Archive for December, 2020

You say that an apology is not necessary for someone to forgive. Yet, isn’t an apology a good thing?

Yes, an apology from the one who offended can go a long way in helping a person to forgive and in repairing a damaged relationship.  Yet, I say it is not necessary because forgiving is an unconditional response by the one offended. Offended people should be able to forgive whenever they are ready and have chosen to forgive.  This is a freedom that belongs to those who are offended.

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Is there any advantage in forgiving and reconciling compared with forgiving and not reconciling? If I forgive but do not reconcile, will this weaken my ability to forgive in the future?

There is no general rule regarding forgiving and not reconciling. In other words, your not reconciling with someone who is not remorseful or who is unrepentant (when acting very unjustly against you) should not weaken your ability to forgive in the future. In contrast, if you refuse to reconcile with someone who in fact has remorse, has repented and, where possible, has given recompense, then you need to examine your own inner world. Perhaps you have excessive mistrust or resentment and these can get in the way of future forgiving.

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One of my students asked me recently, ‘Why should I forgive? Doesn’t this just let the one who is hurting me see that I am weak?’ I did not know how to answer that. Can you help?

The student is confusing forgiveness with giving in to others’ demands. This is not forgiveness. To forgive is to know that what the other person did is wrong and yet mercy is offered nonetheless. When one forgives, one also asks for justice and so this idea of weakness or giving in is not correct. There are two basic ways of distorting forgiveness: to let the other have power over you or to seek power over the other because of his or her transgressions. True forgiveness avoids these extremes.

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Can I forgive someone who has not directly hurt me? For example, I am a teacher and one of my students was deliberately hurt by another student. Can I forgive the one who acted badly to a student whom I admire for his honesty and perseverance?

You describe a situation which some philosophers call secondary forgiveness. In other words, you have been hurt indirectly rather than directly by a person’s injustice toward someone who is important to you. Whenever an injustice occurs which hurts you, then you are free to forgive. This can occur even when you do not know the victim(s) but experience hurt nonetheless. An example of this tertiary forgiveness is this: the leader of your country enters into what you consider to be an unjust war with another country. You can forgive the leader if that is your choice to do so.

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You talk about forgiveness as a process, one that can take time. I find that as I go along the path of forgiveness, that I slip into revenge-seeking. I do not mean anything violent, just some nastiness or even verbal disrespect. Do you think this will delay my forgiveness process?

We are all imperfect forgivers and so we cannot think of forgiveness as a straight line from the start to the finish. We go back and forth with forgiveness. At times, we see the one who offended us as possessing inherent worth. Then we might have a dream about the person and we wake up angry and do not want to even think about the person. The key here is to understand that the process is not a straight line. Have patience with yourself. Try to have patience with the one whom you are forgiving. In time, this back-and-forth will even out and improvements in forgiving are likely as you continue to persevere in the forgiveness process.

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