Archive for July, 2022
When I examine the effects of the injustice that happened to me, I get angry at myself for not realizing the connection all these years between what happened to me back then and my built-up anger and fatigue now. Should I forgive myself for missing all of this?
We forgive ourselves when we do moral wrong, when we break our own standards. It seems to me that you were not acting unjustly at all. You simply did not know the connection between the past hurts against you and your challenges at present. This is the case for very many people because forgiveness, current effects, and past trauma rarely are discussed in contemporary society. I recommend that you practice gentleness toward yourself rather than forgive yourself.
After all, would you forgive yourself for not knowing other issues that are hidden from most people in society? In the 1940’s for example, people did not have the precise knowledge of the connection between cigarette smoking and certain health problems. Those people who were smoking back then were not saying to themselves, “The science shows that I am harming myself in very specific ways. I will continue to smoke anyway.” This would not have been the case for a very large part of the population.
It is similar now with the links among past trauma, current effects such as anger and fatigue, and forgiveness. Not knowing is not necessarily an injustice and so I think you can go in peace……and start the forgiveness process now if you are ready. In some cases, we deny reality and choose to not know what is good. This issue is different from yours and this example would suggest that self-forgiveness would be appropriate as a person keeps pushing away what should be known as morally good.
Do you have some advice for me about helping a person to consider forgiveness, when this person is adamantly against forgiving?
A key issue is this: Has this person misunderstood what forgiveness is, equating it with: a) weakness, or b) excusing unjust behavior, or c) being open again to abuse, or d) automatically reconciling, or e) abandoning the quest for justice? Any of these misconceptions can make a person hesitant to forgive. Yet, the person is rejecting, not forgiveness itself, but a false form of it. Your pointing out how forgiveness is none of those five issues above may make the person more receptive to the idea of forgiving. It ultimately is that person’s choice to forgive or not once forgiveness is more deeply understood.
Suppose someone said to you, “Please do not be fair to me. Under no circumstances, you are not to exercise justice to me.” Would you not be fair? Isn’t it your choice to be fair, regardless of the other person’s request? It is the same with forgiveness. You can forgive from the heart, as a free-will decision. You need not verbally proclaim your forgiveness toward the other if this person insists, but your forgiving always is your choice. The key issue here is how you forgive, and that can be done silently, from the heart and in actions that do not proclaim forgiveness.
Forgiveness is appropriate when you are angry toward persons, but not toward inanimate objects. For example, you do not forgive a tornado because you do not offer goodness toward this weather event. Forgiveness, as a moral virtue, is to offer goodness and we offer goodness toward persons rather than to inanimate objects.
In your book, “The Forgiving Life,” you correlate forgiving with love (agape love). Can a person forgive and feel no love at all toward the one who acted unfairly?
We have to make a distinction between the essence of forgiveness (what it is in truth and on its highest level) and how we actually appropriate forgiveness at any given time. So, even though to forgive on its highest level is to love the one who was not loving toward the forgiver when the injustice occurred, a person can forgive, for example, by committing to do no harm to that other person. While this is not the highest form of forgiveness, it is part of the forgiveness process. So, if today the best a person can do is to commit to do no harm to the one who offended, this is forgiveness (with room to grow in this moral virtue).