Is Forgiveness Against Our Nature?

I read a newspaper article recently in which the writer stated that forgiveness is against our nature. It was a small sentence with a profound implication. Is this true, that forgiveness, or at least the capacity to forgive, is not something that is part of us (built-in) as persons?

I read a different newspaper article recently in which the writer was taking a book author to task for suggesting that children forgive more easily than adults. The criticism was coming from one particular conservative Protestant Christian perspective, with the point that we are not born “good” and have to grow into goodness.

Two newspaper articles, at least two views of forgiveness: one that we are born with a tendency not to forgive and the other that we are born with such a tendency.

Of course, as will all large questions like the “nature of man,” which this question addresses, we will find differences of opinion based in part on one’s existing world view. Here are four world views that address this issue of forgiveness and our nature.

First, from the viewpoint of evolutionary biology, we can see where one person would make the claim that forgiveness is not in our best interest because it can make us vulnerable to another’s attack, his or her injustice perpetrated on us for the purpose of dominance. We are then less likely to pass our genes to the next generation as we make ourselves vulnerable to offending others through forgiveness.

Sociobiology, on the other hand, might make the claim that we need to be in community to survive (for the purpose of passing on our genes to the next generation) and so forgiveness aids in the recovery of social harmony following a rift.

From the viewpoint, not of biology, but of theology, as discussed in the above-mentioned newspaper article, there is a third perspective, that of original sin. We are born with a tendency for injustice, not justice and so forgiveness would be foreign to our basic nature as the adults in the community socialize the child for goodness.

A fourth perspective, also from theology, states that we are all made in the image and likeness of God and therefore, despite a tendency to offend (the original sin issue), we nonetheless have a certain divine spark that helps us, innately, to be good at least to a point. The combination of the tendency to offend and to be good exists in this viewpoint.

When we put the four perspectives side-by-side the most subtle conclusion is that we have within our very nature the capacity for perpetrating injustice and the capacity for good. The ultimate burden then, if this is the case, is on the adults in any community. It is so because the adults, in the family, in schools, in places of worship, and other venues where children are present, have the opportunity to?? bring forth the good every time they interact with a child. This is a strong rationale for forgiveness education, and that rationale is sound regardless of which of the four world views above someone holds.

I’ve been trying to forgive someone who just keeps hurting me over and over again. How can I forgive this person, when the anger is renewed with each new offense?

This is a question that I receive on a regular basis. You are not alone in this. Please keep in mind that the 100th time a person hurts you may be more painful than the first because of the accumulation of resentment in you. This possible build-up of resentment makes forgiveness all the more necessary. So, I recommend three approaches for you:

1) Persevere in forgiving so that the resentment does not overwhelm you. Forgive the person each time he or she hurts you because of unfair treatment.

2) As you forgive over and over, you will get better at forgiving. Be aware of your growing confidence to forgive and your growing ability, which might mean that you forgive more quickly and with better results each time.

3) Please do not forget that you do not practice forgiveness in isolation of the other virtues. As you forgive, ask for justice, and do so after you have forgiven again so that you approach the person with less anger.

“My Ex- Cheated; I Will Never Forgive; I Now Trust No Woman.” What Price Unforgiveness?

I was browsing the Net today and ran across a quotation similar to the one above. It seemed so tidy and so succinct and……..so utterly incorrect. Look at that final statement closely, “I now trust no woman.” That can be one of the fall-outs of unforgiveness—a view of the world that is pessimistic. If you think about it, if he enters into another relationship, the woman may be entirely trustworthy, but he very well may not see it. In such a case, both lose. It is not her fault that he is bringing mistrust into the relationship. She will be hurt directly by his unforgiveness of someone else in the past. The irony of it all is that this new woman in his life could be a source of love and joy for him (and he for her), which are both unlikely to happen if he keeps an emotional arms-length distance to protect his wounded heart.

“I will never forgive” has its consequences both for the one who says and lives it and for those directly affected by the refusal and resulting pessimism. Is it worth it to proclaim and then to live out, “I will never forgive”? Perhaps he is not ready today, but he should consider keeping the door open in the future so that the initial emotional wound of the break up does not lead to more wounds for himself and others.

If a person begins to forgive and then decides that he is no longer ready, is it OK to slow down or even stop the process? If I did that, I feel that it would be unfair to the person who is asking to be forgiven.

There are two issues here. The first is the offended person’s forgiveness process and the other is the feelings and needs of the one who wants to be forgiven. The first issue is basically care of the self, which we have to do. As long as the one forgiving is slowing down or stopping for a good reason, then it is fine to back off, rest, and try to gain strength before pressing on to forgive. Forgiveness is hard work. A reason that is not good is this: slowing down the process to frustrate the other person. This, of course, would be revenge, which is not even close to the process of forgiveness. So, slowing down or stopping for now can simply show the forgiver how hard it is to sustain this virtue.

The second issue concerns the needs of the one who wants forgiveness. Again, we are presuming a good reason for the forgiver’s slowing down. Under this circumstance, it is part of the offending person’s bearing the pain in waiting. There are no guarantees once a person asks for forgiveness and so part of that process is to have patience and to give the forgiver a chance to grow into a forgiving response. The waiting can be painful, but if endured for the sake of the forgiver, it can lead to forgiving, receiving the forgiveness, and reconciling.

“I Knew I Was Going to Live:” NYPD Officer on Forgiving His Assailant

New York Daily News –?? Steven McDonald, a New York City Police Officer, addressed a group of students in a Staten Island elementary school yesterday with a message to forgive those who offend.?? McDonald was shot three times in Central Park in 1986 and now is confined to a wheelchair.?? He explained to the students that he not only forgave but also became friends with his assailant.?? His forgiveness, he says, saved his life.

 

An NYPD hero left quadriplegic after being shot by a teenager now fights bullying in city schools with his incredible story of forgiveness.

 

Det. Steven McDonald, who breathes through a tube and is paralyzed from the neck down, told rapt Staten Island elementary students Tuesday to forgive their tormentors.

 

???The boy that shot me, he and I became friends,??? he told more than 100 astonished kids who crowded the gym of St. John???s Lutheran School.

 

???As soon as I forgave him the pain went away and I knew I was going to live.???

Full story here.

The Good Old School Days

OK, everyone, it is time to reflect on those good old school days of yore, those care-free days when everyone thought we did not have a care in the world. Yet, sometimes we carry burdens from those days and we do so in the silence of our own hearts. When was the last time that you, as an adult, had a discussion about your days in elementary, middle, or high school? When was the last time you had such a discussion with an emphasis on the emotional wounds you received back then? I am guessing that such discussion-times have been quite rare.

I wonder how many of you reading this still have some unresolved issues from the good-old-days. It is in school, within the peer group, at recess, on the sports team that our current sense of self is shaped, at least to a degree. Sometimes we are influenced by those days to a greater extent than we realize.

So, it is time for a little quiz. Please think about your days in school and see if you can identify one person who was unjust to you, so unjust that when you think about the person now, it hurts. This person is a candidate for your forgiveness. I have an important question for you: How has this person inadvertently influenced your own view of yourself? How has this person’s actions made you feel less than who you really are? Do you see that it is time to change that?

My challenge to you today is to take steps to forgive him or her for those behaviors long ago that have influenced you up to this very moment. It is time to take a better look at what happened, to forgive, and then to ask the question after you forgive: Who am I now as I admit to the injustice, admit to it negatively influencing how I have seen myself all these years, and who am I now as I stand in forgiveness?

Perhaps the good old days will seem a little brighter once you forgive. You will have lifted a silent burden.

What is “false forgiveness.” I have seen that expression a few times, but I am not sure what it is.

This is the second time the issue of “false forgiveness” has emerged.?? We have given an answer on February 8, 2012, but we will expand on that answer here.

All virtues such as courage, justice, and forgiveness have what Thomas Aquinas called corresponding vices into which we can slip if we have too little or too much of this virtue, without it being in balance with the other virtues. Take courage as an example. In its proper place, alongside moderation or temperance, it is a way to stand against fear and to move forward for good even when fear is present. Yet, if there is too little courage (the vice of cowardice) when one should act, then the person might hide under the bed rather than act courageously. If there is too much courage (reckless bravado), without it being balanced with moderation, a “courageous” non-swimmer might jump in the ocean to save a drowning dog, and the non-swimmer ends up losing his life. Too much or too little of any virtue constitutes a “false” expression of the virtue.

In the case of forgiveness, what might “too little” of this virtue be? It seems to me that the person would have a distorted view of justice and conclude, “What the person did to me was not so bad. I think I will go back into this situation for more of the same.” The vice is acquiescence. The person, in other words, excuses the wrong itself and then too hastily reconciles without asking anything of the other person.

What might “too much” of forgiveness be? There really is no such thing as “too much” of the actual virtue of forgiveness because it is centered in agape love and one cannot have too much of that. The false variety (dominance) enters, again, as a distortion of justice, but this time, rather than caving in to the other person’s demands or requests, the “forgiver” uses the situation to dominate the other person. In other words, the “forgiver” does not see the other and the self as equal in their personhood and in their rights and obligations. The “forgiver” now takes every opportunity to remind the “forgiven” about how fortunate he is to be forgiven. It is a power play in which the “forgiver” uses forgiveness for self-interest rather than gives love away to the other person.