Criticisms of Forgiveness–3rd in a series: “Forgiveness Obscures for the Forgiver What Is Just or Unjust”

J. Safer (1999) presented a case of family dysfunction in which “forgiveness” plays a major role in perpetuating deep injustice:   Two middle-aged parents ask their adult daughter to “forgive and forget” her brother’s sexual abuse toward her. The daughter, of course, is aghast at the parents’ apparent attempts to downplay and deny the offense. The parents in this case study do not seem aware of the enormity of the offense. Their quest for forgiveness is an attempt at distortion of reality, a cover-up for their son, and oppression of their daughter.

If J. Safer (1999) had shown this as a case of pseudo-forgiveness in which people are deliberately distorting the meaning of forgiveness for some unspecified gain, we would have no problem with the case or the analysis. Safer, however, used the case as an illustration of the dangers of actual forgiveness.

In our experience, true forgiveness helps people see the injustice more clearly, not more opaquely. As a person breaks denial, examines what happened, and allows for a period of anger, he or she begins to label the other’s behavior as “wrong” or “unfair.”

The parents in the case described here, however, have minimized what is wrong with their son’s behavior. They are using pseudo-forgiveness as a weapon. Certainly, therapists should be aware of such distorted thinking in a client or patient. The therapist, however, need not condemn genuine forgiveness because a client twists its meaning.

In sum, forgiveness is no obstacle to justice. Forgiving acts do not perpetuate injustice or prevent social justice from occurring. Forgiveness may thwart attempts at extracting punishment for emotional pain, but this usually turns into a gift for the offender and a release of potentially hurtful anger for the forgiver.

Robert


Enright, Robert D.; Fitzgibbons, Richard P.. Forgiveness Therapy (Kindle Locations 5161-5175). American Psychological Association (APA). Kindle Edition.

Safer, J. Forgiving and Not Forgiving. New York, NY: Avon Books.

Criticisms of Forgiveness —— 2nd in a series:   “The Forgiver and Forgiven as Inferior”

The Forgiver as Inferior

When someone forgives so rapidly that he or she glosses over a legitimate period of anger, that person is not showing self-respect, as Jeffrie G. Murphy,  (1982, 2005) reminded us. Murphy’s concern, however, was not with forgiving per se but instead with the short-circuiting of the process. As long as the process of forgiving makes room for this legitimate period of anger, Murphy and those who agree with him should not be troubled by forgiveness.

The Forgiven as Inferior

Even if a forgiver does not try to dominate the offender, the latter may nonetheless feel very badly about having to be forgiven (see Droll, 1985; O’Shaughnessy, 1967). Derek may feel that Alice (his wife with whom he is having conflict), by her forgiving, is morally superior to him. Yet, Alice need not tell Derek of her gift. Even if he should suspect forgiveness on her part and then pine over this, Alice has done nothing wrong. Her gift remains a gift regardless of Derek’s response. If a child wails in protest over the gift of socks on Christmas morning, does this present then not count as a gift just because the child wanted a popular computer game and did not receive it?

Robert


Enright, Robert D.; Fitzgibbons, Richard P.. Forgiveness Therapy (Kindle Locations 5076-5085). American Psychological Association (APA). Kindle Edition.

Forgiveness Education: Example of the Second-Grade (Primary 4 in Belfast) Curriculum

A 17-lesson curriculum guide was written by a licensed psychologist and a developmental psychologist for the teachers’ use. Each lesson takes approximately 45 minutes or less and each occurs approximately once per week for the entire class.  Additional activities in the guide are provided if a teacher wishes to extend the learning.

In the early years of the program, the teachers were introduced to the ideas of forgiveness and the curricular materials in a workshop directed by the authors of the curriculum or others associated with the project.  We envision other methods as the work expands.  Audios of the workshop, for example, may become available for download.

Forgiveness is taught by the classroom teachers primarily through the medium of story.  Through stories such as Disney’s The Fox and the Hound, Cinderella, Dumbo, and Snow White, the children learn that conflicts arise and that we have a wide range of options to unfair treatment.

The curriculum guide is divided into three parts:

  • First, the teacher introduces certain concepts that underlie forgiveness (the inherent worth of all people, kindness, respect, generosity, and moral love), without mentioning the word forgiveness.
  • In Part Two, the children hear stories in which the story characters display instances of inherent worth, kindness, respect, generosity, and moral love (or their opposites of unkindness, disrespect, and stinginess), toward another story character who was unjust.
  • In Part Three, the teacher helps the children, if they choose, to apply the five principles toward a person who has hurt them.

Throughout the implementation of this program, teachers make the important distinction between learning about forgiveness and choosing to practice it in certain contexts.  The program is careful to emphasize the distinction between forgiveness and reconciliation.  A child does not reconcile with someone who is potentially harmful, for example.  The teachers impress upon the children that the exercises in Part Three of forgiving are not mandatory, but completely optional.

The first-grade curriculum is similar to this one with the exception of the choice of stories.  In first grade, the centerpiece stories are from Dr. Seuss.

Robert


From Enright, R.D., Knutson, J, & Holter, A. (2006).Turning from hatred to community friendship: Forgiveness education in post-accord Belfast” – Presented at the 20th Anniversary Conference of the Joan B. Kroc Institute for International Peace Studies, University of Notre Dame, November 7, 2006.

The Eight Principles Underlying Forgiveness Education

We considered eight principles when devising forgiveness education:

  1. The learning should take place in a non-stressful environment, such as a family setting or a classroom.
    .
  2. What is discussed initially does not center personally on the child but instead on story characters. The child sees first that story characters have conflicts. Next, the child sees that there are many ways to solve and deal with conflicts and that forgiveness is one of those ways. Next, the child sees that forgiveness does not directly solve a situation of injustice. Instead, forgiveness is one way of dealing with the consequences of injustice.
    .
  3. Once a child understands what forgiveness is and what it is not and understands the nature of interpersonal conflict (when one person acts badly, others can be hurt), he or she is ready to explore the pathway of forgiveness, the “how to” of forgiveness. This, again, is best taught by having the child first see others (story characters) go through forgiveness as a way to model it.
    .
  4. Then it is time for a child to start trying to forgive someone for a real offense against the child. This is best accomplished initially by choosing a small offense (e.g., being pushed on the playground) and only later building up to more serious injustices.
    .
  5. As children learn about forgiveness, the instruction should be developmental.
    Forgiveness students at Hazelwood Integrated Primary School in Belfast, Northern Ireland.

    By this we mean that at first the child can see a story character forgiving one other story character for one offense. Then the child should begin to reason that if a story character can forgive one person for one offense, maybe that story character can forgive that same other person again and again, learning to generalize forgiveness across situations.
    .

  6. Next in the developmental sequence, the child learns that the generalization can occur across divergent other people so that he or she can forgive a variety of people for a variety of offenses.
    .
  7. Then in adolescence comes the more mature idea that “I can be a
    Students at Mar Elias Educational Institutions in Ibillin, Galilee (Israel) learn about forgiveness.

    forgiving person.” In other words, forgiveness is not just something that one does in a behavioral sense, but instead forgiveness can go beyond actions to an internalized response that is part of the self, part of one’s identity as a person. It is here that the desire to forgive becomes more stable and enthusiasm for this moral virtue begins to develop. It is what Aristotle called “the love of the virtues.”
    .

  8. Finally, the developmental pathway leads to a motivation of giving forgiveness away to other people in the community. The adolescent, as part of a class assignment, might, for example, consider talking with counselors or families to introduce them to what forgiveness is, how people forgive, and the benefits for self and others when forgiveness is properly understood and practiced.

Robert


Enright, Robert D.; Fitzgibbons, Richard P.. Forgiveness Therapy (Kindle Locations 4377-4399). American Psychological Association (APA). Kindle Edition.

Criticisms of Forgiveness – 1st in a Series: “Forgiving as Disrespectful to the Forgiver”

One argument states that when someone is hurt by another, it is best to show some resentment because it lets the other know that he or she is being taken seriously. If forgiveness cuts short the resentment process, the forgiver is not taking the other seriously and, therefore, is not respecting the other. Nietzsche (1887) also devised this argument.

We disagree with the basic premise here that forgiveness does not involve resentment. As a person forgives, he or she starts with resentment.

We also disagree that resentment is the exclusive path to respecting. Does a person show little respect if he or she quells the resentment in 1 rather than 2 days? Is a week of resentment better than the 2 days? When is it sufficient to stop resenting so that the other feels respected? Nietzsche offered no answer. If a person perpetuates the resentment, certainly he or she is not respecting the other.

Robert


Enright, Robert D.; Fitzgibbons, Richard P.; Forgiveness Therapy (Kindle Locations 5090-5097). American Psychological Association (APA). Kindle Edition.

Should ‘Moral Love’ or ‘Respect’ or ‘Civility’ Underly Our Forgiving Others?

Moral love encompasses civility and respect in its response and so is the most complete. Civility is the least demanding and also the least complete. I can be civil and rather detached from a person who has hurt me. I can even be civil without respecting the person. Even respect does not go far enough. I can respect a person who has injured me and, of course, this is a major step in the right direction. Yet, respect can be given from a distance, from a position that does not ask for my sacrifice. When I extend moral love to another, I not only must be civil and respectful, I must be more than that. I must encounter the other with the intent of helping for his or her sake, not my own sake. To morally love another who has hurt me is to enter into that person’s world with an intent to serve, even to suffer to make him or her a better person to the extent that the person will allow that. Moral love asks the most of me in forgiveness.

Robert

What Is the Difference Between Acceptance and Forgiveness?

“Why not just accept what happened to you?” is a question I have heard many times.  When a person is encouraged to accept what happened, this may or may not include forgiveness.  Forgiveness and acceptance are different.

Acceptance vs forgivenessWhen one accepts what happened, this is a kind of surrender in a positive sense.  It is not a caving in to problems or acquiescing to unjust actions from others.  Acceptance is knowing that the world is imperfect and that bad things can happen.  To accept is to stop fighting against what already happened.  To accept is to resign oneself to the fact that the past event was unpleasant, but now we are in the present, away from that event.

Forgiveness, in contrast, is to offer goodness to those who Forgiveness is lovehave created the past unpleasant or decidedly unjust event.  Forgiveness is an active reaching out to the other in the hope that the two might reconcile, although actual reconciliation may not occur. 

A forgiver still can accept what happened, but not then be passive regarding the other person.  The forgiver actively struggles to get rid of resentment and to offer kindness, respect, generosity, and/or love to the other person.

While acceptance can help us adjust to adversity, it, by itself, often is not sufficient to extinguish a lingering resentment toward others.  Forgiveness is the active process for this.

Forgiveness and acceptance: They can work together, but they should not be equated as synonymous.

Robert