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.
A key here is to first forgive from your heart so that you can approach the person without a lot of anger inside of you. Then try to have a civil conversation with the person so that there is opportunity for insight and change. A key here is for the other to change. Your forgiveness can play a part in that, but even if it does not, you will be free from the inner resentment that can compromise you if you forgive.
Well, actually, that is not what forgiveness is. Forgiveness is a moral virtue of offering goodness to another person who is acting unjustly. You can transcend a situation without any thought or action of goodness toward another person. Here is an example: A person transcends the struggle of disappointment as his home is destroyed by a tornado. There is no person here to forgive, yet there is transcendence. The person is going beyond the disappointment and even anger, but without another person being in that process. Forgiving involves reaching out to another person, even when the forgiver is feeling pain that is not transcended or reduced yet.
Do you think people get less out of forgiving if the motive is self-preservation rather than a concern for the other as a person?
We have yet to do a research study in which we examine different outcomes for those who have different initial motives for forgiving. One problem in doing such a research study is this: Often people start Forgiveness Therapy because of their own emotional compromise caused by an injustice from others. Yet, as people go through the forgiveness process, their motive often changes from a focus on the self to a genuine concern for the other. Thus, this issue of motive is a moving target and so is difficult to study. Yet, it is worth more careful thought.
In your book, “Forgiveness Is a Choice,” you start with a case study of Mary Ann. Would it have been easier for her just to divorce her husband, given that he was toxic, rather than forgiving and reconciling?
Because forgiveness is a choice, we have to be careful not to judge others for their particular decision. In Mary Ann’s case, there was a genuine reconciliation. Since reconciliation involves mutual trust, we can surmise that he made important changes. Mary Ann is happy now and so her decision to forgive and reconcile was wise.