Tagged: “Inherent Worth”
All three are moral virtues. Agape is the over-arching virtue out of which forgiveness emerges. Mercy does not necessarily emerge out of agape because mercy does not always require serving others through one’s own pain, as occurs in agape. The judge who shows mercy to a defendant by reducing a deserved sentence is not necessarily suffering in love for that defendant. Thus, not all aspects of mercy flow from agape. Forgiveness includes a number of virtues such as patience, kindness, and having mercy on others who behave badly. So, forgiveness is a specific part of agape. Forgiveness includes mercy, but mercy is not an over-arching virtue out of which forgiveness emerges. That distinction belongs to agape.
Forgiveness is being good to those who are not good to you. Love, particularly the most difficult form of love, what the Greeks call agape, is to be good to those who are in need of your services, even when it is difficult to offer this love. Forgiveness is one expression of agape. Forgiveness is a specific form of agape in that forgiving takes place specifically in the context of another person being unjust, even cruel, to the forgiver.
There are other examples of agape that do not include forgiveness. For example, a mother who is up all night with a sick child is showing agape because this is difficult and necessary and she does so out of goodness for her child. Forgiveness can occur exclusively in the human heart as the forgiver sees the hurtful other as possessing inherent worth and commits to the betterment of the other. In agape, there is the action within the human heart and mind, but in addition, there is the action of deliberately assisting people in need.
I recently read an article in which the author started the essay by defining forgiving as the release of deep anger.
In fact, there is a consensus building that forgiveness amounts to getting rid of a negative emotion such as anger and resentment. I did a Google search using only the word “forgiveness.” On the first two pages, I found the following definitions of what the authors reported forgiveness to be:
Forgiveness (supposedly) is:
- letting go of resentment and thoughts of revenge;
- the release of resentment or anger;
- a conscious and deliberate decision to release feelings of resentment or vengeance toward a person who acted unjustly;
- letting go of anger;
- letting go of negative feelings such as vengefulness.
I think you get the idea. The consensus is that forgiveness focuses on getting rid of persistent and deep anger. Synonyms for this are resentment and vengefulness. Readers not deeply familiar with the philosophy of forgiveness may simply accept this as true. Yet, this attempted and consensual definition cannot possibly be true for the following reasons:
- A person can reduce resentment and still dismiss the other person as not worth one’s time;
- Reducing resentment itself is not a moral virtue. This might happen because the “forgiver” wants to be happy and so there is no goodness toward the other, which is part of the definition of a moral virtue;
- There is no specific difference between forgiveness and tolerance. I can get rid of resentment by trying to tolerate the other. My putting up with the other as a person is not a moral virtue;
- Forgiveness, if we take these definitions seriously, is devoid of love. It is not that one has to resist love. Yet, one can be completely unaware of love as the essence of forgiveness while holding to the consensual definition.
- A central goal of forgiveness is lost. Off the radar by the consensual definition is the motivation to assist the other to grow as a person. After all, why even bother with the other if I can finally rid myself of annoying resentment.
The statement “forgiveness is ridding the self of resentment or vengefulness” is reductionistic and therefore potentially dangerous. It is dangerous in a philosophical and a psychological sense. The philosophical danger is in never going deeply enough to understand the beauty of forgiveness in its essence as a moral virtue of at least trying to offer love to those who did not love you. The psychological danger is that Forgiveness Therapy will be incomplete as the client keeps the focus on the self, trying to rid the self of negatives. Yet, the paradox of Forgiveness Therapy is the stepping outside of the self, to reach out to the other, and in this giving is psychological healing for the client. It is time to challenge the consensus.
I have a recurring audio-recording in my mind about who I am: I am not much as a person; I am less than others; I deserve what I get. Can you help me, please.
These are false thoughts about yourself because, regardless of your past thoughts that are negative and generalized, you are special, unique, and irreplaceable. Do you want proof? Here is one piece of evidence: You have unique DNA. There never was anyone like you on the planet and when you no longer are here, there never will be another person quite like you. You are unique. You are irreplaceable. This makes you special, very special. It then follows that you have worth, an unconditional quality that cannot be taken from you despite any unfortunate circumstances you face. Your circumstances do not make you who you are. Your essence of being special, unique, and irreplaceable makes you who you are.
I have found that self-forgiveness for many people is more difficult than forgiving others because we are harder on ourselves. So, I recommend that first you forgive someone who has hurt you. We have several self-help books for this, such as The Forgiving Life. Once you know the pathway of forgiving others, then you can apply that learning to yourself. You can begin to see your own inherent (built-in) worth. You can start to bear the pain of what happened so that you are not continually condemning yourself for what you did in the past. You can begin to welcome yourself back into the human community.
You can read some specifics about self-forgiveness by clicking on the Set Yourself Free link below, which is from my blog at Psychology Today, also called The Forgiving Life:
Another source is the chapter on self-forgiveness in my book, 8 Keys to Forgiveness.
I wish you the best in this healing journey.