Tagged: “Consequences of Forgiving”
I recently heard a speech in which the speaker equated forgiving with seeing the humanity in the one who offended. The one who was victimized sent a letter to the offender stating that the offending person owes the victim nothing. The speaker said that the letter was sent to set the self free. While these aspects of forgiving (seeing the other as more than the offense and writing the letter for one’s own sake) are both laudable and part of forgiveness, they do not, in themselves, constitute what forgiving is in its essence.
Had the speaker said something such as the following to the audience, it would be reasonable because the speaker would be instructing the audience that this is not the sum total of forgiveness: “I have worked at seeing the offending person as much more than his actions against me. I sent a letter to him to set myself free. These are part of forgiveness, perhaps the best I can do for now, but there is much more to what forgiveness is than this.” Otherwise, the messenger is engaging in the logical fallacy of reductionism, or reducing what forgiveness is to less than what it actually is.
Such a clarification is important for this reason: Because forgiveness is a moral virtue, it is about goodness directed deliberately toward the other person for that offending person’s sake. A letter sent for one’s own benefit is quite different from sending it to aid the one who offended. Again, the motive of self-healing is good, but there is more. The benefits toward the self are consequences of forgiving; these benefits for the self are not what forgiveness is in its essence.
Forgiveness is a response of mercy toward the one who offends. It also includes the cultivation of compassion toward that person, the bearing of pain for the other, and the giving of a gift because that is what mercy does. Forgiveness, then, is centered not only on insight about the other person but also on a deliberate gift-giving toward that person. This does not mean that all who forgive reach this fuller level of forgiving, but it does mean that this is the goal.
When people are asked to speak to an audience, this implicitly sets up the expectation that the speaker has a certain wisdom about the topic so that the audience will get as clear an understanding of the topic as possible. When the speaker then engages, without realizing it, in the logical fallacy of reductionism, this does not advance deep knowledge of that topic.
The take-away message of this blog post is this: When you hear a scheduled talk by someone who is considered an authority on the subject of forgiveness, be very careful not to conclude that what the speaker is saying must be the truth and nothing but the truth because the person was asked to speak. Sometimes, there is reductionism or patently false information given on the complex topic of forgiveness. Let the listener beware.
Yes, and here are two examples. For example 1, the one who might forgive realizes that there really was no injustice. There was, instead, a misunderstanding between two people. Under this condition, forgiving is not a good option. For example 2, the person truly was treated unjustly by another, but this happened very recently. The one considering forgiving is not ready and needs some time to work through the anger. In this case, it may be best to wait, process the anger, and then decide if forgiving is the way to go now. Forgiving is a free will choice and sometimes we need time to process what happened and to examine our inner world before starting to forgive.
We have to make a distinction here between what forgiving is and what it accomplishes, or the consequences of forgiving. Because forgiveness is a moral virtue, it always is for the other. Why? This is because the moral virtues, whether it is justice or patience or kindness, flow out from the person to others. It is the same when forgiving another person. Yet, one consequence can be self-healing. Thus, the self benefits by being good to another person who was unfair. Forgiveness is about the other person and so is for that person. Your doing this to achieve an inner peace is one reasonable goal of forgiving, as are other goals such as wanting to aid the other and to improve a relationship.
I sometimes hear that a lack of forgiveness can have physical ramifications. What is the most common health issue that you see in people who have been treated very unjustly and yet will not forgive?
The most common health issue that I see is fatigue. It takes a lot of energy to keep resentment in the heart and to keep fueling that resentment by replaying in the mind what happened. Forgiving can reduce the resentment, reduce the rumination, and increase energy.13-29
For additional information, see Why Forgive?
When a person is not used to forgiving, this is not unlike a sedentary person starting a physical fitness program. It can be uncomfortable thinking kindly about the other. It takes work. Bearing the pain that the other caused you also is painful, but as you bear the pain, it lessens and lifts. The questions of whether or not to return to a relationship can be painful as can the other’s rejection of your forgiving. All of these might be called “costs,” but they do pay the dividends of emotional healing and possibly relational healing.
For additional information, see Bearing the Pain.