Forgiveness is a virtue

I have seen two websites lately that have assumed that the expression, “Let it go,” typifies forgiveness. It is an unexamined assumption on both sites. Is it reasonable to assume that this statement represents forgiveness? Let us examine it and see.

Forgiveness is a virtue, as is justice, patience, kindness, and love. These moral qualities are meant to be directed from one’s own inner world outward to others for good. We give justice to other people and not to things. How can you be fair to a car or a hurricane, for example? How can you be kind to a door? Virtues are meant for good to other people. Forgiveness, being a virtue, is the same. As we forgive we reduce resentment specifically toward the person who was unjust. As we forgive we offer mercy specifically toward that same person.When we let something go, we are releasing a situation or a circumstance. Look carefully at the sentence. We are letting an “it” go, not a person. Can we let a situation go and still not forgive? I think we can all imagine examples of this. Suppose a boss asks you to work late five days in a row. You might “let this go” because you think the boss is morally incapable of doing what is right and good. You might “let it go” when a friend says something offensive to you, not to honor him or her as forgiveness does by being merciful, but out of expedience to keep the friendship. You might “let it go” if there is an external reward waiting for you, such as a raise or praise, as you remain annoyed or neutral toward the person-as-person. My point is that there are a lot of ways to “let it go” and either ignore or dismiss the person connected with “it.”

It seems that “let it go” and forgiveness are not necessarily the same thing. One is centered on the “its” of the world whereas the other is centered on persons.

Forgiving and Remembering in New Ways

Forgiveness Talk Across the Continents

On March 23, Dr.Bob gave a presentation via Skype to 100 people at St. Jude the Apostle Church in Dublin, Ireland.?? There was a simultaneous webinar broadcast to anyone in the world, which included people from the Midwestern United States, Ireland, the Philippines, and other venues.?? The feedback was that Ireland is in need of forgiveness for the healing of wounds old and new.?? Other Skype sessions like this inaugural one are being considered.

Reflection on the Previous Week

It is the weekend, a time for some renewal and reflection. This was a busy week, with forgiveness workshops touching lives in Verona, Wisconsin; Dublin, Ireland; Belfast, Northern Ireland; the Philippines; Italy, and other places.

I am left with a burning question: Will those who hear the message of The Forgiving Communities forget about it as quickly as they heard about it? We are in a sea of noise and each voice, each tone, each loud crash competes for our attention. How does one rise above it all to accomplish something as quiet and gentle and courageous as forgiveness in this context?

Sometimes the message is bound to fall flat, but when it does not, what are the crucial ingredients that have risen above the competition for one’s time and energy? For one and only one of those ingredients, I think it takes at least two very dedicated people to team together and never, ever give up. The teaming up has to involve the message, heard over and over, that forgiveness matters: in the individual heart, in families, and in communities.

As it says in the Hebrew Proverb (18), a brother helped is like a strong city. The key is to be unwavering together, especially when criticisms come or distractions tempt which in the long-run really do not matter.

I think we have found these two brothers, well, sisters actually, in Lynn and Noreen in Dublin. Each has the heart of a lion. Dublin and all of Ireland is collectively in need of forgiving, given the history of that region and the current economic struggles. Forgiveness is one piece to putting all of the pieces back together for a thriving Ireland.

My personal thanks to Lynn and Noreen. May we walk together for a long, long time in service to our brothers and sisters in need of forgiving and being forgiven.

I would like to teach forgiveness to some people, but I find that they are not receptive to the idea that forgiveness is worthwhile. How do I proceed, given their resistance?

I have three points for you to consider. First, because forgiveness is ultimately their choice, if they are not ready to proceed, you should honor that. Second, a person’s rejection of forgiveness today is not necessarily his or her final word on the matter. So, be aware of changes in attitude. Third, there is nothing wrong with occasionally discussing forgiveness, brining it up in conversation, as long as you do not push an agenda. Conversation concerns at least two people and their worlds. If your world includes forgiveness, then sharing that world with others is legitimate, again as long as you are sharing who you are and not using this in a manipulative way. Who you are may play a part in whom the other will become as you share this aspect of yourself.

Restorative Justice Program Helps Mother of Deceased to See Killer’s Humanity

The Mirror newspaper of London – Grace Idowu lost her son to a knife-attacker in South London and as part of a restorative justice program, she recently visited in prison the teenage boy who took her son’s life. Mrs. Idowu reported that she was surprised to see a remorseful, sobbing boy in front of her. She was able to see his deep regret and when he asked her to forgive him, she did.

She imagined he would be a monster. Most parents would never want to take a second look at the person who took their precious child away from them. But Grace, 52, made the bold decision to go and visit Elijah Dayoni in prison after he brutally knifed her 14-year-old son David to death.

And today she insists she has totally forgiven Dayoni for what he did… and wants to help him become a better person.

Full story here.

A Critique of the Prologue to PBS’s New Film

In April, a new documentary will be shown on PBS television: “Forgiveness: A Time to Love and a Time to Hate.” This raises a central question: Is there ever a time to hate? Surely there are times when people hate, but should we set aside a time for hating? The subtitle of the film suggests an affirmative answer, but what good has hatred ever delivered to the world? Do those who crafted this title mean, instead, that there is a time to seek justice? This is self-evidently true because justice is a central virtue, perhaps the central virtue according to Plato. The subtitle, then, is muddled in its meaning if the writers confuse hatred and justice.

The film has a “prologue” for viewing. “Forgiveness is elusive,” the narrator says as the opening statement of this prologue, suggesting that we cannot find its core meaning.

“There is no consensus about what it is,” the narrator of the prologue proclaims with firm confidence. A Socratic dialogue would lead us to ask: “Does this imply that the “meaning” of forgiveness has no consensus?” Further, we need to clarify: “Does this mean that the actual differences are centered in the people, who possess ‘differences of opinion’ about what forgiveness is, or is the ‘meaning’ of forgiveness itself relative and ultimately lacking in any true consensus across the globe?”

“However you define forgiveness….” is yet another statement, bringing home the relativist assumption. There are many “opinions” brought forward in the brief prologue. None are examined. The impression, then, is that forgiveness itself is “elusive.” ¬†An issue not even remotely assumed in the prologue is this: Might the problem of a lack of consensus exist in the people themselves, who may not have thought about and experienced forgiveness deeply and over a long period of time? If Socrates assumed his own ignorance at understanding the objective nature of justice, which he did in The Republic, why do not the speakers in the prologue to “Forgiveness: A Time to Love and a Time to Hate” do the same thing? We are in an age in which the individual speaker has the power. Socrates assumed just the opposite.

In our blog post of March 17, 2012 (scroll down to read), we made the point that there are cross-cultural and cross-time meanings of forgiveness that strongly suggest a core meaning to what the narrator calls an “elusive” concept.

In the movie, The Paper Chase, Professor Kingsfield proclaims to his first-year Harvard law students: You come in here with a head full of mush….and you come out thinking like a lawyer. If the prologue is prelude to the rest of this symphony of ideas on forgiveness, we predict this: The viewer who has thought little about forgiveness will come to the film with a head full of mush……and, if he or she absorbs the film’s message without strong rebuttals, will leave with a head full of mush. We shall see.

When I think about it, I have a long list of people to forgive, starting from childhood and moving up to the present in my adult life. It all seems so overwhelming, With whom should I start and why? How can I get organized as I forgive in this way?

This is a common and important question. It is important because to organize all of this information is not simple. In my new book, the Forgiving Life (particularly Chapters 8 and 9), I systematically walk you through this process of getting organized in the way you request.

Here is the gist of those chapters. First make a list of people, from the family in which you grew up, who have hurt you. As many times as they were seriously unjust to you, list those incidents as best you can. Then move to peers and school experiences, then to adolescence, and into adulthood with work and relationship experiences. List each incident of considerable injustice as best you can.

Then start in the family of origin (where you grew up) because it is there where you may have established your own pattern of behavior. I recommend that you do not begin forgiving the one person for the one event that was most challenging for you. Start smaller and learn to forgive before moving up the scale of hurt to the one person and one event that caused you the most hurt. From there, move to schooling or peers, whichever needs your forgiveness work the most and again follow the same pattern. Start with the smaller issues and work up to the larger. Eventually you will come to the present day where you may have to forgive a partner or someone else close to you. You already will be strengthened by all of the prior work and so this new task will not be the huge challenge it might have been, had you not built up your forgiveness muscles first by forgiving people from your past.