Tue | Aug 22, 2017

An appeal to reason

Published:Sunday | March 13, 2016 | 3:06 AM

Title: Human Weakness, Forgiveness Epitomised

Author: Tony Miles

Reviewed by: Dr Glenville Ashby

“If we could spend our time correcting our discovered flaws, our life span would not allow us enough time to find fault with others.” (Tony Miles)

“Human Weakness, Forgiveness Epitomised” tugs at the conscience of a world that has lost its moral bearing. Deception, infidelity, hubris, and greed have always found a home in the bosom of man. But now and again there is a messenger who clamours for change. We need to be reminded of the Golden Rule, if only to prevent us from falling into an existential abyss. Tony Miles has assumed this role with passion. And, by virtue of his age and experience, he is more than able. He is didactic and exhortative at times, but is never at risk of losing us. He admits his inadequacies and flaws. He, too, is haunted by bad choices. And this candour is refreshing.

Despite some editing hiccups and Miles’ overarching use of quotes, Human Weakness is deftly produced. Surely, we can argue that the power of forgiveness is pontificated on tens of thousands of pulpits and beamed globally almost daily. So what makes this undertaking different? For starters, the written word, read multiple times, embeds itself into the unconscious, impacting us on subliminal levels. Also, there is an unmistakable authenticity to Miles’ writing. His empathy is contagious and long before the curtain drops we are moved, taken up by a sea of emotion. Indeed, we mirror the experiences of Miles’ many interviewees. We search our moral compass. Are we really sound, good-spirited, and communal-minded? Are we really compassionate? Miles goes at length to test our altruistic standing. He asks, "You are a passenger on a hijacked aircraft, carrying 158 passengers and crew…would you volunteer to save the lives [of everyone if] the hijackers only have one demand: they need a volunteer to commit suicide to highlight the seriousness of their demands?”

Other probing enquiries continue: "Your friend has deceived you; your friend has engineered your demotion; your friend is having an affair with your spouse…if the friend dies it is almost a certainty that you will get the job. Are you heading to the new office or your friend’s funeral soon, or both?”

“You are travelling on public transportation [and] you pick up a suitcase that looks similar to yours … On opening [it] you see a large amount of money. Would you make the effort to return the money or would you keep it?”

And in a tale of sexual harassment, a woman must weigh sleeping with a superior (if only for a single occasion), or risk losing her financial independence. Would you?

These questions can be taxing. As the focus shifts to forgiveness some of Miles’ interviewees, victims of duplicity and inhumanity, genuinely overcame their resentment.

The case of Cassandra, duped by her best friend, Camille, stands out. Here, betrayal knows no boundaries. That the victim kept vigil and consoled her tormentor while she died gives tangible meaning to the biblical counsel: Turn the other cheek.

And so, too, does the story of the former police officer whose paralysis was due to a drunk driver. That the officer forgave and forged a meaningful relationship with this individual speaks to our capacity for mercy.

Miles’ chronicle of tragedy is tempered by redemption for the most part, but there are personal experiences that collapse under the weight of suicide, unsuspecting incest, and a withering death. Here, there are no opportunities for amends.

Throughout, though, Miles errs toward simplicity, believing that we can circumvent or transcend stubborn obstacles with sheer will. But many fail, not for want of trying. We do not possess the same defences against life's assaults. Sometimes, our impulses are overly complex, unfathomable, seemingly delivered by providence. Failure and personal culpability do not necessarily march in lockstep. Miles should know that much.

Clearly, Human Weakness captures the consuming battles we fight. It serves as a reminder that karma is never distant. We sow what we reap, a poignant maxim that should have long led to good governance on a personal and collective level. That we are endlessly mired in a world fuelled by narcissism begs the question: Will Miles’ efforts spur reflection and change? What is certain is that forgiveness liberates us from the shackles of hatred. And if a single reader truly decides to live by this principle, the author's noble mission would not be in vain.

Ratings: Recommended

Send feedback to glenvilleashby@gmail.com or follow him on Twitter@glenvilleashby.