Tagged: “moral virtue”
Is it possible for someone to actually improve in forgiveness? If so, what do you suggest as some keys for me to do that?
Forgiveness is not a superficial action (such as saying, “It’s ok” when someone is unfair to you). Instead, it is a moral virtue, as is justice and kindness and love. Aristotle told us thousands of years ago that one challenge in life is to become more perfected in the virtues. In other words, we do grow more proficient in our understanding and expression of the virtues, but only if we practice them. It is a struggle to grow in any virtue, including forgiveness. So, first be aware that you can grow in this virtue. Then be willing to practice it, with the goal of maturing in love, which is what forgiveness is (loving those who are unkind to us). You need a strong will to keep persevering in the struggle to grow in forgiveness. In sum, you need: understanding of what forgiveness is, practice, a strong will, and keeping your eye fixed on the goal of improving in love a little more each day.
I think right now the mot common misconception is this: When I forgive I try to “move on” from the hurtful situation. As I move on, then the inner pain may lessen. Yet, in my experience with others, no matter how far you try to run from the pain, it runs even faster than you. So, if you try to run from the pain for two weeks, as you stop to rest, there is the pain right beside you asking the question, “What do you want to do now? Shall we reflect even more on me, the pain, now?” Forgiveness is not a moving on from the pain, but instead is a moral virtue of offering good toward the offending other person. The paradox is this: As you engage in goodness toward that other person, it is you who is healed.
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.
Dr. Viktor Frankl says that we can find meaning in our suffering. I think that is really insensitive to those who are oppressed. It is insensitive to say to the oppressed: “Oh, you are a victim of racism. Rise above it by finding meaning.” What do you think?
Dr. Frankl never meant to imply that we should seek to be oppressed (or ignore the oppression) so that we can find meaning in our suffering. You seem to be dichotomizing finding meaning and seeking justice, as if we can do only one or the other. We must remember that Dr. Frankl was in concentration camps during World War II. He certainly did not imply that this was good for him so that he could find meaning in his suffering. Instead, we need to right the wrongs of injustice by practicing the moral virtue of justice and, as the same time, find meaning in our suffering. These two (seeking justice and finding meaning in suffering) are teammates, not opponents.
Editor’s Note: Viktor Emil Frankl was an Austrian neurologist, psychiatrist, philosopher, author, and Holocaust survivor. He was the founder of logotherapy, a school of psychotherapy which describes a search for a life meaning as the central human motivational force. Dr. Frankl published 39 books including his best-selling autobiographical Man’s Search for Meaning, based on his experiences in various Nazi concentration camps.
I recently read an article in which the author started the essay by defining forgiving as the release of deep anger.
In fact, there is a consensus building that forgiveness amounts to getting rid of a negative emotion such as anger and resentment. I did a Google search using only the word “forgiveness.” On the first two pages, I found the following definitions of what the authors reported forgiveness to be:
Forgiveness (supposedly) is:
- letting go of resentment and thoughts of revenge;
- the release of resentment or anger;
- a conscious and deliberate decision to release feelings of resentment or vengeance toward a person who acted unjustly;
- letting go of anger;
- letting go of negative feelings such as vengefulness.
I think you get the idea. The consensus is that forgiveness focuses on getting rid of persistent and deep anger. Synonyms for this are resentment and vengefulness. Readers not deeply familiar with the philosophy of forgiveness may simply accept this as true. Yet, this attempted and consensual definition cannot possibly be true for the following reasons:
- A person can reduce resentment and still dismiss the other person as not worth one’s time;
- Reducing resentment itself is not a moral virtue. This might happen because the “forgiver” wants to be happy and so there is no goodness toward the other, which is part of the definition of a moral virtue;
- There is no specific difference between forgiveness and tolerance. I can get rid of resentment by trying to tolerate the other. My putting up with the other as a person is not a moral virtue;
- Forgiveness, if we take these definitions seriously, is devoid of love. It is not that one has to resist love. Yet, one can be completely unaware of love as the essence of forgiveness while holding to the consensual definition.
- A central goal of forgiveness is lost. Off the radar by the consensual definition is the motivation to assist the other to grow as a person. After all, why even bother with the other if I can finally rid myself of annoying resentment.
The statement “forgiveness is ridding the self of resentment or vengefulness” is reductionistic and therefore potentially dangerous. It is dangerous in a philosophical and a psychological sense. The philosophical danger is in never going deeply enough to understand the beauty of forgiveness in its essence as a moral virtue of at least trying to offer love to those who did not love you. The psychological danger is that Forgiveness Therapy will be incomplete as the client keeps the focus on the self, trying to rid the self of negatives. Yet, the paradox of Forgiveness Therapy is the stepping outside of the self, to reach out to the other, and in this giving is psychological healing for the client. It is time to challenge the consensus.