Consequences of Forgiving
Premise #1: To forget is to not remember in the sense of moving on and not letting the emotional effects of injustices bother us any more.
Premise #2: To forgive is to forget.
Conclusion: Therefore, when we forgive, we do not remember what happened to us, making us vulnerable to continued injustice.
When we fail to remember what happened to us, this can be dangerous because we might let others again take advantage of us.
Because forgiveness might hasten our not remembering, forgiveness is dangerous.
What is wrong with the above argument?
In logic, we have just committed the fallacy of equivocation. By this we mean that there are two very different meanings of at least one word in the argument. The first use of the term “forget” in Premise #1 equates to “moving on” or “putting the injustice behind us.”
The second use of the term “forget” in the Conclusion of the syllogism equates to a kind of amnesia, a blotting out of what happened rather than a moving on from what happened.
Yes, when we forgive we forget (meaning #1) in that we move on.
No, when we forgive we do not forget (meaning #2) in that we can no longer remember anything of what happened, making us vulnerable to another’s continued injustice.
To forgive is to forget in a certain meaning of that term and given that meaning, to forgive is not dangerous, at least not in the sense of “dangerous” meant here.
This might help you understand what it is you are doing when you forgive. We are in a dark room, which represents the disorder of unjust treatment toward you. As you stumble around for a match to light a candle, this effort of groping in the dark for a positive solution represents part of the struggle to forgive. As you now light the candle, the room is illumined by both the light and warmth of the candle. When you forgive, you offer warmth and light to the one who created the darkness.
You destroy the darkness in your forgiving.
Now here is what I am guessing you did not know about the light of forgiveness: That light does not just stay in that little room. It goes out from there to others and it even continues to give light across time. For example, if you shed light and warmth on a person who has bad habits, he or she might be changed by your forgiveness and pass it along to others in the future.
Now consider this: If you give this warm candle of forgiveness to your children who give it to their children, then this one little candle’s light can continue across many generations, long after you are no longer here on earth.
I am guessing that you had not thought about forgiveness in quite this way before.
Forgiveness as a cosmetic for the inner you? How could that be? Well, I think it is true. When people are unjust to us, we can scowl and droop our shoulders, and purse our lips…..
or we can fight the tendency to be perpetually angry and give the one who hurt us: kindness, respect, generosity, and love. As we love in the face of cruelty, we scowl less, droop our shoulders less, and even learn to smile again.
The key, I think, is in the inner joy of knowing that the other has not defeated us. We know that we have a way to combat bitterness and it is called love. And love makes us internally beautiful. Augustine of Hippo first said that.
As we experience joy and love within, it somehow finds it way out….to others. And they see your joy and love and call it beautiful.
Forgiveness is more than a cosmetic. Cosmetics cover up. Forgiveness uncovers. Forgiveness reveals the beauty that is underneath…..and by doing so, it makes you more beautiful.
People sometimes feel discouraged when the other person continues to act unjustly despite your best efforts to forgive. Forgiveness as a virtue is for the good of the other whom you forgive and so if he or she is not receiving your goodness, why continue? An assumption behind the question is that the other will never change because of the forgiveness, but you do not know that. A seed of love planted today could have an effect on the person years from now.
But, you may ask, “I may never see the fruit of my forgiveness.” The answer, with a gentle reminder that forgiveness is for the other person, is this: It does not matter if you are there or not to see the result. The forgiveness task is to be loving. If the other can grow from that love, then you have done something wonderful for him or her. Even if the other refuses your gift, you have given a gift nonetheless. You have given love in a world that too often is devoid of it. You again have done something wonderful because love is an end in and of itself as well as a means to the end of transforming the world through the action of love.
Is it possible that we might change in a negative way when others withdraw love from us? Consider three issues, which might form a digression in our very selves. In the first scenario, we can begin to withdraw a sense of worth toward the one who hurt us. The conclusion is that he or she is worthless. In the second scenario, over time, we can drift into the dangerous conclusion, “I, too, am worthless.” After all, others have withdrawn love from me and have concluded that I lack worth, therefore I do lack worth. Here is where our own self-esteem is lowered because another or others are being unkind to us. In the third scenario, and even later down the road, we can drift into the unhealthy conclusion that there is no love in the world and so no one really has any worth, thus everyone is worthless. It is here that we might settle into a pervasive pessimism, without even realizing it is happening.
This three-layer development of negativism toward the other, dislike of self, and pessimism in general can be overcome by being vigilant in forgiving. Forgiving another can reverse negative judgements about the one who hurt us, can be a safe-guard in preserving self-esteem, and can prevent a drift into negativism. Perseverance in forgiveness, then, is necessary.