The last airbender taught me forgiveness, justice

Monks used to say that revenge is like a two-headed viper-rat. As you watch your enemy fall, you yourself are poisoned. —Avatar Aang.

It’s just one of the sublime gems of wisdom uttered by the 12-year-old protagonist of the animated TV series “Avatar: The Last Airbender.” Although I watched it as a child, the lessons of this show resonate with me even as an adult. The superb animation, impeccable narrative flow and unforgettable score give “Avatar” all the criteria of a timeless classic.

Airing alongside “The Fairly Odd Parents” and “iCarly” on Nickelodeon, “Avatar” explores deep real-world themes of imperialism, corruption, spirituality, personal responsibility, mental health and of forgiveness. It draws inspiration from anime and the cultures of Asia, Mesoamerica, and Inuit nations, and the show uses its characters to demonstrate the wisdom at the heart of these traditions. The result is a heartbreaking cathartic experience for audiences, especially when it comes to second chances and justice.

The story of Prince Zuko is often considered one of the greatest character arcs in television history. For much of the first season, Zuko plays the role of villain, and along with his wise Uncle Iroh, the two pursue Aang and his friends Katara and Sokka in hopes of capturing the Avatar and regaining his honor. Eventually, he becomes an anti-hero, but thanks to his uncle’s unwavering guidance, he begins to realize that he is the one who determines his own destiny – and the right choice for him is to help Aang end the war. .

Zuko understands that he must regain the honor he truly lost, which was that of himself, his family and his nation for subjecting the rest of the world to cruelty, exploitation and genocidal ethnic cleansing. . It starts with Zuko forgiving himself, but his transformational desire to redeem himself is up to Aang, Katara, Sokka, and Earth Toph to decide if they want to accept him into their group.

How could they? All of Aang’s race and culture was erased from the face of the Earth by Zuko’s family. Katara and Sokka’s mother was murdered by firebenders and their tribe was devastated by war. Zuko was also an existential threat to them for an entire season, and his betrayal in season two resulted in Aang’s death.

But it’s the perspective Toph provides that illuminates the group’s moral dilemma and prompts me to reflect on the practice of restorative justice. After rejecting Zuko’s call to join their group, Toph seeks to understand Zuko’s situation by suggesting, “Well, considering his messed up family and the way he was raised, he could have gotten a whole lot worse. .”

Aang, Katara, and Sokka are unwilling to entertain this alternate perspective due to their bitter emotions. The group eventually accepts Zuko, with the perspective offered by Toph and the group’s empathy capturing the essence of what it means to have a restorative approach.

Simply put, restorative justice is a justice transformation process that emphasizes reparation and reconciliation rather than punishment. Restorative justice allows both the aggressor and the victim to engage in a process of dialogue where the harm that has been caused is understood by the wrongdoer and they strive to repair the harm that has been caused. The goal is for both parties to experience healing and closure. The precursor to forgiving a wrongdoer, however, is recognizing that prejudice was probably caused to the accused as well and that this had an impact on his behaviour. Zuko’s interactions with the group reflect these steps towards healing.

When we come across people who have done wrong, we can condemn them, exile them, or “cancel” them. Or, like Toph, we can be sensitive to their specific sociocultural circumstances, because no one becomes who they are in a vacuum. Zuko is the son of an emotionally absent and depraved fascist who lost his mother at a young age. Recognizing that his missteps are heavily influenced by his upbringing is key to forgiving them.

Refusing to give people who have wronged us a second chance — or even a third chance in Zuko’s case — ultimately doesn’t help us achieve our own goals of emotional closure and catharsis. If there is the impulse of someone’s desire to right the wrongs they have done, I believe the moral responsibility lies with us to to try to reintegrate them into our folds in a fair way.

The show borrows from Hindu karmic philosophy, in that in order to balance the world, the Avatar must understand that the separation of the four elements, the four nations, and human beings themselves, is an illusion. We are all more interconnected than we realize, and things that look different are actually part of the same whole. We all share the same world and the restorative approach allows those who have made a mistake to find their place in it.

Aang’s discretion prevailed in that he did not allow the proverbial two-headed rat-viper to poison his ability to forgive Zuko. Along with mastering the four elements, I think it was Aang’s ability to forgive that was key to making him a great Avatar and restoring balance to the world. Forgiveness frees us from the fact that our past weighs on our future. We can learn from Aang and Zuko by understanding the importance of forgiving others and ourselves.

Contact Moideen Moidunny at [email protected].

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