What Forgiveness is
The philosopher McGary (1989) argued that forgiveness is nothing more than reducing resentment toward an offender. Unlike the ideas discussed previously, this is not a view of the reduction as passive and time dependent. His definition of forgiving is consistent with the first of our two-part definition covered in the previous chapter. Yet, McGary argued against adding the second part to the definition— that of a more compassionate and empathic stance toward the person. What is intriguing about his argument is that he manages to keep forgiveness within the moral realm as he takes the concept away from a sympathetic focus on the offender. McGary’s (1989) argument goes something like this. As a person gives up resentment, he or she can be motivated by the desire to be rid of negative emotions and by the desire to improve his or her relationships with people other than the offender.
McGary is aware of the psychological defense of displacement in which an angry person kicks the cat or yells at the children. Forgiving, as he defined it, is moral because the cat and the children have more peaceful environs as the person forgives. What is missing from the definition is anything approaching a moral sense toward the offender. A client may cease resentment but then have a cool detachment toward the offender. Giving up resentment by itself is not necessarily moral, especially if it is not done on behalf of the offender for his or her good. For example, Alice may cease resenting Seth because she concludes that he is not worth the trouble. She may see him as morally unredeemable and incorrigible. Is she forgiving Seth as she judges him this way?
Enright, Robert D.; Fitzgibbons, Richard P. (2014-11-17). Forgiveness Therapy (Kindle Locations 963-971). American Psychological Association (APA). Kindle Edition.
Enright, Robert D.; Fitzgibbons, Richard P. (2014-11-17). Forgiveness Therapy (Kindle Locations 959-963). American Psychological Association (APA). Kindle Edition.
That is the basic and profound message of the act of forgiving. The other is cruel to me. This will not take away my humanity. I will strive to love that person nonetheless. The other is persecuting me, depriving me of my rights, insulting and belittling me. This will not stop me from loving the other, from seeing the other’s humanity, from offering her a better way. The other oppresses me with his power. He dominates me and treats me as being far less than him. I will not do the same back to him. Instead, I will try to love and not lose my humanity in the process, nor will I lose the perspective of her full humanity.
Yes, I will protect myself by not reconciling as he exercises cruelty or persecution or oppression. I will bring forgiveness alongside justice and never give up striving for fairness. Throughout this struggle, I will continue to love because to forgive on its highest level is to love. Love is stronger than cruelty, persecution, and oppression.
Lance Morrow: “Evil possesses an instinct for theater, which is why, in an era of gaudy and gifted media, evil may vastly magnify its damage by the power of horrific images.” If this is true, we need forgiveness all the more in our times.
Forgiveness is not justice and therefore focuses on effects, not direct solutions to injustice. When injustice reigns, it surely is the duty of communities to exercise justice to counter that which is unjust.
Yet, what then of the effects of the injustice? Will the quest for and the establishment of justice in societies suffice to cure the broken heart? We think not and this is where forgiveness is needed for those who choose it.
Is there a better way of destroying the damaging effects of evil than forgiveness? As a mode of peace, forgiveness is a paradox because at the same time it is a weapon, one that fights against the ravages of evil. By destroying resentment, forgiveness is a protection for individuals, families, groups, and societies.
Let us not allow one truth of forgiveness to obscure another of its truths.
One truth seems to be this: When we forgive, we often suffer. We bear pain on behalf of the one who hurt us, as one example of how we suffer as we forgive.
A second truth of forgiveness is this: As we forgive, we experience joy. We see this in our scientific studies, as people shed anxiety and anger and depression and become more hopeful.
Suffering and joy—-together. Enjoy the forgiveness journey.
The quest for forgiveness need not be a continual bicycle race to the end. We cannot forgive constantly any more than we can stay on the bicycle for days at a time without rest. Forgiveness is hard work and so we need to realize this. We need time to refresh, to renew, and then to proceed again.
Forgiveness is not a one-time act for most of us. Instead, it is a journey. This journey has a beginning and when we forgive one person for one event, forgiveness has an end. At the same time, living a forgiving life does not have an end in this lifetime. We are constantly discovering new facets to this diamond.
Take the time to refresh when forgiving one person for one unjust event. And do not forget to enjoy the life-long journey of growing as a forgiving person.