An emoji can help express what the heart struggles to say.
Want to express your relief at a disaster averted? There’s an emoji for that. How about your joy over a photo? There’s an emoji for that, too. You can even differentiate between finer feelings such as ‘tiredness’ and ‘weariness’, or ‘choosing not to speak’ and ‘requesting silence’. But what if you wanted to express your readiness to forgive someone — or your need to be forgiven? No little yellow face will be coming to your aid. That is, unless a new campaign gets its way …
The Forgivemoji Campaign, launched in Finland last month, is attempting to fill what its organisers believe is a much-needed gap in our electronic vocabulary. The goal is to convince the Unicode Consortium, which provides the framework for emojis, to add ‘I forgive you’ to its list. The process can take years but it’s not without precedent. This year Unicode announced it would be adding 59 new characters, including Flamingo, Otter, and Guide Dog, as well as Waffle, Hindu Temple, Sari, Sloth, and Mate.
One of the founding organisations behind the Forgivemoji Campaign is the Evangelical Lutheran Church of Finland. Mr Tuomo Pesonen, Communications Director of the ELCF, says the church believes forgiveness is a concept that desperately needs digital expression, noting, “We were surprised to realise that the official emoji selection has dozens of different cats and even two designs of zombies, but there isn’t an emoji for forgiveness.”
It’s the opinion of the campaign that forgiveness is the missing ingredient to ‘peace creation’. I’m inclined to agree. Popular songs might point us to love, but without forgiveness there is no circuit-breaker to conflict and no means of turning away from past injuries.
Without forgiveness, we become trapped in a cycle of condemnation from which we cannot break free. Hence an international movement to see it incorporated into our emojis.
Emojis are more than ways to make our communications more colourful. At the very least they are context-setters for the messages we send, making up for what we might lose in tone of voice. Adding a ‘wink’ at the end of a message can easily turn a seeming criticism into a note of support. At their best, though, emojis provide ways of expressing things that are ultimately inexpressible. A single ‘hug’ emoji sent at the right time can say more than paragraphs of prose. In fact, these tiny symbols often function as an entirely separate language for the heart. It’s not uncommon to receive messages that consist entirely of a string of emojis, offering a stream of meaning that is as much felt as it is understood. And forgiveness is one thing we certainly have a stronger feeling for.
The increased speed of our digital communication has had the unintended side effect of allowing for more misunderstood and damaging messages than ever before. The fewer the words, the easier it is to read different meanings into them. Add to that the ability to post replies almost instantaneously, and we find that the people we’re communicating with often receive our unfiltered reaction, rather than our considered response.
Some might regret the idea of diminishing such a complex process as forgiveness to a single image. Yet in situations where more words run the risk of confusing matters further, a simple emoji that taps into our heart’s intent could be a welcome addition to our vocabulary. In fact, the campaign to do so might prove helpful for understanding our increased need for forgiveness in general.
Our experience of forgiveness is often a one-sided affair. The internet’s emphasis on the alarming and the sensational has fostered a culture of outrage. Social media is frequently used at private and public levels to call out offensive behaviour, and publicly shame those responsible. Consequently, we regularly think of forgiveness in terms of harm done to us or to those less fortunate than ourselves — those things others need to seek forgiveness for. And when we offer that forgiveness, we know we are stepping out of the normal realm of human behaviour.
In choosing not to seek revenge, perhaps even choosing to forget an offence altogether, we realise we’re doing something that rises above our tiny selves. True acts of forgiveness, such as the mother of a traffic victim towards a drunk driver, regularly draw both astonishment and wonder. They somehow touch the heavens. Perhaps it’s not so surprising then that Alexander Pope’s poem called An Essay on Criticism has supplied one of the English language’s most enduring proverbs on the topic:
“To err is human; to forgive divine.”
It’s much harder, though, to see ourselves as the ones in need of forgiveness. Western society has done a fine job of emphasising our rights over responsibilities, our entitlements over our mistakes. Yet it’s clearly a logical impossibility that everyone’s need for forgiveness should always be focused ‘out there’.
The Bible, a book that preserves a very grounded view of human beings, has this to say about the subject: “There is no one righteous, not even one; there is no one who understands; there is no one who seeks God. All have turned away, they have together become worthless; there is no one who does good, not even one … for all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God” (Romans chapter 3, verses 10-12, 23).
That’s not to say there is no good in humanity, just that there’s no such thing as a human free from the need for forgiveness, and not just forgiveness from each other. If we had a forgiveness emoji, we’d need God’s mobile number as well. The Bible says every sin against our neighbour starts as a sin against God. Every time we hurt someone, deliberately or otherwise, we begin by demonstrating our contempt or carelessness for the one who created us to love.
If you would like to support the call for a forgiveness emoji, you can do so at forgivemoji.com