, if an individual is treated as criminal, the threshold to actually break the law diminishes even if the individual originally was innocent.
The self-image sets the framework in which the individual operates. It is therefore a determinant of his/her deeds, both good and bad. If the individual performs a sin, there is a strong tendency of perceiving guilt afterwards. (The perception can be trained away, but there is a clear need for the society to reduce any such training.) The perception of guilt causes a mismatch between the guilt and the self-image. This leads to a (usually painful) updating of the self-image. This may have impacts on the future deeds, and it also affects the personal happiness perceived by the individual.
It is noteworthy that the self-image may be very different for the individual him/herself and the rest of the society. Many individuals have "skeletons in the cupboard" that they have not shared with the society. This dilemma is usually a negative situation to the individual: the individuals typically want that their self-image in the society is truthful, but on the other hand they want it to be good and respected. The fact that "no dilemma" is preferred over "dilemma" suggests that the self-image is indeed a social construct and not only one's opinion about one self.
The moral feedback loop of sin and mercy
Sins worsen the self-image of the individual, either by personal perception, or by social disapproval of the individual because of his/her deeds. In the trialogue system these two situations are not fundamentally different, as the self-image is in any case interpreted as a social construct. The worsening of the self-image may lead to regretting the sins. This is the starting point of a very important feedback loop. The society has a tendency to show mercy to individuals who regret their sins more likely than to individuals who do not regret.
Mercy means that old sins are forgiven and forgotten. In other words, in the eyes of the society, they no longer exist. This is arguably the only way how an individual can get rid of the perception of guilt (in addition to forgetting). A common way to try to get around the guilt is to make it up to those who suffered from the sins. But those who have suffered know that an unjust loss cannot be replaced. And those who try to make it up typically observe that the gratefulness due to compensation is a pale surrogate of a real forgiveness. This seems to be deep in the human nature.
The feedback loop of sin, self-image, regret, and mercy is thoroughly discussed in Christianity (although with different words). The fact that billions of people have found this as a major source of strength and happiness in their lives shows that the loop has an important role in human psychology and behavour. There are lots stories about individuals to whom a full mercy of all old sins has been the critical moment in their lives, leading to a drastic improvement of their self-images and subsequent actions as members of the society.
In conclusion, there is convincing evidence showing that mercy and removal of guilt improves the self-image of sinmakers and their personal happiness. There is also convincing evidence showing that all human individuals are more or less sinmakers (data not shown), and that everyone has lots of reasons to regret their own actions. The regret-mercy loop should therefore be considered as a normative way to deal with sins in the society.
Moral feedback loop of punishment
However, the difficult thing with mercy is that not all people regret their sins. The predictive value of mercy as a means to reduce future sins is clearly poorer if the sinmaker does not regret the previous sins. On the contrary, there is a lot of evidence showing that without punishments (or the threat of punishments) many people don't reduce the sinmaking at all, or even increase it after observing mercy instead of punishments.
Moral feedback loop of respect
Still another feedback loop affecting the self-image is that of respect. An individual can gain respect by doing good deeds in the society. Respect and thanksgiving is a powerful motivator in e.g. teaching and learning, as is well known by all teachers.
Therefore, the art of humanity is this: how to find a good balance between respect, punishment, and mercy in such a way that the individuals can live happy lives with good self-images, the amount of sins is minimised, and the societal well-being or happiness is maximised? The tentative answer is that focus should be placed on a few information objects, namely "Respect" and "Regret". If respect is given to individuals in a just and generous manner (in the eyes of both the individual and all other individuals, i.e., the society), it acts as a strong motivator towards a better society. In addition, regret should be utilised more when considering the balance of punishment or mercy. It is difficult to estimate the true level of regret of an individual, but it should be seen as a social construct aiming at a truthful description (as opposed to complete neglectance of regret leading to merciless punishments, or full belief in what the individual happens to claim about his/her regretfulness leading to mercy for all).
About respect and paying it forward
It is possible to imagine a world where everyone gets what rightfully belongs to them based on their own deeds, and where all sins are fairly punished. However, when we observe the real world, we can inevitably see that it is fortunately not such a cruel place.
The whole existing culture is given to us for free, without any credit from ourselves. Therefore, whatever we achieve, is almost entirely dependent on what we have received from others. How could we demand credit for that? At least, not based on justice. Therefore, we are obliged to give for free things that we have been given for free. We cannot pay back what we have received; we must pay it forward .
The definition of you
An interesting point in the regret-mercy feedback cycle is that it does not require a detailed definition about who the "you" is in the trialogue about the individual's self-image, regret, or mercy. You may be one individual, a group, the whole society, or even an imaginary person. But interestingly, the concept of regret seems to be "my" regret that is observed by "you"; and the concept of mercy seems to require that it is given by "you" to "me". Therefore, trialogue seems to an especially suitable concept for describing issues related to sin and mercy. The trialogue approach does not assume the existence of God to give mercy, but it does not preclude this assumption either.
Actually, the concept of trialogue makes an important issue explicit. As all these objects are shared information objects, it becomes necessary to expllicate who shares these objects. Let's start from a theoretical assumption that all these objects related to an individual are shared by the whole society. When the individual does a sin, guilt is put upon him/her by the society. However, the individual may not consider this as such a big sin. Then, on the one hand, the social guilt makes the individual to adjust his/her own interpretation about the sin towards the societal norm, but on the other hand it loosens his/her connections to the society. In an extreme case, the individual leaves the society and joins another group that shares his/her moral norms. In this way, the individual is able to adjust who belongs to "you" in the trialogue. This diversification is an important source of tragedies, but it is also an important source of cultural bloom. Again, the art of humanity is trying to find a good balance between uniform social norms and enough individual freedom. Trialogue is a method to make these issues explicit.
The regret-mercy feedback cycle seems to be a valid hypothesis based on human psychology and observations about human societies. Still, it is able to give some normative guidance in the way individuals' sins (or misbehaviours) should be dealt within a society.
Personal happiness and deeds in the society
An interesting detail in the causal network is the interplay with self-image, deeds in the society, and personal happiness. This is actually described in detail in Robert Baden-Powell's book Aids to Scoutmastership: he claims that the development of self-image is important for young people, so that they learn to do good deeds in the society. Personal happiness depends on the self-image, but the real determinant of the happiness is the awareness that one's own actions have helped other people in the society. This leads to larger societal happiness in general.
- Catherine Ryan Hyde: Pay It Forward. Pocket, October 3, 2000. ISBN 0743412028
- Pay It Forward Foundation
- Robert Baden-Powell: Aids to Scoutmastership. Stevens Publishing (May 1992); originally published 1919. ISBN 0963205420