Everyone needs a little bit of Mercy in their lives, and your own life will be all the more enriched if you get the habit of giving mercy and well as receiving it. Your life improves from giving Mercy to others for two reasons: one, being able to show mercy helps you improve the trust your friends have in you, which is needed in order to experience true friendship. Two, if you are honest in your mercy you will be letting go feelings that can turn into painful bitterness. Giving mercy isn't always easy, of course, but this virtue is one of the more vital attributes of the Roman Virtues, so this isn't an issue to procrastinate on if you're having trouble.

When we think of being merciful, we think of those in higher powers withholding cruel or extreme punishment, but if you really think about it, we often have the opportunity to dish out or withhold punishment to our loved ones on a daily basis! When people are attached to us, something as simple as giving or withholding attention can be a form of reward or punishment. So can harsh words, refusal to help, or the dissolution of the friendship. When we pass out social judgments, it's important to make sure that others don't take advantage of us or that we don't put up with abusive relationships, but we also need to make sure that the punishment is always fair for the crime committed and that we never relish in thoughts of revenge or other forms of bitterness. Being merciful is all about having a kind, compassionate disposition, and all of our daily business should reflect the character of someone who is filled with mercy.

Like most virtues a lot about being merciful is habit, and by consciously making an effort to practice mercy, we can develop, over time, the habit of being merciful that can then hopefully progress into an attitude of honest mercy (that is mercy shown willingly and without regret as an expression mirrored from the heart).

The ultimate goal or true mercy and compassion is one that will take hard work to achieve along with the desire to be a merciful person; the problem is that many people don't want to give up their bitterness. To some bitterness and revenge can give a thrill as they "get back" at those who wronged them, and to others bitterness can be a security blanket used to help "ensure" that others can't get in close enough. The thrill from "taking care of business" is a more temporary one and it can poison other aspects of your personality that will definitely make your life less fulfilling. Pushing others away out of fear is obviously going to prevent you from making true connections as well.

If you know you need to work on being a more merciful person, then examine yourself everyday and think whether you have been the merciful person you were hoping for, and if you have the opportunity to think before you act out, then take more time than you usually would to consider the effect your actions are going to have on your friend, your friendship, and, in the long run, to yourself.

Here are some activities that might help you get started:


  • Self-Reflection: This is described above briefly, but this is an essential task to anyone trying to tackle a virtue that is so linked to our personality and emotions. We may think that we know what's going on with ourselves, but many times we gloss over our short-comings so we always come up on top. Just like dieters who write down what they eat, keeping a record on this site and possibly a journal as well will help you recognize how often you fail in your mercy. It will also help you be more honest to yourself about who you are if you think about your motivations and emotions every day.
  • Show One Extreme Act of Mercy a Day: This doesn't mean let someone into your life that will hurt you. What I mean is to simply be merciful at a time when you would otherwise show a lack of it—everyday. This could be not rolling your eyes at a bad joke, avoiding snapping at someone, or kindly letting some hopeful romantic know that you're not interested. If you look, you will find opportunities (unless you live in a cave (alone)). If you fail to do this or forget, then you would mark yourself at "fault".
  • Make an Effort to Reward Others: This is a different twist from the activity directly above, but make an effort to spend time or show appreciation to those in your life that deserve it (or really need it). Being merciful is about being kind and rewarding as well as avoiding cruelty. Choose a time period for a goal like above, preferably once a day if you can manage it.
  • If You Can't Say Anything Nice: If you catch yourself gossiping to someone, try to find some good things to say about person who is the topic. If you can't find anything nice, or don't want to, then don't say anything—especially if he or she is an important part of your life.

Your Record

Whenever you show unkindness or cruelty to another person in a questionable situation (especially if they couldn't have prevented it), then mark yourself at "fault". If you miss an opportunity to say "thank you" or otherwise show your appreciation of someone else, then mark yourself at fault. Make a goal based on the activities above. If you fail to meet the goal, then mark yourself at fault.


The quality of mercy is not strained; It droppeth as the gentle rain from heaven Upon the place beneath. It is twice blessed- It blesseth him that gives, and him that takes.

William Shakespeare, Renown English Playwright and Poet

Do not stand on a high pedestal and take 5 cents in your hand and say, "here, my poor man", but be grateful that the poor man is there, so by making a gift to him you are able to help yourself. It is not the reciever that is blessed, but it is the giver. Be thankful that you are allowed to exercise your power of benevolence and mercy in the world, and thus become pure and perfect.

Swami Vivekananda, Indian Spiritual Hindu Leader, Founded Ramakrishna Order of Monks

When a deep injury is done us, we never recover until we forgive.

Alan Paton, South African Writer and Educator

Golden Mean

Cruelty, Prejudice
Indulgence, License, Permissiveness

Recommended Reading

Forgiveness Is a Choice: A Step-By-Step Process for Resolving Anger and Restoring Hope — by Robert D. Enright

This book is a guide to resolving anger and forgiving others written by an educational psychologist. It is nonsectarian and written in a professional, no-nonsense tone—a tone that might be a little intimidating by some casual readers.

Forgiveness: How to Make Peace With Your Past and Get on With Your Life — by Sidney B. Simon and Suzanne Simon

This book focuses on finding peace over large, past offenses that still linger on in your daily life. It features exercises and organized steps based on a popular seminar.

From Anger to Forgiveness: A Practical Guide to Breaking the Negative Power of Anger and Achieving Reconciliation — by Earnie Larsen

This guide is especially intended to help readers achieve forgiveness by conquering deep rage and resentment. Written in a simpler, matter-of-fact style.

General Rules

Practice virtues daily so that they become ‘habits of the heart’.

Don‘t strive for perfection.

Never give up! Remember: even the greats have off days.

Rely on your intuition.

Avoid extremes. Strive to achieve the golden mean between excess and deficiency of a virtue.

Have fun and enjoy the program with humor and optimism.

I have always found that mercy bears richer fruits than strict justice. Abraham Lincoln