My partner says that he forgives me, but he seems kind of smug about it. His attitude seems to be “I am better than you.” Is this really an act of forgiving?
In 1978 the psychiatrist R.C.A. Hunter made the important point in a journal article that most of us can tell if an act of forgiving is legitimate or not based on the sincerity of the words and actions. If the other seems to be using forgiving as a way to dominate, to feel superior toward you, then this likely is not genuine forgiveness. You could try having a conversation with him about this and gently state that his actions do not seem to suggest a true sense of forgiving in which you meet person-to-person in a genuine spirit of respect and love.
I have a problem. I am out of an unhealthy relationship. My ex-boyfriend now is in a new relationship with another woman. He seems to want me to forgive him so he can be free of his own guilt because he broke his own moral standard. In other words, he is not asking for forgiveness for my sake, for my well-being, but only for his. So, do I even tell him that I have forgiven when I have gone down that path?
Forgiving is your choice when you are ready. There are many reasons why you might forgive: a) to aid his recovery of his well-being; b) to aid your own recovery; and c) as an end in and of itself, among other reasons. So, you can forgive, for example, because it is good in and of itself. If you decide to forgive also as a way to aid his recovery, even when he is uninterested in your recovery, this would be a very deep sense of forgiving, doing so through pain for his sake. This kind of goal can take time and so please be gentle with yourself as you discern the answer to your goal regarding why you are forgiving. If you are not ready to forgive in particular for his sake, you can start by forgiving so that you are free of resentment and can move forward well in life. The other reason might develop in you later.
How do I correct a child who equates forgiving with revenge? The thought in this child, age 6, is that if he can get back at the other person, then they can move on together.
A key issue is to begin talking with the child about how all people are special, unique, and irreplaceable. All people have built-in worth. As Horton the elephant says in the Dr. Seuss classic, Horton Hears a Who, “A person’s a person no matter how small.” Try to get the child to see this and to see that the proper response to other people is kindness. Getting back at someone who behaved badly is not kindness and so this cannot possibly be forgiveness. It is important also to bring in the issue of justice. If a child is being bullied by another, for example, the one who might forgive needs to seek justice by telling an adult about the unfair situation.
Is there more than one definition of forgiveness?
There are many people who have different definitions of forgiveness, but in the vast majority of cases, people assert their definitions without defending them or explaining how they arrived at that definition. We at the International Forgiveness Institute rely on the teaching of the ancient Greek philosopher, Aristotle, because he has, in our view, the most comprehensive ideas of what constitutes any moral virtue. He gives complete descriptions of the moral virtues, in other words, without reducing the meaning of the virtues. With that in mind, we define forgiving this way: When treated unfairly by others, a person forgives by willingly working on reducing negative thoughts, feelings, and behaviors and striving to offer more positive thoughts, feelings, and behaviors toward them. At the same time, the forgiver does not excuse the unjust behavior, automatically reconcile, or abandon the quest for justice.
What is more important, justice or forgiveness?
I do not think you should choose between them. Plato placed justice at the top of the moral virtue hierarchy in this book, The Republic. I think agape love (in service to others even when it is painful to do so) is the highest because it includes being just to others and forgiving others. We need both justice and forgiveness under the umbrella of agape to have the best world and in the case of justice and forgiveness, the best of both worlds of these virtues.