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.
Is respect or love higher in the forgiveness process?
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.
Does one need humility in order to forgive well?
As we forgive, we begin to see the inherent worth in both the one who acted unjustly and in ourselves. Yes, I do think it requires humility to not feel superior toward the other person who acted badly. Humility shows us that we are not better or worse than others. To see both of you as human, both in need of respect and love, requires the moral virtue of humility. These two viruses, humility and forgiveness, constitute an important team.
My partner and I have different political views. I try to be respectful of his views, but he definitely is not respectful of my views or of me in particular. Help! How can I forgive him and start a productive dialogue about this?
I think you need to talk with your partner about what it means to be a person. Are people more than their political positions? If so, what is this “more” that goes beyond the political? Does he see these other important qualities in you? I think he needs to broaden his perspective that human beings, in their importance, transcend politics. This is not easy to learn and so he and you will have to work on this more transcendent perspective. As you forgive, try to see these larger human qualities in your partner. Such a wider perspective likely will help you in the forgiveness process.
May I ask one more question about the definition of what forgiveness is? I am wondering if offering respect for the other is as strong as offering what you call agape love to that person.
Respect toward someone who has hurt you is very honorable, even courageous. Yet, offering love is a higher virtue. Why? It is because agape love includes service to the other for the other’ sake (to help the person to change the unacceptable behavior). One can show respect for another from a distance, without this challenging quality of assisting the other in moral growth.