Archive for May, 2015

“Forgiveness Is Unfair Because It Puts the Burden of Change onto the Victim”

I heard this statement from a person who holds a considerable degree of academic influence.  The learned scholar, however, did not give a learned response as I will show in this little essay.

Suppose that Brian is driving his car and is hit by a drunk driver.  Brian’s leg is broken and he must undergo surgery and subsequent rehabilitation therapy if he again will have the full use of his leg.  What happened to him was unjust and now the burden of getting back a normal leg falls to him.  He has to get the leg examined, say yes to the surgery, to the post-surgical recovery, and to months of painful rehab.  The “burden of change” specifically when it comes to his leg is his and his alone.

Yes, the other driver will have to bear the burden of paying damages, but this has no bearing on restoring a badly broken leg.  Paying for such rehabilitation is entirely different from doing the challenging rehab work itself.

Suppose now that Brian takes the learned academic’s statement above to heart.  Suppose that he now expects the other driver to somehow bear the burden of doing the rehab.  How will that go?  The other driver cannot lift Brian’s leg for him or bear the physical pain of walking and then running.  Is this then unfair to Brian?  Should we expect him to lie down and not rehab because, well, he has a burden of restoring his own leg?  It would seem absurd to presume so.

Is it any different with injustice requiring the surgery and rehab of the heart?  If Melissa was unfairly treated by her partner, is it unfair for Heart in Bed- RecoveringMelissa to do the hard work of forgiveness?  She is the one whose heart is hurting.  The partner cannot fix the sadness or confusion or anger……even if he repents.  Repentance will not automatically lead to a restored heart because trust must be earned little by little.  As Melissa learns to trust, she still will need the heart-rehab of forgiveness (struggling to get rid of toxic anger and struggling to see the worth in one who saw no worth in her) that only she can do.  Once hurt by another, it is the victim who must bear the burden of the change-of-heart.

We must remember: The rehab and recovery are temporary.  If the forgiver refuses to engage in such recovery, then the injurer wins twice: once in the initial hurt and a second time when the injured refuses to change because of a woeful misunderstanding that he or she must passively wait for someone else to bear the burden of change for him or her.

Ideas have consequences.  Bad ideas tend to have bad consequences.  Learned academics are not necessarily learned in all subjects across all cases.

Robert

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I was in what I thought was a good relationship for almost three years and then my partner abandoned ship. As I look back on it now, she never was going to come back, but once I started to forgive her, I waited and waited and waited for her, hoping she would accept my forgiveness. It never happened. I feel kind of ripped off by forgiveness because it kept me hanging around too long, about a year after she dumped me. Any insight would be appreciated.

You raise a good point about a possible weakness in the virtue of forgiveness if—if—we appropriate that virtue exclusively without justice.  When we forgive, as you say, we do sometimes delay exiting an untenable relationship as we stand in the hope of reconciliation.  Even when we bring justice alongside forgiveness, we still may delay the inevitable because forgiveness does hold out that hope of reconciliation.  

So, forgivers need to realize that the hope of reconciliation may not bring about a true reconciliation.  Yet, as forgivers wait in hope, they have to keep asking the question, “Is the other capable of entering into a true, loving relationship?”  If the studied conclusion is “no,” and if trusted confidants agree, then justice needs to come forward so that the forgiver is not left stranded for the rest of his or her life.  

Yes, forgiveness may delay the conclusion that the other will never return, but a delay is not a permanent state.  Eventually, a forgiver can and should stand in the truth of the other’s incapability of relationship (if this is true) and then act accordingly, but always in love and concern for the other.

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