Our Forgiveness Blog
When you suffer from another’s injustice, if you quietly endure that suffering, you are giving a gift to those around you by not passing on anger, frustration, or even hatred to them. Too often, people tend to displace their own frustrations and angers onto unsuspecting others. These others, then, end up inheriting the original person’s internal wounds because this person refused to bear the pain him- or herself.
I am not saying here that it is good to shoulder psychological depression or unhealthy anger by being silent and keeping it all in. On the contrary, here is the point: What happened to you is now a reality. It did happen and you cannot change that. You have inherited a certain amount of pain from another person. What will you now do with that pain? Will you try to toss it onto someone else in the hope that it somehow leaves you? Or, will you accept that this hurtful event in fact happened and you will not now pass the pain down the line to others? Consider taking this perspective in bearing the pain:
“If I can shoulder this pain now, I will not be passing it on to other people, even innocent people who never had anything at all to do with the original offense. My anger could be transferred to innocent people and they, in turn, could pass on this anger to someone else, who passes it to someone else, and down the generations my anger goes. Do I want that? Do I want my anger to live on as it is transferred for many years to come? I can prevent this from happening as I decide, today, to bear the pain that came my way.
I will not call what happened to me ‘good.’ It was not. But I will do my best to shoulder it, and, paradoxically, that pain is likely to start lifting from my shoulders as I accept it now. This pain is not forever and my bearing the pain may help reduce it faster.”
Reminder: As you bear the pain of what happened to you, you may be protecting others and future generations from your anger.
Enright, Robert. 8 Keys to Forgiveness (8 Keys to Mental Health), excerpt from Chapter 6. W. W. Norton & Company.
A community is a single, whole entity, with a common purpose, made up of persons, each of whom is a single, whole entity (Maritain, 1994). A community is not simply the sum total of the individuals in the community (a nominalist view). Think of a symphonic community of musicians. There is a harmony of persons performing different activities and with different talents in the orchestra. The group transcends any given part of the group (Wild, 1948). A symphony orchestra is more than the violin section only. Communities differ in their norms, beliefs, and actions (what Aristotle calls accidents).
Aristotelian realist philosophy states that communities have a common good (Aristotle, 1999/340 B.C.). A common good is defined by Plato (2015/330 B.C.) in The Republic as persons growing in the Cardinal Virtues of justice, courage, wisdom, and temperance with these emphasized within the group. These four virtues, in Plato’s view, are not generated by opinion or feelings, but they naturally apply to all persons and all communities. These are understood by reason and chosen by the free will of each person. In other words, the Cardinal Virtues are not forced upon us.
Let us, then, define these Cardinal Virtues: 1) Justice is offering one’s best to others and the community. Kreeft (1992, p. 60) describes Platonic justice through the poetic image of music: one strives to be in harmony with others as all cooperate and play a beautiful societal tune. This is the central virtue according to Plato in The Republic.
is going ahead despite fear so that one can do one’s best even when it is difficult to do so. 3) Wisdom is knowing the right response at the right time without having a rule-book nearby. 4) Temperance is balance, avoiding too much or too little in all we do, including practicing the virtues, in pleasure seeking, and work. In Book IV of his Republic, Plato (2015/330 B.C.) defends the view that all four of these Cardinal Virtues, together, help to mature individuals and to have a well-functioning community in which the greater good then benefits all.
As Wild (1948, p. 185) clarifies, the goal of the common good is human perfection for all in the community. The common good of the community, which includes the good of each person, is considered higher than the individual good. In other words, individuals can be in service to one another for the good of the other person and the good of the group.
Now, and importantly for how forgiveness fits into the common good of the community, when people are treated unjustly by others, anger can ensue, which can develop into irritability (Stringaris, Vidal-Ribas, Brotman, & Leibenluft, 2017) and even to hatred. Forgiving those who are unjust, then, can first reduce the anger, which in turn can reduce the desire for excessive recompense (in the case of justice), and the desire for reckless bravado (in the case of courage). Without hatred, temperance can be restored, and the clear, rational thinking of wisdom can once again be present. If the common good is to be just, to work in harmony with others, then forgiveness can keep justice in balance, by first reducing toxic anger, and thus preserving the central Cardinal Virtue (justice) in communities. If this is true, then forgiveness needs to play a central part in the common good of communities.
If this is true, then forgiveness needs to be fostered in individuals, families, schools, workplaces, and places of worship……now.
- Aristotle. (1999/340 B.C.). Nicomachean ethics. Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press.
- Kreeft, P. (1992). Back to virtue. San Francisco: Ignatius Press.
- Maritan, J. (1994). The person and the common good. South Bend, IN: University of Notre Dame Press.
- Plato, translated by B. Jowett (2015/approximately 330 BC). The complete works of Plato/ the republic. Hastings, East Sussex, United Kingdom: Delphi Classics.
- Stringaris, A., Vidal-Ribas, P., Brotman, M.A., & Leibenluft, E. (2017). Practitioner review: Definition, recognition, and treatment challenges of irritability in young people. Journal of Child Psychology, 59, 721-739.
- Wild, J. (1948). Introduction to realistic philosophy. New York: Harper & Row.
One of the paradoxes of forgiveness is that as we give mercy to those who showed no mercy to us, we are doing moral good. Another paradox is this: As we bear the pain of the injustice, that pain does not crush us but instead strengthens us and helps us to heal emotionally.
When we bear the pain of what happened to us, we are not absorbing depression or anger or anxiety. Instead we realize that we have been treated unfairly—-it did happen. We do not run from that and we do not try to hurriedly cast off the emotional pain that is now ours. We quietly live with that pain so that we do not toss it back to the one who hurt us (because we are having mercy on that person). We live with that pain so that we do not displace the anger onto others who were not even part of the injustice (our children or co-workers, for example).
When we bear the pain we begin to see that we are strong, stronger actually than the offense and original pain. We can stand with the pain and in so doing become conduits of good for others.
Today, let us acknowledge our pain and practice a paradox: Let us quietly bear that pain and then watch it lift.
“As we continually live with love withdrawn from us and a resulting resentment (with the short-term consequences of thinking with a negative pattern, thinking specific condemning thoughts, and acting poorly), we can settle into a kind of long-term distortion of who the love-withdrawing person is, who we ourselves are, and who people are in general. The basic issue here is that once love is withdrawn from us, we can begin to withdraw a sense of worth toward the one who hurt us. The conclusion is that he or she is worth-less. 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. Even later, 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 worth-less.”
Excerpt from the book, The Forgiving Life, Chapter 1.
Think about one time in your childhood when you had what seemed to be a serious disagreement with a friend. At the time, did it seem like this breach would last forever? Did it? How long did it take to either reconcile or to find a new friend? Time has a way of changing our circumstances. This is not to advocate a kind of passive approach to life here—such as, “Oh, I’ll just wait it out and not bother to exert any effort.” That is not the point. The point is to take a long perspective so that you can see beyond the next hill to a place that is more settled and the pain is not so great. You already saw in your childhood that conflicts end. And the consequences of those conflicts (feeling sad or angry) also end. Why should that same process of change not also apply now? Try to see your circumstance, as realistically as you can, one month from now. Try to see your circumstance six months from now. Try to see yourself two years from now. Will you be the same person? Will you respond to injustices in the exact same way as you did three months ago? Probably not. You will likely be able to meet challenges with greater strength and wisdom as you continue on the forgiveness journey.
Enright, Robert. 8 Keys to Forgiveness (8 Keys to Mental Health) . W. W. Norton & Company. Kindle Edition.