Suppose that Angela has been friends with Barretta who has neglected the friendship now for over a year. Barretta’s flaw is of a passive nature, not being present in the friendship. The neglect has hurt Angela.
Angela sees that Barretta is not a good friend and decides to end the friendship despite her active attempts to reconcile. At the same time, she forgives her. Her forgiveness leaves open a kind of sisterly-love for Barretta that now makes it more difficult to leave the friendship.
In this case, is forgiveness a process that is standing in the way of the truth: that Barretta will not make even a reasonably minimal friend for her? Her feelings of sisterly-affection, which are kept alive by forgiving, are making her re-think her decision to leave a friendship that holds no future if Barretta’s behavior remains as it is.
In this case, is forgiveness a weakness in that Angela retains affection that continues to hurt her? The short answer is no, forgiveness itself is not weakness, but the failure to make distinctions in this case could be the weakness. Here are some important distinctions for Angela to make:
1. There is a difference between forgiving-love and sisterly-love toward Barretta. Agape is a love in service to others as we see and appreciate their inherent worth. Philia (brotherly- or sisterly-love) is the kind of love that is mutual between two or more people. In the case of Angela and Barretta, the love is no longer mutual. If Angela makes this distinction, then she will see that philia no longer is operating between them.
2. There is a difference between feeling warm toward someone and the pair acting on it in friendship. While Angela might feel a warmth for Barretta, kept alive by forgiveness, she cannot let her feelings dictate her actions. She must stand in the truth and do so with a strong will. A strong will works in conjunction with the soft feelings of forgiveness.
3. There is a difference between practicing forgiveness as a lone moral virtue and practicing it alongside justice. When forgiveness and justice are teammates, Angela is more likely to conclude that even though she has warm feelings for Barretta, there are certain troubling behaviors she shows that work against a true reconciliation (because Barretta remains without remorse, with no signs of repentance, and no signs of making things right).
4. While it is true that her vigilance in forgiving may keep alive agape love in her heart (with accompanying warm feelings toward Barretta), those feelings, while perhaps uncomfortable, are not nearly as uncomfortable or damaging as resentment. Forgiveness will not lead to a pain-free solution in this case. It will lead to standing in the truth of who Barretta is (a person of worth) and whom she is incapable of being to her (in the role of friend). It will lead to feelings that may be uncomfortable (the warmth of agape without appropriating this in a friendship with Barretta) but manageable. Angela needs to distinguish between the discomfort of a retained agape love and the considerably more uncomfortable feelings of resentment.
When these distinctions are made, forgiveness is not a weakness even in this example.
The Philadelphia Inquirer, Philadelphia, PA, USA – Four-year-old Abdul “Latif” Wilson was playing outside with his two brothers when he scampered between parked cars and into the road on April 13, 2015. A surveillance video caught grainy images of Shanika Mason, 28, hitting Latif with the rented Ford Edge she was driving, her own three children in the back seat. Mason apparently panicked and drove off before turning herself in the next day.
Mason, who pleaded guilty, was sentenced to 2-5 years in state prison for “letting panic overtake decency” that night. At Mason’s sentencing hearing, Latif’s mother Dominique Lockwood, 30, despite choking back sobs, was eloquent and dignified as she read the three-page statement she’d handwritten.
“I look at what now is my past merging into my future,” Lockwood said. “It’s a sharp pain that goes through my heart – the very heart my baby boy once listened to as he slept while I kept him safe, healthy and warm in my belly.”
Although she was in obvious pain, Lockwood didn’t talk out of anger. Instead, she talked about how she has found a new way to go on, for her own sake and for that of her surviving children, Samaj, 9, and Everett, 6.
“I can only live on by having faith that this very sharp pain that cuts deep down in my heart is just my intelligent baby boy letting me know he didn’t go anywhere,” she said. “I forgive you, Miss Mason, as hard as it is to say. I have to forgive you so that my own heart can be as pure as my baby’s so that I can be with him again one day.”
In memory of Latif, Lockwood has founded a nonprofit called Embracing God’s Angels. Its mission is to lend a hand to those who’ve lost loved ones suddenly – perhaps to help pay for a headstone or for a day of pampering in the aftermath of loss.
“It is hard. I cry every day for my child. But I have to keep moving forward in forgiveness and goodness,” Lockwood said.
Read the full story: In court, a day of sadness & forgiveness in hit-and-run
Viktor Frankl, a survivor of the Holocaust and a world renown psychiatrist, made the point that the only ones who survived concentration camp were those who somehow could find meaning in what they suffered. Those who saw their suffering as meaningless died.
In other words, finding meaning in this case meant to find life. What fascinates me about Dr. Frankl’s observations is that finding any meaning seems to count in staying alive. Whether a person saw the suffering as a way to toughen the self, or as a way to reach out to other suffering people was not the main point.
I wonder now, in reflecting on Dr. Frankl’s broad view of meaning in suffering, whether he had it entirely correct. Yes, it may be the case that any meaning can keep a person alive. Yet, what kind of meaning in suffering actually helps a person to thrive, not just to live? Perhaps people thrive only when they derive particular meaning from suffering. Of course, we do not know for sure, and any comment here is not definitive because it is open to scientific investigation and philosophical analysis. With that said, I think that when people realize that suffering helps them to love others more deeply, this is the avenue toward thriving.
How does suffering help people to love more deeply? I think there are at least three ways this happens: 1) Suffering makes people more aware of the wounds that others carry; 2) Suffering makes people more determined to help those others bind up their wounds, and 3) Suffering gives the sufferer the courage to put into action these insights and motivations to make a difference in the lives of others.
As people love in this way, there are characteristically two consequences which help them to thrive: 1) Those who deliberately love in the face of suffering grow in character, each becomes a better person, and 2) The recipients of this love-in-action have their well-being enhanced. As those who suffer see the fruit of their loving actions, this increases satisfaction with life, increasing thriving.
When we have been treated unjustly by others, this is an occasion of suffering. Let us cultivate the habit under this circumstance of finding this meaning: I have an opportunity now to love those who have hurt me. The one avenue to loving the unjust is to forgive them. Let us remember this meaning to forgiveness: “In my forgiving, I am someone who can love despite hardship.” As we say this routinely and come to know it is true, we may find that we have been given an opportunity to thrive as persons.
Is it harder to forgive if a person is filled with anger compared with another person who is filled with pain and sorrow after being treated unfairly?
It seems to me that if the anger is very intense and includes resentment or even hatred, then, yes, it is harder to forgive. Some people who are fuming with anger cannot even use the word “forgiveness” because it intensifies the anger. At the same time, if a person has deep sorrow, sometimes there is an accompanying lack of energy and the person needs some time to mourn first. At such times, the person needs to be gentle with the self as emotional healing takes place.
What strategies, suggestions do you have for a parent trying to help her teen work through feelings of shame and fear of disappointing loved ones in order for the teen to forgive himself?
Self-forgiveness can be more difficult than forgiving other people because we tend to be harder on ourselves than on others. So, I would recommend that you first approach your son with the idea of forgiving someone who has hurt him. Let him get used to the idea of offering goodness toward at least one other person. Then try it again with yet another person. Once he sees that he can offer goodness toward others who have hurt him, then ask him to consider offering this same goodness to himself: unconditionally and compassionately. If he sees the need then to seek forgiveness from those he has disappointed, he could do that.