In your most recent response to me, you said that when my partner asks me to forgive and to just forget all about his behavior, he is asking me to acquiesce or just give in to his nonsense. If forgiveness is not acquiescence, then what, exactly is forgiveness?
Forgiveness is a moral virtue in which you willing choose to get rid of resentment toward an unjustly acting person and to offer as best you can goodness toward that person. The goodness can take the form of kindness, respect, generosity, and even moral love.
I knew it. Forgiveness is a weakness of giving in to the other person’s unreasonable demands. The one who is hurting me insists on my “forgiveness” so that we both can just forget all about his behavior. It is a game of power. Convince me that this is not true that forgiveness is a sign of weakness.
What you describe, indeed, is a power play by the other person. He is trying to get you to acquiesce to his behavior that you find unacceptable. This is not forgiveness. When you forgive, you bring justice alongside the forgiveness. In other words, you ask the person to change that which is hurting you.
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?
You say forgiveness is a paradox in that gift-giving aids the one who gives the gift. Yet, is there no correction of the other’s misbehavior?
To correct the other’s misbehavior is to engage in the moral virtue of justice. Forgiveness and justice should exist side-by-side. If you are being abused by someone, you can forgive if you choose to do so and you can and should seek fairness so that the other stops the unjust behavior.
I read your published article in the journal, Clinical Psychology and Psychotherapy, in which you helped men in a maximum-security prison to forgive people who hurt them. What is your next step, to open all the jail cell doors and let out everyone who has ever been hurt?
You are confusing forgiving and abandoning justice. You can forgive a person and then seek justice. As people in correctional institutions learn to forgive those who brutalized them when they were children or adolescents, this can lower their rage, making them less dangerous. Advocating for their forgiving does not mean advocating for their release from the institution.