Archive for July, 2015
My father thinks that to forgive is a sign of weakness and tells his family members to retaliate with the fist rather than forgive. Is this helpful or harmful?
Forgiveness is not a sign of weakness when it is properly understood and practiced. It takes great courage to stand in love even when another person is being unjust. And we have to realize that forgiveness and justice do work together, not in isolation of one another. In a particular circumstance, if the only way to right a wrong is self-defense, and if “the fist” is the only way to protect oneself at the moment, then “the fist” might be part of a just-war, so to speak, but then forgiveness should be considered after the “war” is over.
The ancient Greeks such as Socrates, Plato, and Aristotle had a lot to say about the moral virtues, of which forgiveness is one. Yet, I do not read anything about forgiveness in Aristotle’s writings, for example. Did they miss the discussion of forgiveness?
As we forgive one person, look what happens: a) We start to forgive others; b) We embody forgiveness, wanting to give it away to others; c) We see each person as special; d) Because forgiveness is part of love and beauty, we begin to love more deeply and to see the beauty of the world more clearly.
Forgiveness does not lessen what happened; it alters how we view the person in spite of what he or she did. It can alter how we see the world and how we interact with others. Forgiveness can give us our life back. It can be an offer to those who acted badly to change their lives so that love and beauty are expanded in their world as well.
I can forgive if and only if the one who hurts me repents. God forgives only after we repent. So, I am doing as God does when I forgive. You seem to emphasize unconditional forgiveness, or forgiving before the person repents. How would you answer my challenge?
There is an important distinction between God’s forgiveness and ours toward other people. God forgives sins. We do not. So, in the forgiveness of sins, God also is asking us to reconcile along with the forgiveness. When we forgive other people, we are exercising the moral virtue of forgiveness, which can be offered unconditionally to others, as can all the moral virtues, such as patience, justice, and kindness, as examples. When we reconcile with those who have hurt us, it is there that we ask for them to change, which includes repentance for the hurtful actions.
Dr. Suzanne Freedman and I did a scientific study in which we helped women who were incest survivors to forgive their perpetrators. This does not mean that we encouraged them to reconcile. They went through a 14-month forgiveness process that involved acknowledging their own anger and sadness, committing to forgive the offending person, trying to understand him as deeply as possible, trying as best they could to see how deeply wounded he is (not to condone or excuse him, but to better understand him), cultivating compassion when possible, and finding new meaning from what they suffered.
After the 14 months the women, who came to us psychologically depressed, had no depression at all. The absence of depression continued at least through the next 14 months when we reassessed their level of this challenging condition. It was the first scientific paper ever published to show that incest survivors not only can reduce depression but also eliminate it, at least for 14 months following the ending of therapy. Forgiveness made this healing possible.
Despite this positive outcome, we must not jump to the conclusion that everyone who tries to forgive will be depression-free at the journey’s end. Different people will have different outcomes. Yet, even for those who experience only some relief, this bit of improvement surely is better than never having tried to forgive and never experiencing any change in the level of depression.
Excerpt from the book, 8 Keys to Forgiveness by Robert Enright (W.W. Norton, New York City).