Archive for May, 2023

I am beginning to realize that a huge obligation of anyone who writes about forgiveness or who is a mental health professional aiding people’s forgiveness is this: The writer or helper must take the time to deeply understand what forgiveness is and is not in its true sense, in its essence.  This takes time, study, and reading works that show maturity and accuracy.  I now am a bit discouraged because I do not see this happening nearly to the extent that it should be happening.  What do you think?

I agree with you that scholars and practitioners have the “huge obligation” of taking the time to very deeply know what forgiveness is in its fullness, in its essence.  I agree that there should be more time devoted to examining the “works that show maturity and accuracy” without reductionism or the search for continual innovation, which is so rewarded in academia.  If a person comes up with a new twist on forgiveness (or any other variable) this is often seen as an innovation or an advance, when too often it splits the construct, reduces the construct, and therefore distorts the construct.  For example, talking of “emotional forgiveness” as if this is a kind of forgiveness is confusing “kind” and “component,” a very large difference.  Emotions are a component of forgiveness, that includes much more than this.  Emotions by themselves are not a “kind” of forgiveness.  If that were the case, then motivations, cognitions, and actions could be deleted and you still have forgiveness.  Does this sound accurate to you when your goal is to understand the essence, the whole picture of what forgiveness is?

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From your recent posts here, it seems that there are many misunderstandings about what forgiving is.  Why do you think there are so many misunderstandings out there?

I agree that there are many misunderstandings of forgiveness in the general public, in mental health professionals who are trying to help people to heal, and in scholars who publish articles on forgiveness.  I think this is the case because most people, including mental health professionals and scholars, have never examined the term forgiveness from a philosophical perspective.  This often results in a failure of understanding what Aristotle called “the specific difference” between forgiveness and other related ideas such as “just moving on” or reconciling or even just engaging in a few psychological techniques such as writing a letter that is not sent to the offending person.  Forgiveness as a moral virtue takes time and practice.  It includes thinking in new ways about the offending person, waiting for softer emotions to emerge, and deciding whether or not to reconcile.  So often people miss some or even all of these important points, thus distorting what forgiving actually is.

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In your most recent answer to my question about scholars misunderstanding the term forgiveness, can you give an example of a failure of some scholars to understand forgiveness in its “full sense” and a failure of some other scholars to understand forgiveness in “a true sense”?

A failure to understand forgiveness in its full sense, for example, is when a scholar equates forgiveness only with a part of what forgiveness is in its essence.  An example of this is equating forgiveness only with a motivation to forgive.  A motivation to forgive is one component of forgiving, but not the entire essence of it, as I explained in an earlier answer.  A failure to understand forgiveness in its true sense, for example, is when a scholar claims that we can forgive situations, such as when a tornado strikes one’s house.  Because you cannot be good to a tornado, it follows logically that you cannot forgive a tornado or any other non-human entity.  Situations are non-human entities.  Therefore, you cannot forgive situations, despite some scholars’ claim to the contrary.

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In your answer to my recent question about why so many people use the word “forgiveness” but misunderstand it, I have this follow-up question: Is it true that if I read a journal article with the word “forgiveness” in the title, then that article actually might not be about forgiveness at all, but instead may have distortions about what forgiveness is?

Yes, this is a very insightful point.  Just because a journal article passes the peer-review process, this does not mean that the article actually is about forgiveness in its full sense or even in a true sense.  Be careful when you read the academic literature on forgiveness because the authors’ understanding of forgiveness may be distorted.  Ask yourself: What truly is forgiveness and are these authors being consistent in understanding what it is?

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I will never forgive my ex- without his apology.  Forgiveness is conditional, right?  We should withhold forgiving until the other apologizes.  This gives me a sense of respect.

Actually, forgiving unconditionally, without the other first apologizing, is important.  Otherwise, you give the other person too much power over your own healing, over your own inner peace.  Here is an essay from Psychology Today in which I defend the idea that forgiveness does not require an apology from the one who acted unjustly:

Why Forgiving Does Not Require an Apology

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