An observant reader asked me recently if our Forgiveness News section might be comprised of many stories in which people are “faking forgiveness” so that they get national and international recognition from the media. After all, the person reasoned, for a few moments their images, words, and actions are in front of thousands or even millions, depending on which media sources carry the story.
While quick pronouncements of forgiveness might lead some to doubt the sincerity of the act, we have three counter-arguments in the debate.
1) We must realize that some people are “forgivingly fit,” in that they practice forgiveness regularly in the smaller injustices of life. Such practice readies them for when the tragic injustices come. In other words, years of practice accumulate and aid the forgiver now in the new, gargantuan challenge to forgive, say, the murderer of a loved one. As we watch the person forgive, we do not see the years of practice underlying the act and so we wonder about the sincerity, which is very real because of the practice.¹
2) Sometimes, our psychological defenses come to our aid when tragedy strikes. These defenses shield us from the intense anger which could emerge now. Yet, after a while, as the defenses begin to weaken, the anger arises afresh and so the initial pronouncement of forgiveness, when the angers subside, is not the final word on the matter. In other words, there still is forgiveness work to do, and this is not dishonorable. Forgiveness is hard work and requires re-visiting from time to time regarding situations we thought we had long-ago forgiven.
3) For reasons that are unclear to the social scientific community, some people, despite not having practiced forgiveness over and over, do forgive seemingly spontaneously. Their psychological defenses are not masking deep anger. They forgive in a thorough way on the first try. This seems rare, but it does happen.
Phony forgiveness?? No, not necessarily. What might appear on the surface as phony could be heroic forgiveness forged in the daily struggle to overcome the effects of injustice.