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.
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.
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.
Both are worthy parts of forgiving. You can respect a person from a distance. When you love, you are entering into a deeper commitment to aiding the other person, as best you can, given your particular circumstance with this person at the moment. This “entering-in” makes love deeper, more special, and more challenging.
I am ambivalent about “giving a gift” to the one who offended me. I do not think he will accept it. This likely will make me angry all over again. What do you suggest?
A complete sense of forgiving, or the essence of what forgiving is, includes this giving of a gift to the one who hurt you. Yet, you do not have to reach the deepest sense of forgiving to be practicing this moral virtue. If you are not ready to give a gift and if you have reduced your resentment and commit to do no harm to the one who hurt you, then you are forgiving at this point.