The Forgiver as Inferior
When someone forgives so rapidly that he or she glosses over a legitimate period of anger, that person is not showing self-respect, as Jeffrie G. Murphy, (1982, 2005) reminded us. Murphy’s concern, however, was not with forgiving per se but instead with the short-circuiting of the process. As long as the process of forgiving makes room for this legitimate period of anger, Murphy and those who agree with him should not be troubled by forgiveness.
The Forgiven as Inferior
Even if a forgiver does not try to dominate the offender, the latter may nonetheless feel very badly about having to be forgiven (see Droll, 1985; O’Shaughnessy, 1967). Derek may feel that Alice (his wife with whom he is having conflict), by her forgiving, is morally superior to him. Yet, Alice need not tell Derek of her gift. Even if he should suspect forgiveness on her part and then pine over this, Alice has done nothing wrong. Her gift remains a gift regardless of Derek’s response. If a child wails in protest over the gift of socks on Christmas morning, does this present then not count as a gift just because the child wanted a popular computer game and did not receive it?
Enright, Robert D.; Fitzgibbons, Richard P.. Forgiveness Therapy (Kindle Locations 5076-5085). American Psychological Association (APA). Kindle Edition.
A 17-lesson curriculum guide was written by a licensed psychologist and a developmental psychologist for the teachers’ use. Each lesson takes approximately 45 minutes or less and each occurs approximately once per week for the entire class. Additional activities in the guide are provided if a teacher wishes to extend the learning.
In the early years of the program, the teachers were introduced to the ideas of forgiveness and the curricular materials in a workshop directed by the authors of the curriculum or others associated with the project. We envision other methods as the work expands. Audios of the workshop, for example, may become available for download.
Forgiveness is taught by the classroom teachers primarily through the medium of story. Through stories such as Disney’s The Fox and the Hound, Cinderella, Dumbo, and Snow White, the children learn that conflicts arise and that we have a wide range of options to unfair treatment.
The curriculum guide is divided into three parts:
- First, the teacher introduces certain concepts that underlie forgiveness (the inherent worth of all people, kindness, respect, generosity, and moral love), without mentioning the word forgiveness.
- In Part Two, the children hear stories in which the story characters display instances of inherent worth, kindness, respect, generosity, and moral love (or their opposites of unkindness, disrespect, and stinginess), toward another story character who was unjust.
- In Part Three, the teacher helps the children, if they choose, to apply the five principles toward a person who has hurt them.
Throughout the implementation of this program, teachers make the important distinction between learning about forgiveness and choosing to practice it in certain contexts. The program is careful to emphasize the distinction between forgiveness and reconciliation. A child does not reconcile with someone who is potentially harmful, for example. The teachers impress upon the children that the exercises in Part Three of forgiving are not mandatory, but completely optional.
The first-grade curriculum is similar to this one with the exception of the choice of stories. In first grade, the centerpiece stories are from Dr. Seuss.
From Enright, R.D., Knutson, J, & Holter, A. (2006). “Turning from hatred to community friendship: Forgiveness education in post-accord Belfast” – Presented at the 20th Anniversary Conference of the Joan B. Kroc Institute for International Peace Studies, University of Notre Dame, November 7, 2006.
I have reconciled with my partner and I think I have forgiven him. Yet, at times, I think about his original unfaithfulness and it makes me angry all over again. Am I only fooling myself in thinking that I truly have forgiven?
The late Lewis Smedes wrote that forgiveness is an imperfect process for imperfect people. Feeling anger again does not necessarily mean that you have not forgiven. People can forgive and still have anger that rises and falls depending on the situation. If you are in control of the anger and are willing to forgive now on a deeper level, then you have forgiven.
Learn more at Forgiveness for Couples.
If a person chooses to forgive, then it not only is realistic but possibly healthy for the forgiver. Forgiveness need not be perfect in that one person forgives, the other repents and changes, and now there is harmony. One goal of forgiving is to hold out the hope of reconciliation, but this does not necessarily occur for forgiveness to be morally good and psychologically worthwhile. One can forgive, for example, to rid oneself of resentment even when reconciliation is not possible.
Learn more at Forgiving is not. . .
I recently discovered that my wife of 17 years had two affairs in the last 3 years. She would like to reconcile. I came to believe that I should extend compassion to all beings, including my wife, and I would like to forgive her. However, I am not sure I want to take the next step and reconcile. I understand that we are human and everybody makes mistakes, but I feel that I deserve to be respected and treated much better. I think I am respected and treated very well by everybody I know (friends, family, my kids, and my colleagues), except my wife. I also suspect that our values, commitment to truth, and view of morality are very different. I feel that I have to extend compassion to myself as well, and this means that I cannot reconcile. Is this way of thinking a sign that I have not yet forgiven?
Because forgiving and reconciling are not the same, it is possible that you have begun to forgive even if you end up not reconciling. At the same time, your discovery of the affairs is “recent.” Thus, you may still be quite angry and not yet forgiving. I recommend that you take some time to assess your current level of anger toward your wife. If you currently are very angry, this could be clouding your decision regarding to reconcile or not. In other words, you may need some time to process that anger, begin the forgiveness process so that the anger diminishes, and only then ask the important question about reconciliation. If you think that your wife does not share your own sense of morals, this is worth a deep discussion with her prior to making a decision about whether to reconcile. I wish you the best as you work through this challenging issue.