Mercy is the virtue of forgiveness. It is the decision to stop hating and to renounce vengeance.[1] It is about your choice, not other's choice.

Mercy does not nullify the evil, and it does not give up the fight against evil; it is your refusal to be drawn into evil, to add to the hate, or to continue the violence.

Forgiveness does not forbid punishment, what it forbids is punishment out of hatred.

Mercy differs from clemency and amnesty. Clemency and amnesty renounce punishment while taking no stance on hatred. Mercy renounces hatred while taking no stance on punishment.

Mercy differs from compassion. Compassion works to relieve suffering, and suffering is usually innocent. Mercy forgives wrongdoing, which is rarely innocent. Mercy is more difficult than compassion; it is easier to regret the suffering of another, especially when you can feel their pain, than it is to reflect on the futility of hatred, especially when you have been maliciously harmed.

The Virtue of Mercy


Mercy is good because it halts the spread of hatred and its attending evils.

Portia, speaking in The Merchant of Venice, said it 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.

Mercy also includes the concept of the withholding of punishment, even if it is deserving. A person who does not take revenge or impose a just punishment is considered merciful. It may be within the rights of the law that a person exacts revenge or punishment on a perpetrator who committed a crime against them, but they decide not to do so, not because of any 'good' or deserving aspect of the perpetrator, but because of the virtue of mercy within themselves.

Everyday Mercy


The basic advice is don't take the bait and let it go.

Practice the virtue of mercy every day in these various ways:

  • When you are unable to love, at least cease to hate.[2]
  • When another driver cuts you off in traffic, continue to drive safely yourself, continue your constructive activity. (It may be helpful for you to assume they are rushing a critically injured child to the hospital, or have some other urgent and important reason for driving unsafely.) Later on if you find some way to improve effective safe driving programs or reduce road rage, your participation could lead to real and permanent improvement.
  • Don't attribute stupidity, ignorance, or the thoughtlessness of others to their evil intent.



Assignment 1:

Part 1: Recall a situation where you have been mistreated, insulted, treated unjustly, or otherwise wronged.

Part 2: Begin with an acknowledgement and careful analysis of your hurt, anger, or hatred resulting from the mistreatment. What happened; what are the facts of the event? What do you perceive as the injustice? How do you apportion responsibly for the injustice? Who do you blame? What was your role? What role did others play? Why did they act as they did? Can you understand their point of view?

Part 3: If you are still feeling hatred you are not yet ready to forgive. Wait and repeat Part 2.

Part 4: Make a decision and to choose to forgive. A key step is your decision to put aside any claim to revenge, regardless of how justified or subtle it may be. Until you are able to totally let go of your thoughts, feelings, or intentions for revenge, you are not yet ready to forgive. You may need more time, more information, more dialogue, or you may need to consider the offender's perspective from a more compassionate point of view. To be ready to forgive you must decide to bear (dissipate, dissolve, endure, overlook, tolerate, absorb, let go of) your own pain rather than pass it on.

Assignment 2:

Part 1: Study the South African Truth and Reconciliation Commission.

Part 2: Was this an example of amnesty, or mercy? Was it a prudent exercise of mercy? Were the outcomes good, considering the victims, perpetrators, other South Africans, and all others? What alternative plan, if any, would have been likely to have had a better outcome?


  1. Comte-Sponville, André (2002). A Small Treatise on the Great Virtues: The Uses of Philosophy in Everyday Life. Picador. pp. 368. ISBN 978-0805045567. 
  2. Comte-Sponville, André (2002). A Small Treatise on the Great Virtues: The Uses of Philosophy in Everyday Life. Picador. pp. 368. ISBN 978-0805045567. 

Further Reading:


Students interested in learning more about mercy may be interested in the following materials:

  • Blumenfeld, Laura (2003). Revenge: A Story of Hope. Washington Square Press. pp. 384. ISBN 978-0743463393. 
  • Dalai Lama; Chan, Victor (2005). The Wisdom of Forgiveness. Riverhead Trade. pp. 272. ISBN 978-1594480928. 
  • Kraybill, Donald B.; Steven M. Nolt; David L. Weaver-Zercher (2010). Amish Grace: How Forgiveness Transcended Tragedy. Jossey-Bass. pp. 288. ISBN 978-0470344040. 
  • Cose, Ellis (2005). Bone to Pick: Of Forgiveness, Reconciliation, Reparation, and Revenge. Washington Square Press. pp. 224. ISBN 978-0743470674. 
  • Enright, Robert D. (2001). Forgiveness Is a Choice: A Step-By-Step Process for Resolving Anger and Restoring Hope. Amer Psychological Assn. pp. 299. ISBN 978-1557987570. 
  • Gustafson Affinito, Mona (1999). When to Forgive: A Personal Guide. New Harbinger Publications. pp. 168. ISBN 978-1572241756. 
  • Luskin, Frederic (2003). Forgive for Good. HarperOne. pp. 240. ISBN 978-0062517210. 
  • Materials from the Emotional Competency treatment of Forgiveness.