Our Forgiveness Blog
The Backlash Against Forgiveness Continues
In a recent blog at Psychology Today, I examined “14 Popular Criticisms of Forgiveness.”
The gist of that essay is this: Many people generate their own opinions about why forgiveness is inappropriate, dangerous, disrespectful, and/or confusing, but their defense of these assertions is always, and without exception, philosophically flawed, rendering the opinion unfounded.
Well, I came across yet another set of criticisms against forgiveness and I would like to address them here. As I often do, I will not identify the author(s) because the point is to examine ideas, not persons. So then, let us begin.
1. Encouraging forgiveness might short-circuit the anger process. In other words, people tend to need a time of anger, which shows self-respect. So, don’t encourage. This, of course, is not a critique of forgiving itself. Instead, it is a criticism of those who might put pressure on others who need a time of self-reflection to work out the anger first. Our Process Model of forgiveness, since its creation over three decades ago, always has called for a period of anger and self-reflection as needed by the forgiver. Thus, forgiveness itself and even the encouragement of others to forgive are not the problems. In the case of encouragement, this depends on how the well-meaning person goes about trying to encourage another person to forgive. Is it with gentleness and understanding or is it with at least a pinch of force (which should not happen)?
2. If you encourage people to forgive, then this might short-circuit the quest for justice. As with point 1 above, this criticism is not about forgiveness at all, but about the philosophical mistake of thinking in an “either-or” way about justice and forgiveness. It is not the case that one must choose between these two moral virtues. The criticism against forgiveness itself fails to take this into account.
3. An abuser who asks for forgiveness might be manipulating the victim into the status quo of more abuse against this victim. Again, the issue is not with forgiveness itself, but instead is a problem centered in the poor intentions of the one who asks. The one who might forgive certainly should scrutinize the motives of the one asking for forgiveness. This is plain common sense. In other words, again we have the situation in which forgiveness might be taking the blame for those who fail to ascertain motives in those who behave badly.
4. Suggesting forgiveness by groups that have been oppressed is abusive because this might perpetuate the abuse. Once again, we have a philosophical error in assuming that groups must choose between forgiving and seeking justice: Forgive and then say goodbye to the hope of a fair solution. This is reductionistic thinking. Let us help people to see that as groups consider forgiving, they should scrutinize the best way forward for a just solution to seemingly intractable social problems.
The backlash against forgiveness, I hope you see, is not about the moral virtue of forgiveness at all. Instead, it is about how people erroneously go about suggesting forgiveness or how people go about practicing forgiving. If the advice were centered on persons and how they go about the advice or how they go about the practice of forgiving, then all is well. When the criticism turns instead to forgiveness, it is time, as I have tried to do in this essay, to show the philosophical flaws in the reasoning of those who oppose the moral virtue of forgiveness.
The Clash between Modern Western Culture and the Moral Virtue of Forgiveness
When surfing the Internet I sometimes run into ads for quick weight loss. Those ads run something like this: A guy, who may be ramped up on steroids, has his shirt off and he eagerly bites into a high calorie meal. He then says that he has a physical workout regimen that allows him to exercise a few days a week and retain a muscular physique. The exercise routine, for example, consists of about 5 push-ups, 8 sit-ups, some front lunges, a few jumping jacks, and then hit the showers because you are……..done.
In other ads, there are “before” and “after” photos, with the message that pill X will burn excess stomach cells overnight as you sleep…….and then presto! You have a new body.
The messages from these ubiquitous ads are these: Physical fitness is easy. Buy my fitness program or the pills I sell, and you will have gain without the pain.
What makes these ads almost humorous is the contrast between reality and fantasy, between what is needed for physical fitness or weight loss and what is offered. It is as if the striving and effort and perseverance are no longer necessary.
Such messages of gain-without-pain now are pervading the Internet for forgiveness. Take a look for yourself on the Internet. As you search for ways to forgive you will be met with advice to forgive, for example, in four easy steps. Learn to forgive in seven easy steps. Take your pick. The advice tends to range from about 2 to 9 sessions of psychological techniques…….and then presto! You have a new outlook on life and toward the one who hurt you.
Now, there is nothing wrong with a few steps to start a physical fitness program, as you get familiar once again with what a push-up is. In a similar way, there is nothing wrong with a few brief psychological techniques to introduce you to what it may be like to forgive those who hurt you deeply.
Yet, if you want true physical fitness, if you want true and deep forgiving, you will need to have the strong and good will to start, the rationality to know what you are facing, then practice, then persevere, then develop a love of the workout (physical or forgiveness workout) so that you grow in maturity toward either kind of workout. Both the achievement of physical fitness and forgiveness fitness require the exercise gym and the forgiveness gym, respectively.
When you are deeply hurt by others, when your heart is hurting, there is no such thing as the forgiveness pill. There is no such thing as the easy way. When others make you suffer from their unjust treatment, the way out is a different kind of suffering, which is growth in the heroic moral virtue of forgiveness. This new suffering is very different from the original suffering from unjust treatment because the forgiveness treatment leads to deep healing so that you can move on well with your life. The suffering from the effects of grave injustice, if you do not address these effects, may never end. The suffering from working on forgiving eventually ends. I want you to see the big difference between the two kinds of suffering. Only one of these offers the challenge of a new start in life as you become forgivingly fit.
Let’s hit the forgiveness gym, when deeply hurt by others, and start becoming forgivingly fit.
A Tribute to Our Director
For those of you who have read the International Forgiveness Institute’s newsletters, news items, blogs, and other features on our website, you have our long-time Director, Dennis Blang, to thank for that. He has tirelessly shown a love for the moral virtue of forgiveness. He has long shown the moral virtue of perseverance as he has worked to constantly improve the website for the sake of those who want to know more about forgiveness and to make a better world.
It was Mr. Blang who contracted with web developers to constantly improve the site. Over the years he added the Research page, the forgiveness curriculum page, the videos from three different international conferences, the research scales page with free forgiveness instruments for all who are interested, and much more. There are close to 3,000 entries in what is the most comprehensive forgiveness website in the virtual world. For his efforts, this website was awarded The Best Websites of 2022 by The Good Estate, a multi-thematic review website where users can find high quality information about all kinds of digital and physical products. TheGoodEstate is a project of Global Commerce Media.
It was Mr. Blang who oversaw the development of our online education course, Forgiveness Therapy, and encouraged students as they moved forward in the book. I always was so impressed with the care he would take with each student, answering questions and clarifying correct answers when a student would inquire about the right answer.
I have been amazed at his breadth of knowledge about the state-of-the-art in the world regarding forgiveness. He frequently would pass news items and journal articles my way, asking if I had seen them. In the vast majority of cases, these were hidden gems worthy of our time and he was the first to find them, write about them, and then post information on them for you, the readers.
His care for the donors, who so wonderfully support the spread of forgiveness across the world, shows his love for forgiveness and his deep respect and appreciation for those who give of their own provisions for good. His emails to them always are sincere, supportive, and special.
His care for those who have taken the time to write to us is equally noteworthy. Those emails come to us from all over the world. Some people write in because they are hurting and need care. Mr. Blang has taken the time to care for them as he has suggested resources and professionals who can aid each one in their healing. He has treated each person as special, unique, and irreplaceable, giving the time and attention that each one needs. Only someone who has a love for forgiveness and a love for hurting people could sustain such an effort. Thank you for your caring, Mr. Blang.
Dennis Blang has been a gift to the world of forgiveness and for that I am deeply grateful. He now will be retiring, opening up new chapters in his life with his wife, Carol. We at the International Forgiveness Institute want to thank Mr. Blang for being a champion of forgiveness. Without him, we would not be as far down the road of forgiveness as we are now. Thank you so very much, Mr. Blang. Your work has been invaluable and we appreciate you perhaps even more than you realize.
Perseverance as the Missing Piece to Family, School, and Community Forgiveness
Having studied the psychology of forgiveness since 1985 and having helped plant forgiveness education in schools since 2002, I have come to realize that there is another moral virtue that needs to exist alongside forgiving if forgiveness is to mature in minds, hearts, and groups. That virtue is perseverance, or the willed decision and action to keep going despite challenges and to not get distracted by other issues. In the ethical treatise, Virtues and Vices (attributed to Aristotle, but possibly written by one of his followers), the virtue of perseverance or endurance is said to exist alongside the virtue of courage and daring. I would add that perseverance will be a moral virtue as long as it is connected to both wisdom and justice (as well as courage) because it is good only if the goal to which people are dedicating a good part of their lives is fair and reasonable. Persevering in bank robbery, for example, is vice not virtuous.
Perseverance is rarely discussed in modern society as we play with our gadgets and move from one forum to another. This kind of quick movement is part of what the 17th century French philosopher, Blaise Pascal, in his masterful work, Pensées, refers to as diversion. He challenged readers by saying that most people cannot endure even one hour alone in their own room without seeking new diversions. If this was the case over four centuries ago, how much more might diversion be weakening our ability to engage in the moral virtue of perseverance now?
In an earlier blog, I related an interaction with Mr. Brian McParland of St. Vincent de Paul Primary School in Belfast, Northern Ireland in the fall semester of 2002. Upon approving forgiveness education in his school, he told me that I would last only 3 years at this task because that is all the time anyone ever seems to give to new classroom initiatives. In other words, people do not persevere. I have seen the same in local groups that start forgiveness education programs with adults only to have them fade over time. Yet, as Aristotle reminds us, and challenges us, it takes time to grow deeply in the moral virtues. We do not become proficient in any moral virtue by giving it a try for a little while any more than we become physically fit by hitting the gym for a month and then going back to the couch and the potato chips. It takes time and effort to become forgivingly fit. It takes time to grow in the moral virtue of perseverance.
So, it seems to me that the first step in growing intra-personally in forgiveness, in aiding families and schools and local community organizations to grow in forgiveness is to openly and boldly and persistently discuss perseverance and the serious challenge all people face as they say, “Let’s hit the forgiveness gym!” Without perseverance, we lose our forgiving fitness very soon.
How much perseverance do we need to change the world? It seems to me that we need to introduce students to forgiveness, without forcing them to forgive, from age 4 to age 18. It seems to me that we need two generations, about 40 years, of forgiveness in communities to change those communities and to change community-to-community conflicts, even brutal conflicts that seem at present to have no end in sight. Forty years? Forty years when there will be new distractions, new shiny diversions? Yes, and it is the teamwork of forgiveness and perseverance, and leaders who will take over for other leaders, that will win in the peace movement. This combination of forgiveness and perseverance never has been tried anywhere in the world at any time in human history. It is time.
With perseverance, we might just be able to bring forgiveness for good to a deeply wounded world. Long live perseverance! Long live forgiveness!
Your Unfolding Love Story for 2023
In March of 2014, we posted a reflection here in which we encouraged you to grow in love as your legacy of 2014. The challenge was this: Give love away as your legacy of 2014. We challenged you again in 2015…..and 2016……and we kept going.
Our challenge to you now is this: Give love away as your legacy of 2023.
One way to start is by looking backward at one incident of 2022. Please think of one incident with one person in which you were loved unconditionally, perhaps even surprised by a partner or a parent or a caring colleague.
Think of your reaction when you felt love coming from the other and you felt love in your heart and the other saw it in your eyes. What was said? How were you affirmed for whom you are, not necessarily for something you did? What was the other’s heart like, and yours?
Can you list some specific, concrete ways in which you have chosen love over indifference? Love over annoyance? If so, what are those specifics and how are they loving? When it is January 1, 2024, and you look back on the year 2023, what will you see? Now is your chance to put more love in the world.
As one commitment to that love as expressed through forgiveness, you might consider signing our Forgiveness Pledge here: https://internationalforgiveness.com/forgiveness-pledge/
Tempus fugit. Your good will, free will, and strong will can point to a year of more love…..and the clock is ticking.