Tagged: “gift giving”
In the season of giving, one of the most beautiful gifts you might consider giving is forgiveness. The ideas that forgiving is a gift to those who have hurt you sometimes gets forgiveness into trouble. In other words, people think it is irrational to consider offering a gift to those who are unfair. The typical reasons for this resistance to forgiveness as gift-giving are these:
- It is dangerous to reach out to those who act unfairly because I am open to further abuse.
- My gift-giving might be a signal to the misbehaving others that their actions are acceptable, which they are not.
- Gift-giving to those who acted unfairly seems counter-intuitive to my own healing. I need to move on and not focus on this other person.
The ideas above can be countered this way: With regard to (A), you do not necessarily have to reconcile with an unrepentant person who keeps harming you. You can give your gift from a distance, such as a kind word about the person to others or an email so that you can keep your distance if this is prudent to do so. With regard to (B), you can forgive and ask for justice. Forgiving never means that the other just goes ahead as usual with hurtful behaviors. In other words, if you decide to forgive, you can and should ask for fairness from the other person. With regard to (C), forgiveness will seem counter-intuitive as goodness to those who are not good to you only if your focus is entirely on justice or a fair solution to the problem. If you begin to see that mercy (in the form of forgiving) and justice can and should exist side-by-side, then perhaps this idea of forgiveness as a contradiction or as inappropriate or as somehow odd may lessen in you.
Forgiveness can be a gift in these ways:
- As you forgive, you are giving the other person a second chance at a trustworthy relationship with you. Of course, trust takes time to develop, but forgiveness opens the door, even if a little, to trying the trust-route with the other who behaved unjustly.
- Forgiveness can be a merciful way of showing the other what the injustice actually is (or was), making possible positive change in the other. Those who behave badly and are offered this mercy may begin to see the unfairness more clearly and have the inner conviction that change indeed is necessary.
- Forgiveness can be a gift to yourself as you shed abiding anger that could have been yours for many years. You have a second-chance at stronger mental health.
- As you reduce toxic anger, this actually can be an aid in strengthening your relationships with people who were not the ones who acted badly. After all, when people carry around a lot of anger in their hearts, they can displace that anger onto unsuspecting others. Your forgiving one person, then, can be a gift to others who do not have to endure your displaced anger.
So, then, what do you think? Do you see that in the season of giving, one of the most beautiful gifts you might consider giving is forgiveness?
It seems to me that this “giving of a gift” to those who hurt me is kind of ridiculous. They deserve correction, not admiration. Can you clarify this for me?
As people forgive, they are engaging in a moral virtue. All moral virtues center on goodness toward others for those other people’s sake. Part of the moral virtue of forgiveness is this gift-giving to the one who acted badly, as you point out. This gift-giving, we find in our research is a paradox in that, as forgivers reach out to the offending person, it is the forgivers who are healed.
This gift-giving is part of the amazing paradox of forgiving: As you give to the other, it is you who experiences healing. Our science supports this view. As people go through our Process Model of Forgiveness, they tend to reduce in anger, anxiety, and depression and to increase in self-esteem and hope. You can read a description of some of these studies in Enright and Fitzgibbons (2015), Forgiveness Therapy. Washington, DC: APA Books.
Because forgiving is a moral virtue, you talk of gift-giving as part of the process. How big of a gift are we talking about. Should I pay for the person’s medical bills, for example? Would paying for someone’s housing be over the top?
The gift-giving is always in the context of the forgiver’s capacity and the quality of the relationship at the moment. I noticed that you gave two examples regarding money. In actuality, the gift need not be monetary or even something physically concrete wrapped in a package. For example, a smile might be a great gift if such smiles have been non-existent for some time. A returned phone call might be just what the other needs. I think the gift-giving needs to be in the context of the moral virtue of temperance, or something that is balanced and reasonable and not “over the top” for a given forgiver.
Is the gift-giving to an offending other person a way to prove to yourself that you, indeed, have forgiven?
The gift-giving in its essence is not for the forgiver, but instead is for the one forgiven. Forgiveness as a moral virtue is concerned with goodness and that goodness flows out of the forgiver to the forgiven. While the gift-giving can be a sign to you that you have forgiven, that is not its primary function. The primary function is to do good to the other as a moral act in and of itself.
Learn more about what forgiveness is and is not at What Is Forgiveness?