The Five Myths of Forgiveness
Today, class, we will take an exam. It is a pop-quiz of sorts, to test your thinking about forgiveness, specifically with regard to what I am calling some of the “myths” of forgiveness.
See what you think.
1. Forgiveness is very much intrenched in popular culture right now, but the interest will fade, as all fads do. True or false?
Although interest in the topic of forgiveness may wax and wane through the generations and across cultures, forgiveness is timeless because, unfortunately, conflict and injustice are part of this world. As long as there are conflict and injustice, forgiveness will burn brightly.
2. For me to forgive, the other has to repent and apologize. True or false?
Although it surely is good when others repent and apologize, these are not necessary for you to forgive because forgiveness is a virtue and no other virtue requires a prior response from another person before you can forgive. Some say that the withholding of forgiveness until the other apologizes is a moral good because this then helps the offender to see the error of his/her ways and to make amends. Yet, no one who says this has convinced me that the reverse is not equally true: Forgive first and point out the other’s offense in the hope that he/she will respond to your offer of goodness and therefore repent.
3. It is better to stand up for justice than to forgive because justice will directly correct wrong. True or false?
Although the quest for justice is always good, this does not mean that we have to dichotomize justice and forgiveness and try only for one or the other. We can strive for justice and forgive as we do so. These two virtues are not mutually exclusive.
4. Once a person begins to show a pattern of devaluing forgiveness, it is likely that this will continue. True or false?
Although it is difficult to break habits, forgiveness education can and does change minds and hearts with regard to the topic. So often people reject forgiveness because they have been so very hurt in this world. Forgiveness acknowledges this pain and gently offers a way out of that pain. Never underestimate the power of genuine and effective pain relief.
5. Forgiveness is a good idea, but it is too hard. No one can truly accomplish it. True or false?
Because all of the other myths were false, by now I suspect that you said “false” to this one. My question, then, is this: Why is it false? One answer to consider: As we practice any virtue, we get more proficient at it. We need not reach perfection in any one virtue to be actually practicing it. We all practice all virtues in an imperfect way. The point is to try, and then as we try, we grow in proficiency in the practice of that virtue, including forgiveness.