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.
Enright, Robert D.; Fitzgibbons, Richard P. (2014-11-17). Forgiveness Therapy (Kindle Locations 5092-5097). American Psychological Association (APA). Kindle Edition.
Enright, Robert D.; Fitzgibbons, Richard P. (2014-11-17). Forgiveness Therapy (Kindle Locations 5090-5092). American Psychological Association (APA). Kindle Edition.
Too often in society the word forgiveness is used casually: “Please forgive me for being 10 minutes late.” Forgiveness is used in place of many other words, such as excusing, distorting the intended meaning. People so often try to forgive with misperceptions; each may have a different meaning of forgiveness, unaware of any error in his or her thinking.
Freedman and Chang (2010, in the Journal of Mental Health Counseling, volume 32, pages 5-34) interviewed 49 university students on their ideas of the meaning of forgiveness and found that the most frequent understanding (by 53% of the respondents) was to “let go” of the offense. This seems to be similar to either condoning or excusing. Of course, one can let go of the offense and still be fuming with the offender.
The second most common understanding of forgiveness (20%) was that it is a “moving on” from the offense. Third most common was to equate forgiveness with not blaming the offender, which could be justifying, condoning, or excusing, followed by forgetting about what happened. Only 8% of the respondents understood forgiveness as seeing the humanity in the other, not because of what was done but in spite of it.
If we start forgiveness education early, when students are 5 or 6 years old, they will have a much firmer grasp of what forgiveness is. . .and therefore likely will be successful in their forgiveness efforts, especially if these students are schooled not only in what forgiveness is but also in how to go about forgiving.
I recently read an article by an abused person who seemed angry at forgiveness itself. The person talked of a cultural demand for forgiving an abusive person. This put pressure on the one abused. The culture of forgiving, as it was called, seemed to create a sense of superiority in those who forgive in contrast to those who refuse to forgive. Further, the person seemed angry because this cultural demand for forgiving was creating a sense of entitlement for the abuser, an entitlement that forgiveness be granted.
My heart goes out to this person who now must live with a horrible action perpetrated. No one deserves this.
At the same time, forgiveness itself deserves accuracy. If forgiveness is to be criticized, it is my fervent hope that the criticism comes from a place of truth about forgiveness’s flaws, and not from a position of error.
I think there are errors in the criticism of forgiveness which I would like to correct here and I do not want to be misunderstood. By this essay, I am not saying that the person should forgive. I am not saying that this person is inferior. I am saying that forgiveness should not be dishonored because someone does not want to avail themselves of that forgiveness.
So, please allow me three points:
- People who forgive rarely feel superior based on my own experience talking with those who have forgiven. The path of forgiveness is strewn with struggle and tears. After walking such a path, a person can feel relief, but it is difficult to feel superior as the person wipes off the emotional stress and strain from that journey. If a person happens to feel superior, this is not the fault of forgiveness itself. It is innocent. Again, as in point 1, it is the fault of people misunderstanding what they have just done.
- Anyone who demands that others forgive is creating the pressure. It is not forgiveness itself that is creating it. Forgiveness is seen in philosophy as a supererogatory virtue, not demanded, but given if and only if the person wishes to do so. A supererogatory virtue does not make demands, even if people do demand.
- Some who perpetrate injustice do play the forgiveness card and tell the victim that without forgiving, then the victim is a hypocrite. “Sure, you talk of forgiveness, but then you do not forgive me,” the story goes. This is a power-play by the one who perpetrated the injustice and should be recognized as such. Again, as in points 1 and 2, the fault is with particular people, in this case those who act unjustly. It is not the fault of forgiveness itself.
Forgiveness can be given a black eye by people, those who misunderstand. My client, forgiveness, is innocent and I ask the court to dismiss the charges against it.
One of the most frequent questions I receive concerns the process of forgiving yourself. The short answer is, yes, you can forgive yourself with certain cautions in mind.
First, when you forgive yourself, you are both the offended one and the offender. And we rarely offend ourselves in isolation. Thus, you should go and make amends with those who also were offended by your actions. This includes asking for forgiveness, changing your behavior and making recompense where this is reasonable.
After that, as you turn your attention to forgiving yourself please keep this in mind—What you have been offering to others in forgiving them (gentleness, kindness, patience, respect, and moral love), you can and should offer to yourself.
The Forgiving Life, (APA Lifetools), Robert D. Enright (2012-07-05), American Psychological Association.
Has the struggle with the injustice made you tired? Let us say that you have 10 points of energy to get through each day. How many of those points of energy do you use fighting (even subconsciously) the injustice as an internal struggle? Even if you are giving 1 or 2 points of your energy each day to this, it is too much and could be considered another wound for you.
When you consider the person and the situation now under consideration, do you see any changes in your life that were either a direct or indirect consequence of the person’s injustice? In what way did your life change that led to greater struggle for you? On our 0-to-10 scale, how great a change was there in your life as a result of the injustice? Let a 0 stand for no change whatsoever, a 5 stand for moderate change in your life, and a 10 stand for dramatic change in your life. Your answer will help you determine whether this is another wound for you. As you can see, the wounds from the original injustice have a way of accumulating and adding to your suffering.
Excerpt from the book The Forgiving Life (APA Lifetools), Robert D. Enright (2012-07-05). (Kindle Locations 2750-2753). American Psychological Association. Kindle Edition.
Enright, Robert D. (2012-07-05). The Forgiving Life (APA Lifetools) (Kindle Locations 2784-2788). American Psychological Association. Kindle Edition.
Sometimes a person is not stubbornly closed to consider forgiveness. Sometimes a person is not distorting the meaning of forgiveness or being distracted or even too impatient to walk its path. Sometimes a person even knows the path of forgiveness….but is not forgivingly fit enough to walk it well. Sometimes a person just has not had the experience to get it right. As an analogy, a person might want to join in the marathon run, but has never trained for one. All of the good intentions in the world, all of the knowledge in the world, will not aid the person in finishing the task. It can be the same with forgiveness. The person may have read about “bearing the pain” and understand what this is and what it is not, but it remains strangely vague and unfamiliar because of a lack of experience with it. The person needs practice for it to become familiar.
We all need to be schooled in the art of forgiveness to be able to find and stay on the path and then to complete the journey. Forgiveness education is one way for children, adolescents, and adults to learn about forgiveness…..to practice it and then to practice it some more…….before tragedy strikes, before confusion and discouragement set in. We have the opportunity to help youth overcome a major barrier to forgiveness—inexperience—by helping them to learn about forgiveness, and to practice it, and to become proficient at it. Can you see the great advantage of meeting injustice while a person already is forgivingly fit, being familiar with the “how to” of forgiveness? We need forgiveness education…..now.
Patience. To forgive requires much patience because we cannot rush the process; we cannot will the end of the pain; we cannot automatically change the one who hurt us. Patience with perseverance…..and an acceptance of the suffering are keys.
When we have impatience with the forgiveness process we are misunderstanding what the process is. It unfolds. We do not rush through it. I have come to realize that this unfolding, this waiting for relief from the suffering, is a time of strengthening. It is a time of learning a greater humility. We are not the ones who always are in control.
In the waiting comes wisdom. We learn more about ourselves and our ability to endure even when there is great pain. We learn who other people are. They can hurt us, but ultimately they cannot destroy us from our inside because we see our own strength developing. Out of waiting comes a stretching of our patience and a shrinking of our impatience. Out of waiting comes growth as persons.