I heard this statement from a person who holds a considerable degree of academic influence. The learned scholar, however, did not give a learned response as I will show in this little essay.
Suppose that Brian is driving his car and is hit by a drunk driver. Brian’s leg is broken and he must undergo surgery and subsequent rehabilitation therapy if he again will have the full use of his leg. What happened to him was unjust and now the burden of getting back a normal leg falls to him. He has to get the leg examined, say yes to the surgery, to the post-surgical recovery, and to months of painful rehab. The “burden of change” specifically when it comes to his leg is his and his alone.
Yes, the other driver will have to bear the burden of paying damages, but this has no bearing on restoring a badly broken leg. Paying for such rehabilitation is entirely different from doing the challenging rehab work itself.
Suppose now that Brian takes the learned academic’s statement above to heart. Suppose that he now expects the other driver to somehow bear the burden of doing the rehab. How will that go? The other driver cannot lift Brian’s leg for him or bear the physical pain of walking and then running. Is this then unfair to Brian? Should we expect him to lie down and not rehab because, well, he has a burden of restoring his own leg? It would seem absurd to presume so.
Is it any different with injustice requiring the surgery and rehab of the heart? If Melissa was unfairly treated by her partner, is it unfair for Melissa to do the hard work of forgiveness? She is the one whose heart is hurting. The partner cannot fix the sadness or confusion or anger……even if he repents. Repentance will not automatically lead to a restored heart because trust must be earned little by little. As Melissa learns to trust, she still will need the heart-rehab of forgiveness (struggling to get rid of toxic anger and struggling to see the worth in one who saw no worth in her) that only she can do. Once hurt by another, it is the victim who must bear the burden of the change-of-heart.
We must remember: The rehab and recovery are temporary. If the forgiver refuses to engage in such recovery, then the injurer wins twice: once in the initial hurt and a second time when the injured refuses to change because of a woeful misunderstanding that he or she must passively wait for someone else to bear the burden of change for him or her.
Ideas have consequences. Bad ideas tend to have bad consequences. Learned academics are not necessarily learned in all subjects across all cases.
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
Keys to Unlocking a Heart of Forgiveness & Mercy (6-Hour Retreat)
April 2, 2016 – 9:00 am to 3:00 pm
Seton Hall University, South Orange, New Jersey
This 6-hour retreat focuses on one person forgiving another. The day begins with a discussion of what it means to forgive and what it does not mean. Is forgiveness “just moving on?” Why bother to forgive? How can we plant forgiveness in homes, schools, work places, and parishes? What are the “keys” we need to unlock mercy in our lives?
The retreat features live entertainment, breakfast and lunch, time for prayer and reflection, and Dr. Robert Enright leading attendees on a pathway that enhances the well-being of those who have been hurt by others–the pathway to forgiveness.
General public is invited and welcome. Cost – $25.00. Registration information.
Are children as young as 6 years old really able to understand the concept of inherent worth? I notice that you introduce this idea as early as first grade (in the grading system of the USA).
When you teach children about inherent worth, a key is for you not to expect perfection in the children’s understanding. The point is to introduce the idea that all people are special, unique, and irreplaceable even if they differ in intelligence, athletic ability, or any other trait that is less important than personhood itself. Children are capable of grasping that we are all human and therefore are all special.