As we forgive, we begin to see the inherent worth in both the one who acted unjustly and in ourselves. Yes, I do think it requires humility to not feel superior toward the other person who acted badly. Humility shows us that we are not better or worse than others. To see both of you as human, both in need of respect and love, requires the moral virtue of humility. These two viruses, humility and forgiveness, constitute an important team.
I sometimes find it hard to accept forgiveness from others when I have done wrong. It makes me feel uncomfortable, even embarrassed. Can you give me some insights into my resistance to others’ forgiving me?
This may be an issue of pride for you. I say this because you say that you feel embarrassed. In other words, the other’s forgiving you brings to the surface again your unjust actions. This is not uncommon and so please be gentle with yourself. It takes the moral virtue of humility to acknowledge wrongdoing and to accept the other person’s mercy. The fact that you even asked this question shows that you are open to the practice of this humility.
Thank you for clarifying that to forgive is a moral response, but it is not a response of dominating the other. Yet, I have a follow-up question: Might forgiveness actually be morally superior to, say, acrimony or hatred?
Let us make a distinction between the person who forgives and the act of forgiveness itself. Those people who forgive are not acting in a morally superior way, but are lowering themselves in humility, as I explained before. Yet, the act of forgiving is far superior in a moral sense than acrimony, getting back at the other, or hating the other. Why? It is because forgiving builds up and hatred has the potential of tearing down. So, the person is not feeling morally superior; the forgiving act itself is considerably morally superior than the option to hate.
My partner keeps saying that I am “morally superior” because I forgive. He does not mean this in any positive sense. He is using it as an insult. How do you recommend that I respond?
I would say something such as this: “Yes, forgiveness is a moral issue and so, yes, I am showing moral behavior toward you.” Yet, as the philosopher Joanna North has said in a philosophy journal article, when people forgive, they lower themselves in humility so that each person can meet person-to-person. So, yes, forgiving is an admirable moral response, but it does not suggest domination of the other at all.
Although Aristotle did not explicitly use the word humility, philosophers following in the Aristotelian tradition have seen humility as a moral virtue between the vices of dogmatism or arrogance on the one hand and timidity or moral weakness on the other (Hazlett, 2012). In other words, humility is a quest for truth about the self and others that avoids extremes.
Hazlett, A. (2012). Higher-order epistemic attitudes and intellectual humility. Episteme, 9, 205–223.