Respect or Love?

When we forgive, what moral principle should underlie the forgiving response? Would it be better to approach each person with respect or with love or perhaps with some other moral quality? A case can be made for respect because we can more easily offer this to all whereas love is not that easily given through our anger. For example, we can show respect for a hard-driving boss even when we feel no love for him or her at all. Thus, respect covers a variety of circumstances and hurts, whereas love does not.

On the other hand, love is the higher principle because it includes respect and then goes beyond it to serving in mercy. It reaches farther and challenges us more deeply. I think that the response of love goes farther also in its effects. We can give respect at a respectable distance. A hand shake out of respect is not the same as letting someone into our world and caring about him or her.

Other moral responses do not go as far and as deeply as love either. Tolerance can be a rather cold approach, patience by itself can be almost neutral, and a spirit of cooperation can have a “What’s in it for me if I do cooperate?” ring to it. None of these go beyond love as a way to forgive.

Although more difficult than all the rest of these, I opt for love as the underlying response to forgiveness.

Why? Because respect might keep the world safer, but love changes the world for the better.

Fernandez

How hard is it to forgive someone who hurts your son? Bullying is vey real these days and my son was a victim, not once, not twice, but many times. He is quiet and a good student and so some of the other boys would tease him, unmercifully. I went to the principal, who is a weak leader because she is afraid of conflict. I had enough and so after school one day, my son and I paid a visit to one of the boys’ home and had a very frank discussion with his mother. She was surprised to hear all of this. Yet, it helped because that boy did not say anything to my son after that. I had to forgive the principal most of all because she was passive and that is not right when children are being bullied. I tried to see her in her weakness, in her confusion, in her striving to be liked. I felt kind of sorry for her, although I will never put up with passivity that harms children. And, yes, I forgave the boy who bullied my son. I saw him as very angry, growing up without a father, and taking it out on others. I had to mix fairness with forgiveness, which I did with the visit to his home. So, that combination of “stop it” and “I love you unconditionally” both worked.

The Proper Use of Forgiveness

Even goodness can be used for ends to which it was not intended. Forgiveness is no exception to this. Consider the following true story. A woman in her late 30s came to me to discuss the fine points of forgiveness. She was college-educated, a sharp thinker, and seemed quite focused on getting to know what forgiveness is and is not.

Her motive was to forgive her husband for injustices which she did not divulge to me. We spent a while discussing what forgiveness is and what it is not, that it is not excusing or forgetting what happened or reconciling, where two or more people come together again in mutual trust.

“I want to learn to forgive and then put this into practice in my marriage,” she said to me with resolve. I was encouraged.

A few weeks later, we met and I, of course, was curious about how her newly acquired forgiveness skills were faring in the marriage. “Oh, I forgave my husband and then left him.” Surprised by this juxtaposition of forgiving and leaving, I asked for some clarification.

“I never knew that forgiveness and reconciliation were not the same,” she said with some relief, “So, I forgave him and did not reconcile.” And that was the end of her story.

As we talked further, it was obvious to me that she was using this distinction between forgiveness and reconciliation as a kind of excuse to bail out of the marriage without putting the patience of forgiveness to work. She quickly left him without grappling with the issues of true forgiveness and true reconciliation. I was left with the impression of her using this distinction as an excuse rather than as an opportunity. The opportunity would have been to first try reconciliation alongside forgiveness.

Maybe she already tried reconciliation before coming to see me and it failed. I doubt this because when she approached me, she thought that the two terms, forgiveness and reconciliation, were interchangeable. She was originally intent on putting this into practice.

In this context everyone lost, including forgiveness herself.

Ask yourself this question as you consider forgiveness: What is my motive? Is it to do good? Or is it to find a quick and easy way out? An answer of “yes” to this final question should show you that it is only an imitation of forgiveness that is being practiced.

I know that to forgive, I must confront my anger toward the person who hurt me, but to be honest with you, I fear my anger. I fear that I could get out of control because the person who hurt me was very cruel, over and over again. I do not like fearing myself. Please help me to overcome this.

First you should realize something very positive: You are aware that you are very angry. Some people deny the extent of their anger, which does not help in cleansing oneself of it. After all, how can you reduce the anger if you are minimizing it? If you have a deep cut on your arm and you are afraid of infection, what do you do? If your fear freezes you to such an extent that you cannot clean the wound and apply an anti-biotic, then that fear is preventing healing. It is similar with injustices and anger. Fear of the anger is the problem more so than the anger is the problem.

Please keep in mind that you do have available to you a kind of cleansing agent, a kind of anti-biotic against toxic anger, and it is forgiveness. As you practice forgiveness, you will see that the anger diminishes. Even if it returns, you have forgiveness to help you once again. As you become better at forgiving, you will fear your negative emotions less because you now have at your disposal a powerful antidote to them. Enjoy the cleansing power of forgiveness.