The Two A’s of Forgiving: Awareness Before Action

What precisely are you doing and not doing when you begin to forgive someone for something this person has done to you? I think the most basic problem is this: defining forgiveness before we actually practice it.

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Some would argue that you are acting weakly because only the weak are able to forgive; the strong always win out, much likeNietzsche proclaimed in the late 19th century. Some would argue that returning to an unhealthy situation exposes you to abuse, but this confuses reconciliation and forgiveness. Even if you are disregarding the person who treated you unfairly, some would argue that you are moving on by “forgiving.” Not one of these truly conveys what forgiveness actually is.

Goodness toward those who have treated us unfairly is what forgiveness is. This goodness can take the form of giving up resentment, showing mercy and compassion, and even showing agape love (though this love may take some time to develop and small steps toward it may be necessary). See the reference below for more information on agape love.  Most of the time, when people argue about forgiveness, the main point of contention is usually its definition.  If the definition is incomplete or wrong, then the process of going about forgiving someone who offended may be distorted. Awareness before action is the key to beginning forgiveness well.

Enright, R.D., Wang Xu, J., Rapp, H., Evans, M., & Song, J. (2022). The philosophy and social science of agape love. Journal of Theoretical and Philosophical Psychology, 42(4), 220–237. https://doi.org/10.1037/teo0000202

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