Archive for January, 2021
Can forgiveness be too self-centered and therefore morally wrong? In other words, if a person is forgiving for the self—to feel better—it seems all about the self. Also, if a person forgives, isn’t he just letting the other person know that it is ok to engage in the unfairness?
The short answer is no, forgiving others never is overly self-centered or selfish when truly practiced as a moral virtue. Why? This is because forgiving is given to the other as a gift of mercy and love (even if the forgiver never reaches this difficult endpoint of love). Is forgiveness ever immoral because it enables bad behavior? No, it never is immoral precisely because it is a moral virtue and all moral virtues are good in and of themselves. Forgiving does not enable bad behavior because forgiveness and justice need to be a team.
The philosopher, Trudy Govier (2002) has used this term. Secondary forgiveness occurs when you are hurt because of a person’s actions toward a loved one. In other words, the mother truly is offended and hurt when someone bullies her daughter in school. It is secondary in the sense that the mother was not directly bullied. Yet, the fact that she is resentful and legitimately so because of the actions toward her daughter, the mother then can go ahead and forgive the one who bullies. It is important to note that the mother is not forgiving the one who bullies on behalf of the daughter. It still is up to the daughter to offer primary forgiveness or not. It is the daughter’s choice. The mother’s forgiveness does not substitute for the daughter’s response.
Govier, T. (2002). Forgiveness and revenge. New York: Routledge.
May I follow up on my question about humility? It seems to me that the value of humility has waned in the past few centuries. What do you think of this diminishing of the importance of humility in the eyes of the academic thinkers?
I think you are right that the negative view of humility within philosophy has been with us for centuries, with the writings of the Scottish philosopher David Hume and the German philosopher Friedrich Nietzsche. For example, in the late 1800s, Nietzsche stated that those who try to humble themselves are actually trying to exalt the self. The famous philosophers Albert Camus and John Paul Sartre, in post-World War II France, split over the theme of humility. Whereas Camus embraced moral humility, rejected absolutism and violence, and acknowledged human fallibility, Sartre was not convinced (Dresser, 2017). I am not surprised, then, that philosophers such as David Hume have a negative view of forgiveness, which he called “a monkish virtue.” I wonder what Mr. Hume did when holding resentment toward those who were less than fair to him.
Dresser, S. (2017). How Camus and Sartre split up over the question of how to be free. Aeon, January 27, https://aeon.co/ideas/how-camus-and-sartre-split-up-over-the-question-of-how-to-be-free
Although Aristotle did not explicitly use the word humility, philosophers following in the Aristotelian tradition have seen humility as a moral virtue between the vices of dogmatism or arrogance on the one hand and timidity or moral weakness on the other (Hazlett, 2012). In other words, humility is a quest for truth about the self and others that avoids extremes.
Hazlett, A. (2012). Higher-order epistemic attitudes and intellectual humility. Episteme, 9, 205–223.
A guest article by author Darlene J. Harris.
Have you ever thought to yourself, “Hell will freeze over before I forgive that person for what they did to me.”? Read that statement again. Can you feel the anger, rage, resentment, and revenge in those words? Are you willing to consider giving up the emotions that fuel feelings like those? Are you willing to consider forgiveness in order to trade your bitterness for joy?
Consider the Cost
Anything worthwhile comes with a cost. You and I must decide if forgiveness is worth the effort and risk.
I asked several friends what forgiveness cost them and what their life was like before they found forgiveness. This is what they said:
- Estelle said, “The cost to me was releasing my need to control. It was also the uncontrollable desire to be angry, bitter, and hateful. I was always ready to remind the person how they hurt me. I never forgot the betrayal. I delighted in those feelings. I had no plan to give them up. Who would I be if I gave in?”
- Connie said, “I lost myself, daily accepting negative reminders and perspectives of who I thought I was. Some days I felt my energy drain from me and my broken spirit cried out. Because I felt narratives were true, I gave into their description of who I was. If I gave them up, who would I be?”
- Randy shared, “I felt the injustice and unfairness of the pain. I was anchored to the past. Holding on to it gave me a sense of security against the pain. The poison of bitterness and anger ran through my veins. I was on edge every day.”
Pain is the emotional risk with forgiveness. It causes us to question ourselves. Who will you be if you give up bitterness and pain? Will you be accepted, or rejected and abandoned? Will you be welcomed and loved? These are questions that every human yearns to know.
Forgiveness is frightening because you expose the hidden parts of yourself. You move from the known to the unfamiliar aspects of your heart. It is risky and often hard! But it works!
The Forgiveness Journey
Forgiveness is not forgetting the wrong done to you—you don’t seek an apology; you don’t have to reconcile. Forgiveness is not seeking revenge or justice. It is not living in the past.
Forgiveness is a deliberate decision to live without resentment and anger. It offers the one who hurt you what they don’t deserve. Forgiveness brings peace and joy.
It is a continuous journey to maintain peace and joy. It’s hard. You will experience disappointment and discouragement. Processing these feelings, caring for yourself, and growing in wisdom is essential. It doesn’t mean you will always be happy. Instead, happiness is a by-product of the journey.
I’ve learned that you should not go on the forgiveness journey alone. As a Christian, I receive God’s grace through His Son, Jesus Christ. God is close to me when I am in pain. He cries for me when I can’t cry for myself. You might find that going it alone is not the best way for you. You can invite God into your journey, too.
A Higher Power
While I refer to God, you may refer to a Higher Power. Alcoholics Anonymous (AA) and other Twelve-Step Programs use this term to refer to a supreme being, deity, or a different perception of God. They have found it therapeutic to aid a power higher than yourself. Step Two of the Twelve Step Program is: “Came to believe that a power greater than ourselves could restore us to sanity.”
Most people find they need someone who can come alongside and be there for them. You want someone who will listen to your pain. Someone who will cry with you and for you. Someone who can love and protect you. You want a love that feels safe. Someone you can go to no matter what.
A child in pain goes to their parent, hoping they will comfort them. We also want to know God, our Creator will do the same for us.
Freedom Is Worth It
Forgiving for the first time was difficult for me. It might be for you, too. But forgiveness propels us towards new choices and a hunger for life.
I traded unforgiveness for joy. While it seems risky, it is a risk you can manage. Freedom and peace are the results when you do the work. I don’t know if freedom or peace are vital to you, but I know you won’t encounter them until you forgive. Gather your courage. Start your forgiveness journey today! It is worth the risk to obtain joy!
Learn to forgive at the International Forgiveness Institute.
Editor’s Note: This article was written exclusively for the International Forgiveness Institute by Darlene J. Harris–a sought-after speaker, author, and the developer/leader of workshops and retreats for women, primarily on the topics of sexual abuse and molestation.
An abuse survivor, Darlene was raped twice before she reached the age of 18. Read her amazing story in her own words at My Forgiveness Story. Through her faith, an enlightening counselor, and forgiveness, Darlene turned her world around and reached out to help others. The mantra that drives her is: “I don’t want anyone to hurt like I did.”
To learn more about those emotional topics, visit the website Darlene created and manages: And He Restoreth My Soul Project. Her anthology book And He Restoreth My Soul, is designed to equip professional counselors, religious leaders, and concerned individuals with the tools to help and protect the abused.