Forgiveness and Compassion Theme in The Sunflower: On the Possibilities and Limits of Forgiveness

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Should criminals involved in mass crimes be forgiven? This is the difficult question with different answers that many ponder. Simon Wiesenthal investigates this question along with other authors in the The Sunflower. Simon was in a Nazi concentration camp during World War 2.

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One day during his imprisonment, he was sent to remove waste from a German army hospital, where he was then called over to the bedside of a soldier. The SS soldier, Karl, was mortally wounded and was dying. The soldier asked for Simon, because he needed someone of the Jewish faith to confess to. Karl asked for forgiveness from Simon when he confessed and repented his evil doings of murdering a mass number of people by burning a building and shooting at anyone who tried to escape. While Simon listened to Karl’s confession, he was fighting with his mind the matter of forgiveness. After Karl’s confession, Simon did not give Karl an answer if he forgave him, instead, Simon walked out silently. From that day forward, Simon presses the issue of forgiveness. While some argue that we should strive for compassion and understanding to forgive, others believe that we shouldn’t forgive, because to forgive you must forget. I can understand both viewpoints. I believe that forgiveness is a personal decision and is up to the individual and circumstances. By not forgiving, it will ensure that the same crimes will not be repeated, because perpetrators won’t take advantage of forgiveness and will learn from their actions. By forgiving, the actions of the perpetrator will not turn the victim into bitterness and the memories will be permanent notes to not repeat the same crimes, because victims can use their memories as knowledge and let go. Some may argue that we should show compassion and forgive criminals of mass crime, such as the crimes committed by the Nazis during the Holocaust. The act of compassion is showing pity for others while understanding that they’re fully responsible for their actions. We all have an innate ability to show compassion and understanding which empowers us to let go of self-righteous feelings of resentment to forgive. Dith Pran says in The Sunflower that, The key to forgiveness is understanding (Pran 232). Pran suggests that in order for us to forgive, we must understand. Understanding the position and conscience of the perpetrator allows one to be liberated from the negative feelings that can oppress one; which allows one to forgive. Showing compassion or forgiving doesn’t reprimand one’s actions, instead, it brings awareness. With awareness and new understanding, one will find healing, the ability to forgive, and a great strength of compassion. While arguing that we should forgive, Matthieu Ricard in The Sunflower states that, The notion of a stable and autonomous self is,

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