I heard a talk recently in which– it was stated that Mahatma Ghandi’s nonviolent resistance to injustice is equivalent to forgiving. The point is that forgiveness is not passive but stands up to evil in a merciful way. While there are some convergences between nonviolent resistance and forgiveness, I think that they are in essence different. Here are at least three ways in which they are not the same:
First, Ghandi’s approach, as well the approach of others who followed, such as Martin Luther King, Jr., is centered on a quest for justice. They want an unfair situation changed. Thus, nonviolent resistance in its essence is a justice strategy, as is the call for negotiation, dialogue, arms limitation, and other approaches of seeking fairness.
In contrast, forgiveness in its essence is a moral virtue centered in mercy and love. The primary goal of forgiveness is not the seeking of fairness, but instead to unconditionally love another or others, not because of what they have done, but in spite of this. To be fair to forgiveness, it is not the case that forgiveness abandons the quest for justice. Instead, people can and should bring justice alongside forgiving. When they do so, we must be clear that the offer of forgiving is different from the request for a fair solution.
Second, when a person or group practices nonviolent resistance, forgiveness likely would aid this strategy because it quells resentment which could spill over to hatred and actions of hatred which would destroy the nonviolent strategy. Forgiveness in this case is a secondary issue, not the primary one. Justice-seeking is the primary issue. In contrast, justice-seeking is an aid to forgiving so that the forgiver does not become weak or even abused by others’ continual injustices. Justice in this case is a secondary issue, not the primary one. Unconditional love toward an offending person is the primary issue.
Third, while the virtue of love may be at the center of non-violent resistance, and certainly was the case for Martin Luther King, Jr. as seen in his soaring volume, Strength to Love, it need not be at the center for all who practice the nonviolence. Perseverance might be the center for some, justice-seeking no matter what the consequence may be at the center for others, while loving one’s enemy may take center-stage for others. The action itself (nonviolence) and keeping one’s eye on the goal (social change) can lead to different virtues dominating a given person’s thinking and acting. In contrast, the virtue of love is always at the center of forgiving even if the forgiver never reaches this depth of understanding and practicing forgiving.
Nonviolent resistance and forgiveness share the following in common:
First, each is unconditional in that, no matter what the other does to thwart the practice, the forgiver and the nonviolent resister stand firm in their decision to either forgive or resist. The others’ blows to the head did not deter Gandhi. The other’s refusal to apologize or make restitution does not deter the forgiver, who may or may not reconcile depending on the degree of unfairness and the extent of any abuse. The forgiver stands unconditionally in the offer of goodness toward those who are not being good to the forgiver.
Second, both have moral virtue at their center.
Third, each can effect social change as the one forgiven, for example, now sees the injustice, feels remorse, repents, and changes. Nonviolent resistance historically has been shown to effect such change as the consciences of the powerful can be deeply affected as they continue their unjust ways in the face of the others’ peace.
Nonviolent resistance and forgiveness share commonalities, but they are not the same. We need clarity when engaging in each so that they move forward well and with a deep understanding about what the forgiver or resister actually is doing.
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 people who have bad habits, they 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.
Has the struggle with the injustice made you tired? Let us say that you have 10 points of energy to get through each day. How many of those points of energy do you use fighting (even subconsciously) the injustice as an internal struggle? Even if you are giving 1 or 2 points of your energy each day to this, it is too much and could be considered another wound for you.
When you consider the person and the situation now under consideration, do you see any changes in your life that were either a direct or indirect consequence of the person’s injustice? In what way did your life change that led to greater struggle for you? On our 0-to-10 scale, how great a change was there in your life as a result of the injustice? Let a 0 stand for no change whatsoever, a 5 stand for moderate change in your life, and a 10 stand for dramatic change in your life. Your answer will help you determine whether this is another wound for you. As you can see, the wounds from the original injustice have a way of accumulating and adding to your suffering.
Within psychology, power is seen as having influence over others, whether of the benign kind (such as an authority directing others) or the coercive kind (manipulating and controlling others). Friedrich Nietzsche (1881/1997), the 19th-century German philosopher, talked about the “will to power,” suggesting that the quest for power is a major human motivation. In their now classic analysis of power, French and Raven (1959) identified legitimate power (the benign kind above), referent power (drawing others to the self for the self’s benefit), expert power (the ability of others to listen and follow), reward power (being able to reinforce others), and coercive power (already mentioned).
We propose five power-themes rarely discussed. We do so to challenge you: Do you use any of these aspects of power?
1. Power-Over vs. Power-For
In virtually all of the social science literature, you will see a hidden assumption: All power is over others and for the self, even if it is benign and reward-producing. Yet, there is another form of power in need of exploration, what we call here power-for, meaning an altruistic form of power in which the power-wielder aids those in need, suffers for others, and builds others up.
Read the rest of this blog by Dr. Robert Enright in Psychology Today.
Posted Oct. 30, 2017
It is the year 2525 and somehow the word “forgiveness” has been dropped from the vocabulary of every person on the planet. The word “mercy” was dropped long before that. Justice first, justice last, justice foremost is the unchallenged thought of all. If justice gets a bit out of hand, that is just collateral damage to be corrected some time in the future so we can all move on with our business now.
If someone steals because he was hungry, then he knew the rules. Punish him.
If an adolescent is too depressed to study, then she knew the rules and so fail her. Trying to understand her or to sympathize with her is to let her off too easily. What if we let off others, too, who are anxious or abused or troubled? There would be chaos.
Rules are rules and as we know rules prevent chaos and lead to an orderly society. We want a clean, sanitized community and taking time to heal people’s emotional wounds can be so messy. And besides, there is no rule in our rule book that says we are obligated to clean up the messiness of sadness or loneliness or alienation. One person’s loneliness is another person’s blissful, refreshing solitude.
If you are kind to those who are not kind to you, then you are weak and are letting that person walk all over you. Be strong. Walk away. You will never regret it.
Pass by that child on the street who just ran away from a father who abused her. She might cry and disrupt those who are on their way to important meetings to make the world better. She will get over it.
The crying infant can wait. We have to teach it—it—to delay gratification.
You don’t agree with me? I have a committee that does agree and you will be hearing from them in due course. It will be better for you if you adjust to the right way of thinking so we just can all get along.
So, how are you liking the world without forgiveness and mercy so far? What will you do to plant a bit more of forgiveness and mercy into the world…….today?