Ask Dr. Forgiveness

What is your very best reason for telling the world that forgiveness is good?

As your question implies, you are aware that there is more than one reason why forgiveness is good.  To meet your challenge, I would say that the major reason why forgiveness is good is because it is linked to love, particularly what we call service love or agape love.  When you forgive you are exercising this kind of love toward someone who has not been loving to you as seen in the person’s unjust actions.  Thus, forgiveness is good because it meets injustice with the heroic virtue of love.  I call it heroic because it is so difficult to offer agape love in the face of others’ injustice.

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Because forgiveness is so important, do you think it is obligatory that those, who learn to forgive and develop an enthusiasm for it, should now teach others about forgiveness?

Because forgiveness is a choice, I do not think that we should put pressure on those who forgive to now go and become teachers of others. I do think that it is reasonable to let those who forgive know that helping others to now forgive is good, if this resonates with the person. In my own experience, I see people, who develop a pattern of being persistent forgivers, often do have an internal self-chosen obligation to teach and help others.

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I have a concern about forgiveness.  As you know, there is a new political movement of giving oppressed people their due.  For example, a school district in the United States had a ceremony with indigenous people, acknowledging that the school actually is on land that was taken from this oppressed group.  If forgiveness is injected into this movement, I fear that the indigenous people will once again be persecuted as they give in to the oppression, gaining nothing.

I think you are misunderstanding what forgiveness is and what it is not.  To forgive is not to excuse or to condone injustices.  Instead, forgiveness is goodness offered to those who have not been good to the forgiver.  This moral virtue can exist side-by-side with the quest for justice.  In fact, forgiving, when people choose to do so, can rid the heart of resentment that can deeply compromise the well-being of individuals, families, and communities.

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Which is better:  to say to myself, “I forgive you,” or to say this directly to the one who hurt me?

The answer depends on how the other will respond.  If that person is not ready to hear those words or to seek forgiveness, then rejection of your overture can happen.  If the other sees no wrong in the actions, then rejection of your overture again can happen.  In other words, it depends on the circumstances between the two of you.  You certainly can say within yourself about the other, “I forgive you,” and this is reasonable if proclaiming those words to the other will create more tension between the two of you.

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My partner and I have different political views.  I try to be respectful of his views, but he definitely is not respectful of my views or of me in particular.  Help!  How can I forgive him and start a productive dialogue about this?

I think you need to talk with your partner about what it means to be a person.  Are people more than their political positions?  If so, what is this “more” that goes beyond the political?  Does he see these other important qualities in you?  I think he needs to broaden his perspective that human beings, in their importance, transcend politics.  This is not easy to learn and so he and you will have to work on this more transcendent perspective.  As you forgive, try to see these larger human qualities in your partner.  Such a wider perspective likely will help you in the forgiveness process.

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The Missing Piece to the Peace Puzzle

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