Tagged: “Dr. Robert Enright”
“Why not just accept what happened to you?” is a question I have heard many times. When a person is encouraged to accept what happened, this may or may not include forgiveness. Forgiveness and acceptance are different.
When one accepts what happened, this is a kind of surrender in a positive sense. It is not a caving in to problems or acquiescing to unjust actions from others. Acceptance is knowing that the world is imperfect and that bad things can happen. To accept is to stop fighting against what already happened. To accept is to resign oneself to the fact that the past event was unpleasant, but now we are in the present, away from that event.
Forgiveness, in contrast, is to offer goodness to those who have created the past unpleasant or decidedly unjust event. Forgiveness is an active reaching out to the other in the hope that the two might reconcile, although actual reconciliation may not occur.
A forgiver still can accept what happened, but not then be passive regarding the other person. The forgiver actively struggles to get rid of resentment and to offer kindness, respect, generosity, and/or love to the other person.
While acceptance can help us adjust to adversity, it, by itself, often is not sufficient to extinguish a lingering resentment toward others. Forgiveness is the active process for this.
Forgiveness and acceptance: They can work together, but they should not be equated as synonymous.
Forgiving in its essence is never immoral because it is part of the moral good of this world. When you offer unconditional kindness and even love to someone who hurt you, while protecting yourself against further wrong, this is goodness itself. Yet, when a person does not fully understand what forgiveness is, it is this distorted notion of forgiveness that can be inappropriate. An example is using the act of forgiving to exert power over the other. The “forgiver” might constantly remind the other of his or her offense and how hard and noble it is to forgive. This, of course, is not forgiveness at all but a distortion of it.
Learn more at What Is Forgiveness.
I want to forgive but quite frankly it scares me. I don’t get why I am so scared to forgive. Can you provide some insights for me?
You might be scared because you think that to forgive is to cave in to the other’s demands and unjust treatment. To forgive is to offer goodness from a position of strength as you stand against the injustice, bear the pain of what happened, and offer a hand of encouragement to the other in the hope that he or she will change.
You might be scared because forgiveness is new to you and so, being unfamiliar with the process, it is the change itself that is scary. It is like moving to a new apartment or starting a new job. The unexplored is scary until we adjust. Trying to engage in the process of forgiveness will give you a chance to see its life-giving properties and reduce the scary part of starting this new journey.
Learn more about forgiveness in 8 Keys to Forgiving.
Do we learn more from our failures in our relationships or from our successes? It seems that we learn more about how to seek forgiveness when we fail.
You make a good point that when we fail in our actions within important relationships, we now have an opportunity to seek forgiveness from others and therefore to grow in this process of asking for and trying to receive forgiveness. Of course, when we succeed in our relationships, we become stronger in our understanding and expression of love. Thus, both our successes and failures are opportunities for us to grow as persons.
Learn more at How to Forgive.
We have been helping teachers set up forgiveness education programs since 2002. In our experience, children as young as age 6 can understand the worth of people, including the built-in worth of all people. This is a foundational step in forgiving. Even though young children may not understand the moral virtue of love (serving others for the others’ sake), they nonetheless can see that to forgive is to see the worth in the other and to offer kindness of some kind to the one who offended. As forgiveness education occurs on higher grade levels, then students’ understanding of forgiving as an expression of mercy can become more sophisticated.
Learn more about Forgiveness Education for Children at: Curriculum