My guess is that you haven't thought much about mercy recently. And it may be quite important, to be so overlooked.
In too much of our history, power has been associated with aggression, force, and revenge. On this perspective, the good avenge their friends. They take what they want, and they celebrate their own strength.
According to this view, the strong choose to take, and the weak are forced to give. In so many of our ancient stories, across cultures, a certain warrior ethic that draws this map prevails. And for those who incline to think that business is war, the same can be thought to hold true.
But there is another ancient ethic that's very different. It finds ultimate nobility lying deep within the unexpected sphere of humility, and presents the highest power as associated with kindness and mercy. In this vision, the sovereign is a servant. The enlightened warrior is a protector of all that should be safe. And love is what finally conquers hate. Justice is important, indeed. And so is mercy. In fact, within this other tradition, justice is understood in such a way as to involve, essentially, the powerful seasoning of mercy.
I'm sure you recognize right away that these are things we don't often enough think about in the context of our work together in the modern world.
In Shakespeare's play, The Merchant of Venice, Portia represents this second ethic, this alternative and powerful perspective, and says, quite poetically:
The quality of mercy is not strain'd,
It droppeth as the gentle rain from heaven
Upon the place beneath: it is twice blest;
It blesseth him that gives and him that takes:
'Tis mightiest in the mightiest: it becomes
The throned monarch better than his crown;
His sceptre shows the force of temporal power,
The attribute to awe and majesty,
Wherein doth sit the dread and fear of kings;
But mercy is above this sceptred sway;
It is enthroned in the hearts of kings,
It is an attribute to God himself;
And earthly power doth then show likest God's
When mercy seasons justice.
Mercy seasoning justice: What can this mean for our ongoing work with other people in a corporate context, or in our individual life and business dealings?
Are we as concerned about mercy as we are about justice? Are we able to forgive whenever we can, and allow the people around us some needed room to grow? Mercy never condones or coddles, but it's meant ultimately to enable the better things that are possible. It's a realistic approach to the imperfections of life in the world, and always sees the potential in people. It's never to be unrealistic or unjust, irrational or self-defeating, indulgent or dumb.
It's a quality, or tonality of action, that we do well to remember, as we deal with the rough and tumble of life. And then, we and others can be doubly blessed.
Oh, and by the way, I wrote on this topic in some different but harmonious ways in the Hufington Post four years ago. For the meditation, click here.