Archive for May, 2012

Forgiveness Is Not a Gift We Give to Ourselves

In doing some blog searching today, I came across this quotation: “Forgiveness is not something good we give to the other person, but a gift we give to ourselves.” I have seen this numerous times in different places and it is not correct. Forgiveness has been seen as a moral virtue for thousands of years. Every moral virtue, without exception, is focused on giving goodness to others. Think about justice and kindness and generosity and love as just a handful of examples of moral virtues. When you are being fair, are you primarily being fair to yourself? Stopping at a stop light while you are driving a car is an example of being just or fair. Are you stopping your car for fairness to you or to the driver who is driving through the green light and could be injured by your lack of justice? When you are being kind, doesn’t there have to be another person to receive the kindness? That virtue is not exercised for the self. What about generosity? Don’t you have to reach out to another person to be generous? And love requires another to love. Yes, we should love ourselves, but in the context of extending love to others. We do not hold love tightly for the self.

The quotation above does not imply that one forgives for the self and for others, but exclusively for the self. The author of the quote unambiguously states that forgiveness “is not something good we give to the other person.” We supposedly hold it tightly for ourselves. How can this be a moral virtue if no other virtue you can name does likewise, save the goodness for self alone?

Either forgiveness is a moral virtue or it is not. If it is, then it’s goodness has to flow out from self to others for their good. A consequence of forgiving is stronger emotional health for the self, but this is a consequence and not an essence of what forgiveness is at its core.

The author of the quotation has confused the essence of what forgiveness is with one (and only one) consequence that happens (at least some of the time) when we forgive. Sometimes we feel better when we forgive. Scientific studies support this statement. We must be careful not to say then that forgiveness is—in its essence—a gift we give to ourselves.


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Found out recently that my husband had a lady friend who he was close to on facebook. To the extent that he sent her a message on valentines reading: Happy valentines sweeting. I confronted him about it but he says there was nothing between them, which i don’t believe. Now i’m hurting and finding it difficult to believe him. I wish it was the first time he has had a lady friend whom he gets too close to but it is not and we’ve fought over this issue on two occassions and I just don’t know what to do.

Hurt from betrayal is very difficult. Hurt from continued betrayal is even more difficult. Your forgiving him will help your inner emotional world and it may help you talk with your husband in a calm and respectful manner (which may help open the lines of communication a little more). Beyond forgiving, you have an issue of trust. Forgiveness by itself will not restore trust, although it may make you more open to trusting. Trust has to be earned. Your husband, as you say, has had issues like this on at least two other occasions. It is time to let him know that you are having difficulty trusting, and then see what he says. He will have to repair the mistrust by small and consistent behaviors (one step at a time) so that you are feeling safer. What do you need from him to feel safer? After you start the forgiveness process and your anger is lessened, approach him with this and see what he has to offer by way of increasing your sense of feeling safe.

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I run a business and most of my employees are men. I was thinking of holding a forgiveness workshop in the firm, but I am concerned about the reactions I will get. I think you know what I mean. We have had “diversity training” and “sensitivity training” somewhat forced on us. Will the guys in particular think the forgiveness workshop is just one more imposition for them?

“Diversity and sensitivity training” sometimes makes employees angry because such training can imply that any given employee is not sensitive to others. When employees do not share such an implicit message, then attending a workshop like this can appear to be something forced on them.

A forgiveness workshop does not imply that a given employee is insensitive or disrespectful. Instead, the point of such a workshop is to help any employee who is resentful, with the possible consequence of coming to work with low morale, to overcome this sometimes debilitating resentment. Forgiveness presents a problem (excessive anger) and then presents a scientifically-tested solution (forgiving those who have been unjust to the employee).

If you think about it, a forgiveness workshop gives the exact opposite message of sensitivity training. It is the employee who is treated unjustly and who seeks a solution when we shine the light on forgiveness. In contrast, it is the employee who is implicitly judged as being the unjust one when he or she is asked to undergo diversity and sensitivity training.

If you approach the forgiveness workshop with an attitude of “Come, see what this is about; you can take it or leave it after you hear the message,” then your employees may be more receptive. Forgiveness is not forced on anyone, or at least it should not be. Forgiveness is each person’s individual choice to try or not. If the men in your company have some anger that is getting in their way, all you are doing is offering a way out of that anger.

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Forgiveness Is Good Business

I just came back from giving a three hour workshop for people who run family-owned businesses. The purpose of the workshop was to show:

1) that anger in the workplace is pervasive and can affect morale and productivity, which research shows;

2) that forgiveness is one solution to this problem because forgiveness has been shown to reduce anger which can directly affect morale and productivity;

3) that as people learn to forgive, then they may become better workers as well as better people;

4) that once people forgive the individual hurts that each encounters, then they might consider creating a forgiving community in the workplace.

The Forgiving Community in the workplace could be developed by putting ideas about forgiveness in any printed matter that describes fairness and honesty in the workplace, by leadership talking positively about forgiveness, and by supervisors mediating conflicts between employees with forgiveness themes as well as with the usual conflict resolution themes. Brining experts into the company from the outside by offering workshops on forgiveness could be considered as a way to give this message to all in the company: We care about the work climate and we care about your emotional health.

The feedback that I received from some of the 100 people in attendance was this: The discussion of forgiveness in the workplace is unique. Most had never heard a talk on it before and they thought it was relevant and important for their businesses. This seems like a new frontier worth pursuing in an organized, scholarly, and careful way.


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Dan Erickson

My story is too long to share in this forum. I was the child victim of a cult. It took me years to work through my feelings of hate and anger. I’ve recently published a book: A Train Called Forgiveness. Learn more at

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