Archive for March, 2021
Because trust is part of reconciliation, it is possible to come together again and then work on that trust. The other may have to earn back that trust a little at a time if the betrayal was deep. You can begin to trust when you see what I call the 3 Rs in the other: remorse (genuine inner sorrow seen in the other’s eyes), repentance (an apology that flows from the genuine inner sorrow) and recompense (truly trying to right the wrong). Please be patient as these three in the other may take some time and your trust may build slowly.
Yes. To forgive is not necessarily to reconcile although this is one of the goals of forgiving. Yet, reconciliation is not within only your power to grant. Reconciliation is a negotiation strategy between two or more people who come together again in mutual trust. If the other continues behaviors that are hurtful and if the person does not seem interested in changing those behaviors, then you can forgive but not reconcile, at least until the other shows signs of changing and is more trustworthy.
Because forgiving is a moral virtue, you talk of gift-giving as part of the process. How big of a gift are we talking about. Should I pay for the person’s medical bills, for example? Would paying for someone’s housing be over the top?
The gift-giving is always in the context of the forgiver’s capacity and the quality of the relationship at the moment. I noticed that you gave two examples regarding money. In actuality, the gift need not be monetary or even something physically concrete wrapped in a package. For example, a smile might be a great gift if such smiles have been non-existent for some time. A returned phone call might be just what the other needs. I think the gift-giving needs to be in the context of the moral virtue of temperance, or something that is balanced and reasonable and not “over the top” for a given forgiver.
The ancient Greeks had four words for the term love: storge (the natural love, for example, between a mother and child), philia (friendship love), eros (romantic love), and agape (which eventually came to be known as a heroic form of love given for the sake of the other and involving effort and even pain on the part of the one offering such love). The Essence of forgiveness (what it is at its core) is agape love offered to a hurtful, offending other person. As Aristotle reminded us, we do not necessarily reach perfection as we practice any virtue and so even though agape is the deepest form of forgiving (its Essence), we as imperfect people can offer patience and respect toward the other and this still most certainly counts as a forgiving response. A person might eventually grow into agape for the other, but some do not.
I hear so often that to forgive is for your own healing and is not for the one who hurt you. This kind of statement happens so often that it is time to address the issue: Is this true? To answer this question, we have to know what forgiving actually is. To forgive is to exercise a moral virtue (Enright, 2012; Enright & Fitzgibbons, 2015). What is a moral virtue? According to Aristotle, as explained by Simon (1986), all moral virtues, whether it is justice, patience, kindness, or even forgiveness, focus on what is good for others and for the community. When we are engaging in justice, we are good to the other who, for example, built a dining room table for us at the cost of $500. Being good in this case is to pay for the work done. Patience is goodness toward others at whom one is irritated, such as toward a grocery store clerk who is simply doing one’s best with a long line of customers. What then is forgiveness? It is being good to those who are not good to you by deliberately reducing resentment toward that person and by offering, to the extent possible, kindness, respect, generosity, and even love toward the other. You are not offering these directly toward the self, but to the other.
Here, then, is where the confusion comes in: A paradox of forgiving is that as we extend ourselves in kindness, respect, generosity, and even love toward the offending other person, it is we, ourselves, as forgivers who often experience emotional healing as the consequence of offering forgiveness to others. Thus, the answer is this to the question, “Is forgiveness for the self or for the other?”: Forgiving is definitely for the other and one major consequence—not the act itself, but a consequence—-is that the forgiver benefits.
As another related issue, one can forgive out of a motive of freeing oneself of resentment, but to do so entails a focus on the other with the morally virtuous qualities for the other of kindness, respect, generosity, and love.
The statement, “Forgiveness is for you, not the other”, is to confuse essence (what forgiving is at its core) with the consequence and essence with one’s motivation. The essence of forgiving is a positive response, as best one can at present, for the other. The consequence in many cases is the actual self-healing. One’s motive can be the hope of self-healing from burning anger. Of course, one need not have as the motive or intended consequence self-healing. One’s motive may be entirely for the other as a person of worth. Even so, self-healing can occur even when the motive is other-centered.
When we make the distinctions among: a) what forgiving is; b) some of the consequences for the self of forgiving; and c) one’s motives for beginning the process of forgiving, we see that the moral virtue of forgiving itself (in its essence) is for the other.
- Enright, R.D. (2012). The Forgiving Life. Washington, DC: APA Books.
- Enright, R.D. & Fitzgibbons, R. (2015). Forgiveness Therapy. Washington, DC: APA Books.
- Simon, Y. (1986). The Definition of Moral Virtue. New York: Fordham University Press.