How Does Forgiveness Differ from Ghandi’s Nonviolent Resistance?

I heard a talk recently in which– it was stated that Mahatma Ghandi’s nonviolent resistance to injustice is equivalent to forgiving.  The point is that forgiveness is not passive but stands up to evil in a merciful way.  While there are some convergences between nonviolent resistance and forgiveness, I think that they are in essence different.  Here are at least three ways in which they are not the same:

First, Ghandi’s approach, as well the approach of others who followed, such as Martin Luther King, Jr., is centered on a quest for justice.  They want an unfair situation changed.  Thus, nonviolent resistance in its essence is a justice strategy, as is the call for negotiation, dialogue, arms limitation, and other approaches of seeking fairness.

In contrast, forgiveness in its essence is a moral virtue centered in mercy and love.  The primary goal of forgiveness is not the seeking of fairness, but instead to unconditionally love another or others, not because of what they have done, but in spite of this.  To be fair to forgiveness, it is not the case that forgiveness abandons the quest for justice.  Instead, people can and should bring justice alongside forgiving.  When they do so, we must be clear that the offer of forgiving is different from the request for a fair solution.

Second, when a person or group practices nonviolent resistance, forgiveness likely would aid this strategy because it quells resentment which could spill over to hatred and actions of hatred which would destroy the nonviolent strategy.  Forgiveness in this case is a secondary issue, not the primary one.  Justice-seeking is the primary issue.  In contrast, justice-seeking is an aid to forgiving so that the forgiver does not become weak or even abused by others’ continual injustices. Justice in this case is a secondary issue, not the primary one.  Unconditional love toward an offending person is the primary issue.

Third, while the virtue of love may be at the center of non-violent resistance, and certainly was the case for Martin Luther King, Jr. as seen in his soaring volume, Strength to Love, it need not be at the center for all who practice the nonviolence.  Perseverance might be the center for some, justice-seeking no matter what the consequence may be at the center for others, while loving one’s enemy may take center-stage for others.  The action itself (nonviolence) and keeping one’s eye on the goal (social change) can lead to different virtues dominating a given person’s thinking and acting.  In contrast, the virtue of love is always at the center of forgiving even if the forgiver never reaches this depth of understanding and practicing forgiving.

Nonviolent resistance and forgiveness share the following in common:

First, each is unconditional in that, no matter what the other does to thwart the practice, the forgiver and the nonviolent resister stand firm in their decision to either forgive or resist.  The others’ blows to the head did not deter Gandhi.  The other’s refusal to apologize or make restitution does not deter the forgiver, who may or may not reconcile depending on the degree of unfairness and the extent of any abuse.  The forgiver stands unconditionally in the offer of goodness toward those who are not being good to the forgiver.

Second, both have moral virtue at their center.

Third, each can effect social change as the one forgiven, for example, now sees the injustice, feels remorse, repents, and changes.  Nonviolent resistance historically has been shown to effect such change as the consciences of the powerful can be deeply affected as they continue their unjust ways in the face of the others’ peace.

Nonviolent resistance and forgiveness share commonalities, but they are not the same.  We need clarity when engaging in each so that they move forward well and with a deep understanding about what the forgiver or resister actually is doing.

Robert

On Persistence for Well-Being

To grow in any virtue is similar to building muscle in the gym through persistent hard work. We surely do not want to overdo anything, including the pursuit of fitness.

Yet, we must avoid underdoing it, too, if we are to continue to grow. It is the same with forgiveness. We need to be persistently developing our forgiveness muscles as we become forgivingly fit. This opportunity is now laid out before you. What will you choose? Will you choose a life of diversion, comfort, and pleasure, or the more exciting life of risking love, challenging yourself to forgive, and helping others in their forgiveness fitness?

Enright, Robert D. (2012-07-05). The Forgiving Life (APA Lifetools) (Kindle Locations 5359-5360). American Psychological Association. Kindle Edition.

Love Never Dies

Think about the love that one person has given to you some time in your life. That love is eternal. Love never dies.

If your mother gave you love 20 years ago, that love is still here and you can appropriate it, experience it, feel it.  If you think about it, the love that your deceased family members gave to you years ago is still right here with you.  Even though they passed on in a physical sense, they have left something of the eternal with you, to draw upon whenever you wish.

Now think about the love you have given to others. That love is eternal. Your love never dies. Your actions have consequences for love that will be on this earth long after you are gone.  If you hug a child today, that love, expressed in that hug, can be with that child 50 years from now. Something of you remains here on earth, something good.

Children should be prepared for this kind of thinking through forgiveness education, where they learn that all people have built-in or inherent worth.  One expression of forgiveness, one of its highest expressions, is to love those who have not loved us.  If we educate children in this way, then they may take the idea more seriously that the love given and received can continue……and continue.  It may help them to take more seriously such giving and receiving of love.

We need forgiveness education……now.

Robert

Can the Essence of Forgiveness Ever Be Altered?

Suppose that over time, a culture began to see forgiveness as simply moving on with a sense of tolerance. Have the people in that culture then changed what forgiveness is? After all, the current thinking in psychology and philosophy is that forgiveness is a moral virtue of goodness toward those who have been unjust.

I think it is impossible to alter the essence of forgiveness, no matter what happens in a particular culture or in a particular historical moment. We could, I suppose, see forgiveness as a relative concept, flexible in its meaning depending on the consensus of a group at a certain point in time, but that would be to invite error.

Here is what I mean: To label forgiveness as “moving on with a sense of tolerance” will mean that forgiveness is now equated with other terms, such as acquiescence and, as part of this definition, tolerance. Yet, forgiveness never gives in or acquiesces to wrong doing, but instead labels the wrong as wrong. Forgiveness never tolerates injustice but instead labels the injustice as unjust.

When it appears that a given group is defining forgiveness in an odd way, ask yourself this question: What else might this definition represent other than forgiveness? If you come up with a sound answer, then I urge you to stand firm in the truth of what forgiveness is, despite protests and even ad hominem attacks on you as a person.

Forgiveness is what it has been, what it is currently, and what it will be long after each one of us reading this post is gone from this world.

Robert

 

Helpful Forgiveness Hint

We sometimes think that those who hurt us have far more control over us than they actually do. We often measure our happiness or unhappiness by what has past-futurehappened in the past.

My challenges to you today are these: Your response of forgiveness now to the one who hurt you can set you free from a past influence that has been toxic. Try to measure your happiness by what you will do next (not by what is past). Your next move can be this–to love regardless of what others do to you.

Robert

Perseverance and Forgiveness

2002…. That is the year the International Forgiveness Institute began writing forgiveness education curriculum guides for teachers. We started with first grade classrooms in Belfast, Northern Ireland. When we started knocking on principals’ doors to discuss this life-giving project, we were met with skepticism.

“You will not last more than three years,” was what we heard consistently. Three years? Why three in particular?

Students at Hazelwood Integrated Primary School in Belfast.
Students at Hazelwood Integrated Primary School in Belfast.

“Because when people come from foreign lands to help Belfast, those well-meaning people never stay more than three years,” was the retort.

It became apparent that people go to Belfast with high expectations, great enthusiasm, and lots of adrenaline as they embark on their new adventure. Then the reality strikes. By year three the fatigue sets in, the streets of Belfast are all too familiar. It is now work and not adventure. Goodbye, Belfast!

The IFI has had a presence in Belfast for over 14 years now. So far, we have beaten the odds by staying, to date, almost five times longer than expected.

This issue of perseverance and endurance has me thinking. How can one Perseverancepreserve the idea of forgiveness in families, schools, places of worship, and places of employment? That seems easy……for about three years, but what about the next 10 or 20 or even 40 years?

How can forgiveness endure when there are so many diversions in life, so many new and good and novel ways to introduce new curricula to schools or new programs to businesses?

It takes a team and at least one person with an iron-clad will in the short-run. Forgiveness can too easily fade from the scene without this.

How will you preserve forgiveness in your own heart and in your most important relationships? How will you keep it from drifting out to sea, almost unnoticed as it fades? The first step is to realize that this can happen….and then not let it happen.

Robert

Why We Need Forgiveness Education…….NOW

“I was too busy trying to survive.  I did not have room to bring forgiveness into my world.”

ArgumentThese two sentences, spoken by someone who lived with an abusive partner for decades, is one of the strongest rationales I have ever read for forgiveness education, starting with 4-year-olds or 5-year-olds.
Do you see that the person, as an adult, did not have the energy and focus to add something new to her arsenal of survival?

What if forgiveness was a natural part of her survival arsenal starting at an early age?

We do this for learning how to speak and write coherent sentences.

We do this for learning how to add so that a budget can be maintained.

We do this for learning how to be just or fair as corrections and punishments are swift to come once one enters the school door and then misbehaves in the school setting.

I think it is tragic that educational institutions and societies fail to make forgiveness a PakistanChildrennatural part of life through early education. Isn’t a central point about education to help people make their way in society?  And isn’t a central point of making one’s way in society having the capacity to confront grave injustices and not be defeated by them?  And isn’t a central point of confronting grave injustices the knowledge of how to forgive?  And isn’t a central point of knowing how to forgive the thinking about forgiveness and the practice of it in safety, before the storm of evil hits?

And isn’t a central point of knowing forgiveness and practicing forgiveness to aid in the  survival of people who could be crushed by others’ cruelty?

Why do we spend time helping children learn to speak and write, learn essential mathematic skills, and be just…….but completely neglect teaching them how to overcome gHoly Family School-Belfastrave injustices?

Education in its essence will be fundamentally incomplete until educators fold into it the basic strategies for overcoming grave injustice and cruelty so that students, once they are adults, never have to say, “I was too busy trying to survive. I did not have room to bring forgiveness into my world.”

And the tragedy of this incompleteness is this: We now know scientifically-supported pathways to forgive. We have scientifically-tested forgiveness curricula for children and adolescents.

It is time to make “room to bring forgiveness into my world.”

Robert