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Why Mercy Is Usually Impractical, and Not A Virtue

Updated: Feb 16



A man donning a combat mask.

Power, Pity, and Equality: Rethinking Mercy


Mercy. A loaded word, often associated with power imbalances between the strong and their actions towards the weak. But is that all it is?


In simpler terms, mercy boils down to choosing not to punish someone you have the power to. It's also known as forbearance. A judge sparing a condemned criminal, a victor showing kindness to a defeated opponent... These scenarios highlight the inherent power dynamic: mercy is a gift bestowed by the powerful upon the powerless. A gift unnecessary, and thus, a privilage for the weak and unfortunate.


Video games explore this concept too. Mortal Kombat's "mercy" mechanic lets you spare your opponent, offering them a second, smaller chance to defeat you. But is this true kindness, or just another way to praise your own dominance? Can humiliation really be disguised as compassion?


I find mercy condescending, for it can easily be forgiving towards thus who failed applying ruthlessness as a virtue, and thus, become stronger. It implies the receiver is inferior, needing one's benevolence to survive, while they can use the harsh reality as a trial to become stronger. And philosophers too, in face of reality, should pass trials to hone their skills in truth-seeking. Instead, I prefer genuine empathy, where I seek to understand your situation and feelings, not judge or pity you as someone who is weaker than me. It's a horizontal connection, two equals meeting eye-to-eye. For I prefer to help those who are willing and can help themselves, just like anyone else.


My disabilities don't make me deserving of your mercy. I strive for equality, and that includes rejecting condescension in any form. My strength comes from within, not from your pity. I refuse succumbing to my weaknesses. I want and will work towards power, for I am no victim just because I'm different. For I am able and willing to help myself.


Now, some might ask, "Doesn't compassion always involve mercy?" Not necessarily. Empathy can exist without the power dynamic, necessarily attached to mercy. It's not about sparing someone from a consequence, but about seeing and feeling with them, even if their choices differ from yours. It's about being part of their suffering and working towards an understanding.


And when you enable mercy, you might also encourage them to remain weak, defeatist, and unwilling to help themselves. And defeatism is a trait of any philosophy of life that can hinder you from progression. Enable defeatism, and you'll enable the impracticality of staying in the same spot, relying on the exclusive, unnecessary mercy of those stronger than you. That is while you might be capable, instead, of working your way up, becoming a subject for mercy, no more.


Ultimately, I believe we should move beyond the traditional model of mercy, a concept of power structures where the "giver" holds the upper hand, while keeping the underdogs stay in their spot of weakness, which can, also, be exploited. Keep yourself weak without taking care of healing them, and you will suffer unnecessarily. We need not nurture a culture where weakness isn't to be taken care of.


Instead, let's embrace empathy, a concept where understanding replaces pity and equality thrives over condescension.


This shift has broader implications. Can communities built on empathy and mutual respect create their own justice systems, rendering the one-sided power dynamics of traditional mercy obsolete? Can we rewrite the narrative of power and compassion, replacing it with a web of understanding that benefits everyone?


These are questions worth pondering as we move beyond outdated conceptions of mercy and strive for a world where equality takes center stage.


Begging for mercy is often followed by shame. However, in a world where empathy is lacking, people may have to be at the mercy of others just to exist and, at times, just to get things done. As we refuse to show empathy for others, choosing mercy instead, we keep the weak weaker, and the strong stronger. Mercy, therefore, is a perserving resource for the conintuation of power imbalances, thus preventing people from working towards being stronger, by making mercy a virtue, over ruthlessness towards the self.


For the key to become stronger is for one to be ruthless towards oneself.


How I Helped Myself Recovering From Chronic Fatigue


My chronic fatigue made something basic as sitting feel like a marathon. I know, I used to walk those marathons, pushing my limits for hours. These days were behind me for 5 years, until I realized I am capable of more than what I let myself to be. Now, while I appreciate your concern, please understand: pity failed where ruthlessness prevailed. At age 25 I began using a cane. At age 26 I liberated myself from the cane's tyranny by refusing to stay weak.


My grandmother, born in the shadows of Argentina's control by Juan Peron, a supporter of nazis, knew firsthand the sting of misfortune. She escaped that nation, known for its antisemitism, but the scars of that time lingered on her mentality as her mental health decline further and further. As for the family I have there, I send them my deepest sympathies, not pity. I pity them not because people deserve to work towards strength.

Pity often misses the mark. It can distort someone's reality, making them feel worse, and even underestimate their own power. My fatigue was real, but I never allowed myself to fully succumb to it, for otherwise I would've given up on life. Welfare ensures I'll never know true poverty or homelessness, but I took the matter of my disturbing fatigue into my own hands, as I realized I must first of all help myself, and that relying on other people's help in that regard will only delay my return to a life without a cane. For I must be commited to my own life, as no one else would be as much as I'm capable of being.

Understanding is the most basic currency I crave, for understanding is key to a more moral world, and there is no empathy that does not stem from understanding. Yes, the world can be harsh, with its fair share of the empathy-challenged. But I hold the hope that humanity can choose a more egalitarian path, where everyone is treated with dignity, regardless of circumstance.


I've only begged for mercy in my darkest hours, blinded by self-loathing. Those days are over. Now, I strive for clarity, as I try to see the world with reason and compassion. Because I suffered so much, I am willing to to care enough not to apply unnecessary suffering on others. As such, I wish to spare people the suffering associated with mercy. That's because, as said, mercy is followed by shame, and shame can be agonizing.


It's the spirit that defines strength. And by spirit I refer to our willingness to persevere without relent. I've embraced a simple life, as I work towards a legacy to be passed down through generations. This asceticism, though esoteric, has forged resilience within me. And the more resilient we are, the less mercy we would need from others, and as such, the less we would be required to suffer, by begging for the stronger aid of others.


Even with disabilities, strength can bloom. In the name of strength, we must think beyond the disability.

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Tomasio A. Rubinshtein, Philosocom's Founder & Writer

I am a philosopher from Israel, author of several books in 2 languages, and Quora's Top Writer of the year 2018. I'm also a semi-hermit who has decided to dedicate his life to writing and sharing my articles across the globe. Several podcasts on me, as well as a radio interview, have been made since my career as a writer. More information about me can be found here.

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