Correcting Two Misconceptions

A recent article (which will go unnamed here) stated that our Process Model of how people forgive begins with the forgiver seeking “revenge.” This is not correct. In our model, we think it is important that the forgiver have a period of anger, mourning, even some confusion of feelings for a while. Why? Becoming angry or exasperated by others’ Angerinjustices seems to be part of the human condition. People do get angry when mistreated. This is not a bad thing nor should it be discouraged, presuming, of course, that the anger is expressed in a temperate way, without vitriol or violence.

Revenge, on the other hand, is the intemperate action of wanting to get back at another, perhaps even to hurt the other, if the revenge-seeker was hurt. Revenge is a path to destruction, of the self and of relationships. We do not advocate the extremism of revenge.

The second misconception of our thinking is that the authors of the (unnamed) article stated that ours is a Cognitive-Behavioral model. It is not. The Cognitive-Behavioral model is based on the assumption that our thoughts are central and can change one’s entire psychology of thinking, feeling, and behavior. We do see that thoughts about an There Is No Love Without Forgivenessunjust other person are important. For example, seeing the inherent worth of all, including the one who acted unfairly, is part of the forgiveness process. Yet, it is just that—a part of the process. Other parts of the process include the fostering, slowly over time, of compassion toward the one who offended, not because of what happened, but in spite of that. Further, the forgiver bears the pain of what happened, which is not a thought as much as it is a decision to do no harm to the one who may have done harm. Love is the core of forgiveness and love is not strictly a cognitive phenomenon.

So, be careful in what you read when Person A is talking about Person B’s work. It may not represent Person B’s views.


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5 Ways of Misunderstanding Forgiveness

There are many misconceptions about forgiveness. Here are 5 worth noting:

1. Forgiveness places the burden for healing on the one who was the victim. For example, if someone is assaulted and now is feeling depressed, the burden for healing falls on the one who was assaulted. Our answer: Of course the burden of healing rests with the one hurt. That is always the case whether the hurt is emotional (as in the case of depression) or physical (a broken leg, for example). When we have an injury of any kind, we should never rely on the one who injured us to somehow fix the consequences of our injury because too often the injurer is not concerned one way or the other with our healing.Gorgeous Reflection

2. Forgiveness foreswears punishment of the injurer and lets him or her off the hook. Our answer: Forgiveness and justice grow up together.
When one forgives, one should seek justice. In the case of punishment, if the injurer broke the law, the injured one should not take the law into his/her own hands, but leave the punishment to a neutral, third party judge.

3. Forgiveness is morally suspect because one “lets go” of the other’s injustice. Our answer: Forgiveness is not a “letting go” of an offense but instead is a merciful overture to the one who had no mercy on the victim.

4. Forgiveness makes the one injured develop a victim-identity, in essence crippling his or her self-esteem. Our answer: Forgiveness helps one to thrive and rise above the injustice, thus helping the forgiver to shed the victim mentality.

5. Forgiveness is dangerous because it puts the injured one in harm’s way again as he or she reaches out to the injurer. Our answer: Forgiveness is not the same as reconciliation. To forgive is a moral virtue. To reconcile is a negotiation strategy of developing once again mutual trust. One can forgive without reconciling.


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A Response to Simon Doonan’s “The Healing Power of Holding a Grudge”

In the on-line site Slate, author Simon Doonan refers to what he calls “the forgiveness movement,” an obviously unpleasant image for him. For example, he thinks that forgiveness is a part of “our softy culture” that does not have the backbone to stand up against injustice.

His criticism against the virtue of forgiveness, in part, grew out of this very difficult experience: At the funeral service for his murdered friend, the one giving the talk exhorted those in attendance to begin forgiving. It was too early for such a message because forgiveness usually begins in confusion and even rage. Forgiveness is a process that takes time. This request to forgive is more an issue with the messenger, not with forgiveness itself.

Mr. Doonan gives a series of examples of what might be termed hasty forgiveness, again as a way to bolster his view that forgiveness is part of a “kumbaya” culture. Yet, again, hasty forgiveness is not what forgiveness is at its essence. To forgive in its genuine sense is to know that what happened was wrong, is wrong, and always will be wrong and from that position the forgiver gives compassion rather than hatred. It takes great inner strength to do that. To forgive is not to throw justice away, but instead to let forgiveness and the quest for justice grow up together.

Not everyone will choose to forgive, but for those who do, they must be tough-minded and know that forgiveness usually comes slowly and with much courage to try to cultivate that compassion that fights against rage in an inner battle for the person’s emotions.

Mr. Doonan’s experience with the message-bearer of forgiveness at the funeral was unfortunate. It seems to have deeply affected him because in his closing comments in his essay he refers back to this 15-year-old incident as he proclaims, “Out of respect for the DaliLamaQuotememory of my pal, I will carry that rage and indignation to my grave. No forgiveness necessary.”

Rage….to his grave? Truly, I wish him well, but I am concerned for his inner world and the health of his emotions if he deliberately will nurture rage. Surely, I do not blame him for his anger, and I would like to suggest that he strive for justice toward the murderer, but he is no longer among the living. When there is no recourse to justice, is rage the only or even the best option? The murderer took a life, Mr. Doonan’s friend. He also gave birth to a rage that is promised to last a lifetime. The murderer, if his intent was to inflict suffering, is even giving this from his grave. 

Rage will not make the world better. Compassion will, but it comes with a price, one of struggle and even agony, but surely not in a “softy” nor “kumbaya” way.


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The New Criticism of Forgiving: It Places the Burden of Healing on the Victim

We are once again addressing a criticism of forgiveness that is showing up now more frequently than we would have predicted. The criticism might discourage some people from forgiving and so we need to address it because we think it does not hold up upon careful scrutiny.

A post on person-to-person forgiving appeared on the Salon.com website on Sunday, August 23, 2015. One commentator, with a lengthy response, had this (in part) to say:

“People are waking up to the cruelty of promoting forgiveness, just as they are waking up to the cruelty of promoting ‘prosperity consciousness’. In both cases, a burden is placed on the victims to fix themselves rather than fix the injustices of society. People are told they won’t ‘heal’ unless they forgive. That is a lie.”

Let us make four points regarding the above quotation:

1) Forgiveness is a choice and therefore it is not “promoted” by mental health professionals. We have to distinguish between the rhetoric of news media and genuine attempts to help.

2) Because forgiveness is not “promoted,” mental health professionals, who understand this, are not being cruel.twofeet

3) The notion of a “burden” to “fix” oneself is incorrect. To reiterate the same argument made on May 6, 2015, suppose a person hurts her knee while running. Is she now placing a “burden” on herself, or perhaps is the medical establishment placing one, as she undergoes surgery and rehab? She is hurt and now needs to do the work of healing. If someone is treated unjustly, doesn’t he have to accept the “burden” of striving for justice if this is his choice? Either way, forgiveness or justice, those injured have to do something. To blame forgiveness as an unfair move that is burdensome is incorrect. Instead, the effort to rehab a knee or to rehab a hurting heart through forgiveness can bring healing.

4) The commentator dichotomizes forgiveness and justice, claiming that either one forgives or seeks justice. It does not seem to dawn on many critics that people do and should let forgiveness and justice grow up together.

The new criticism does not stand up upon close examination. People who are injured by others should practice caution when hearing this criticism.


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“Forgiveness Is Unfair Because It Puts the Burden of Change onto the Victim”

I heard this statement from a person who holds a considerable degree of academic influence.  The learned scholar, however, did not give a learned response as I will show in this little essay.

Suppose that Brian is driving his car and is hit by a drunk driver.  Brian’s leg is broken and he must undergo surgery and subsequent rehabilitation therapy if he again will have the full use of his leg.  What happened to him was unjust and now the burden of getting back a normal leg falls to him.  He has to get the leg examined, say yes to the surgery, to the post-surgical recovery, and to months of painful rehab.  The “burden of change” specifically when it comes to his leg is his and his alone.

Yes, the other driver will have to bear the burden of paying damages, but this has no bearing on restoring a badly broken leg.  Paying for such rehabilitation is entirely different from doing the challenging rehab work itself.

Suppose now that Brian takes the learned academic’s statement above to heart.  Suppose that he now expects the other driver to somehow bear the burden of doing the rehab.  How will that go?  The other driver cannot lift Brian’s leg for him or bear the physical pain of walking and then running.  Is this then unfair to Brian?  Should we expect him to lie down and not rehab because, well, he has a burden of restoring his own leg?  It would seem absurd to presume so.

Is it any different with injustice requiring the surgery and rehab of the heart?  If Melissa was unfairly treated by her partner, is it unfair for Heart in Bed- RecoveringMelissa to do the hard work of forgiveness?  She is the one whose heart is hurting.  The partner cannot fix the sadness or confusion or anger……even if he repents.  Repentance will not automatically lead to a restored heart because trust must be earned little by little.  As Melissa learns to trust, she still will need the heart-rehab of forgiveness (struggling to get rid of toxic anger and struggling to see the worth in one who saw no worth in her) that only she can do.  Once hurt by another, it is the victim who must bear the burden of the change-of-heart.

We must remember: The rehab and recovery are temporary.  If the forgiver refuses to engage in such recovery, then the injurer wins twice: once in the initial hurt and a second time when the injured refuses to change because of a woeful misunderstanding that he or she must passively wait for someone else to bear the burden of change for him or her.

Ideas have consequences.  Bad ideas tend to have bad consequences.  Learned academics are not necessarily learned in all subjects across all cases.


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