Tagged: “forgiveness is a choice”
I have been reading some of the social scientific literature on forgiveness and I am a bit confused. I see a lot of different definitions of forgiveness out there. Is forgiveness more than one thing?
To forgive another is a moral virtue of being good to those who are not good to you. I am going to give you a little philosophy here based on Aristotle. He made the distinction between what he called the Essence of any moral virtue and the Existence of that virtue. Essence asks this question: What is the objective meaning of forgiveness that is consistent across cultures and across historical time? Existence asks this question: How does the fundamental sense of forgiveness (that is fixed across cultures and historical time) have nuances for each person and within different cultures? So, there is a fixed definition of what forgiveness is (its Essence) and yet it can behaviorally vary according to each person’s ability to forgive and according to different cultural norms for expressing forgiveness (its Existence). The differences in the definition of forgiveness (its Essence) within the social scientific literature is caused by different researchers having different views of forgiveness (including misunderstandings of what forgiveness is) and not something inherent within forgiveness itself.
I have a co-worker who never stands up for himself nor does he even politely confront those who are giving him a hard time. Instead, he gets angry (away from those with whom he is in conflict). Sometimes that anger comes out toward me. He can occasionally bang his fist into the top of his desk. Do you think his actions are sufficient to relieve his anger or does this even help at all?
Your co-worker seems to be using the psychological defense of displacement, which means to take out the anger on something or someone else rather than on the original person who acted unfairly. In the short-run your co-worker might experience some relief from this catharsis, but in the long-run, as I am sure you know, his hitting the top of the desk will not solve the injustice. If your co-worker can do some forgiving and exercise this along with courage and a quest for justice, then he might be able to go to those at whom he is angry and talk it out in the hope of a fair resolution.
What cautions do you have for me before I reconcile with a former partner who was not particularly trustworthy?
Here are three cautions for you:
- If you reconcile too quickly without the other showing any remorse, repentance, or recompense, then this could be a false reconciliation in which you may be hurt again in the same way.
- Please do not think of forgiving and reconciling as the same. You can forgive from the heart, but then not reconcile if the other continues to be a danger to you. If you equate the two, then as you forgive, you may feel a false obligation to reconcile.
- If you are still angry and not forgiving, then, without realizing it, you might use reconciliation as a weapon, in which you come together in a superficial way and then you keep reminding the other of how bad he/she has been and how good you have been. This is why you need forgiveness to occur before a deep reconciliation occurs.
A just-published scientific study has documented significant mental health benefits derived by Ukrainian citizens who practice forgiveness compared to those who are less willing to forgive. Those findings, according to the authors, will be especially useful for providing appropriate psychological assistance for those adversely affected by the ongoing war with Russia.
Although the Russian invasion of Ukraine began on Feb. 24 of this year, the war in eastern Ukraine has been ongoing since 2014 when a political coup overthrew the pro-Russian government. Since then, more than 14,000 people have been killed in the eastern Ukraine region of Donbas in warfare between ethnic Russians and the Ukrainian military.
That fighting has caused an obvious deterioration of socio-economic living conditions for all Ukrainians. As the armed conflict has intensified, so has the occurrence and severity of mental health issues including depression, psychosomatic diseases, anger and stress-related illnesses, trauma, alienation from friends and relatives, aggressive and antisocial behavior, and criminal activities.
What role the concept of forgiveness can play in a military conflict zone is poorly understood and has never been systematically investigated—until now. A new research report, Forgiveness as a Predictor of Mental Health in Citizens Living in the Military Conflict Zone (2019-2020), was published in the most recent issue of the Journal of Education Culture and Society.
The research was conducted during the years 2019-2020, prior to the Russian invasion. It was authored by Svetlana Kravchuk, a psychologist, and Viacheslav Khalanskyi, a psychotherapist, both of whom practice in Kyiv, the country’s capital city.
Study participants included 302 Ukrainian citizens, half living in the volatile eastern part of the country (where most of the pre-Russian invasion fighting took place), and half living in the more tranquil central part of Ukraine. Using eight different clinically validated scientific tools, the researchers were able to verify the strategic role forgiveness can play in the emotional health of conflict victims.
Here are some of their findings (direct quotes from the report):
- The obtained correlations show that the more a person is prone to forgiveness, the less anxiety and depression a person has.
- A person with a high tendency to forgiveness is characterized by higher levels of decisional forgiveness, hope, emotional forgiveness, tolerance and acceptance of others, mental health, happiness and life satisfaction, as well as tolerance for others’ mistakes.
- The more pronounced degree of tendency to forgiveness is correlated with less pronounced degree of anxiety and depression.
- Hope, happiness, life satisfaction, and tendency to forgiveness can allow citizens living in eastern Ukraine to recover quickly from psychological trauma, contribute to the successful overcoming of negative effects of military conflict and functioning successfully.
According to the authors, the practical value of this research lies in expanding and deepening the understanding of the “phenomenon of forgiveness” and, in the process, developing forgiveness therapy techniques that will work in the mental health sphere throughout Ukraine.
- Read the full report about the role of forgiveness in Ukraine’s military conflict.
- Forgiveness as a Missing Piece to Peace Between Ukraine and Russia (Psychology Today).
- Here’s What You Can Do to Help People in Ukraine Right Now (Time).
Consider one person’s meaning in a dramatic case of grave suffering. Eva Mozes Kor was one of the Jewish twins on whom Josef Mengele did his evil experiments in the Auschwitz concentration camp during World War II. In the film Forgiving Dr. Mengele, Mrs. Kor tells her story of survival and ultimate forgiveness of this notorious doctor, also known as the “Angel of Death.”
In describing her imprisonment as a child at Auschwitz, she said, “It is a place that I lived between life and death.” Soon after her imprisonment in the concentration camp, young Eva was injected with a lethal drug, so powerful that Mengele pronounced, after examining her, that she had only 2 weeks to live. “I refused to die,” was her response.
Her meaning in what she was suffering in the immediate short run was to prove Mengele wrong and thus to do anything that she possibly could to survive. Her second meaning in her suffering was to survive for the sake of her twin sister, Miriam. She knew that if she, Eva, died, Mengele immediately would kill Miriam with an injection to the heart and then do a comparative autopsy on the two sisters. “I spoiled the experiment,” was her understated conclusion. A third meaning in her suffering, a longer but still short-term goal, was to endure it so that she could be reunited with Miriam. A long-term goal from her suffering ultimately was to forgive this man who had no concern whatsoever for her life or the lives of those he condemned to the gas chamber. She willed her own survival against great odds, and she made it.
In this case, fiendish power met a fierce will to survive. Upon forgiving Mengele, she saw great meaning in what she had suffered. She has addressed many student groups, showing them a better way than carrying resentment through life. She opened a holocaust museum in a small town in the United States. And she realizes that her suffering and subsequent forgiveness both have a meaning in challenging others to consider forgiving people for whatever injustices they are enduring.
Her ultimate message is that forgiveness is stronger than Nazi power. And it has helped her to thrive.
» Excerpt from Chapter 5 of the book, 8 Keys to Forgiveness, R. Enright. Norton publishers.
Read more about Eva Mozes Kor and her forgiveness work with Dr. Robert Enright:
- Let’s Heal the World Through Forgiveness
- Nothing Good Ever Comes from Anger
- In Memoriam: Eva Mozes Kor