“Post-Truth” and Forgiveness: Is Forgiveness Objectively True or Relative to Us All?

…..And so, the award for best word goes to……..”post-truth.”

Thus speaketh The Oxford Dictionaries in assigning “post-truth” as the word of the year.word-of-the-year3

We start with a half truth here because, well, “post-truth” is two words, not one.

Even so, this award raises questions such as this:  If there is such a thing as post-truth (or placing the narrative or emotions above what is actually true) then does it follow that the term forgiveness itself is not objectively true?  Might forgiveness mean whatever people in certain communities or cultures say that it is?

We do not think so.  If you examine Chapter 15 of the book, Forgiveness Therapy (Enright & Fitzgibbons, 2015), you will see that the meaning of forgiveness does not differ in its essence across spiritual and philosophical traditions from West to East.  Yes, there are different religious and cultural rituals surrounding what it means to offer forgiveness, but the term itself still means the offering of goodness toward those who are not good to us.

If you examine Chapter 13 of the same book, you will see that when researchers try to measure the degree to which people forgive others, then you will find that regardless of the various cultures studied (again, factsacross West, Middle East, and East), research participants tend to mean the same thing when they use the word forgiving.

While there certainly are “post-truth” narratives that attempt to persuade and to convince, regardless of the truth, rhetoric will never win the day entirely.  Why? It is because there are essences to certain things……and forgiveness happens to be one of them.

Long live forgiveness…..may it outlive the fad of the “post-truth” attempt at power over truth-seeking.


What Is Forgiveness Therapy?

Forgiveness therapy is a way for both client and therapist to examine those situations in which the client was or is treated unfairly for the express purpose of helping the person to understand the offender; to forgiveness-therapylearn to slowly let go of anger with this person; and, over time, to make a moral response of goodness toward the offender or offenders. This process may require many months or even years.

Forgiveness therapy does not ignore the client and his or her needs. On the contrary, the paradox is that as the client or patient takes the light ofdo-no-harm2 scrutiny off of self and places it in a moral way on the offenders in his or her life, it is the client who is healed. As readers will see, our emphasis on a “moral” response is vital for understanding forgiveness therapy. There is nothing novel about forgiveness therapy if it reduces simply to “moving on” or “adjusting.” There is much that is novel about it when the therapist challenges the client to “have compassion” and “do no harm” regarding a person with whom he or she is angry and frustrated.


Enright, Robert D.; Fitzgibbons, Richard P. (2014-11-17). Forgiveness Therapy (Kindle Locations 164-171). American Psychological Association (APA). Kindle Edition.

Leaving a Legacy of Love in the World

Think about this: Long after you are gone, your love could be alive and well and living on this earth in the minds, hearts, and beings of others. You can begin to leave a legacy of love by how you live this very day. In all likelihood, you will meet others today. If your heart is filled with love rather than with bitterness, it will be much easier to pass that love to legacy-of-loveothers. Do you see why it is so important to forgive? You are given the joyous opportunity to shed bitterness and put love in its place for the one who hurt you and then more widely to many, many others, as you are freed to love more deeply and more widely. The meaning and purpose of your life are intimately tied to this decision to leave a legacy of love.

Enright, Robert (2015-09-28). 8 Keys to Forgiveness (8 Keys to Mental Health) (p. 225). W. W. Norton & Company. Kindle Edition.

Is the Definition of Forgiveness Only the Reduction of Resentment?

The philosopher McGary (1989) argued that forgiveness is nothing more than reducing resentment toward an offender. Unlike the ideas discussed previously, this is not a view of the reduction as passive and time dependent. His definition of forgiving is consistent with the first of our two-part definition covered in the previous chapter. Yet, McGary argued against adding the second part to the definition— that of a more compassionate and empathic stance toward the person. What is intriguing about his argument is that he manages to keep forgiveness within the moral realm as he takes the concept away from a sympathetic focus on the offender. McGary’s (1989) argument goes something like this. As a person gives up resentment, he or she can be motivated by the desire to be rid of negative emotions and by the desire to improve his or her relationships with people other than the offender.

McGary is aware of the psychological defense of displacement in which an angry person kicks the cat or yells at the children. Forgiving, as he defined it, is moral because the cat and the children have more peaceful environs as the person forgives. What is missing from the definition is anything approaching a moral sense toward the offender. A client may cease resentment4resentment but then have a cool detachment toward the offender. Giving up resentment by itself is not necessarily moral, especially if it is not done on behalf of the offender for his or her good. For example, Alice may cease resenting Seth because she concludes that he is not worth the trouble. She may see him as morally unredeemable and incorrigible. Is she forgiving Seth as she judges him this way?


Enright, Robert D.; Fitzgibbons, Richard P. (2014-11-17). Forgiveness Therapy (Kindle Locations 963-971). American Psychological Association (APA). Kindle Edition.

Enright, Robert D.; Fitzgibbons, Richard P. (2014-11-17). Forgiveness Therapy (Kindle Locations 959-963). American Psychological Association (APA). Kindle Edition.


Love Is Stronger than Cruelty, Persecution, and Oppression

That is the basic and profound message of the act of forgiving. The other is cruel to me.  This will not take away my humanity. I will strive to love that person nonetheless. The other is persecuting me, depriving me of my rights, insulting and belittling me. This will not stop me from loving the other, from seeing the other’s humanity, from offering her a better more-love-less-hateway. The other oppresses me with his power. He dominates me and treats me as being far less than him. I will not do the same back to him. Instead, I will try to love and not lose my humanity in the process, nor will I lose the perspective of her full humanity.

Yes, I will protect myself by not reconciling as he exercises cruelty or persecution or oppression. I will bring forgiveness alongside justice and never give up striving for fairness. Throughout this struggle, I will continue to love because to forgive on its highest level is to love. Love is stronger than cruelty, persecution, and oppression.


When Evil Seems to Be Having Its Way

Lance Morrow: “Evil possesses an instinct for theater, which is why, in an era of gaudy and gifted media, evil may vastly magnify its damage by the power of horrific images.”      If this is true, we need forgiveness all the more in our times.

good-vs-evilForgiveness is not justice and therefore focuses on effects, not direct solutions to injustice.  When injustice reigns, it surely is the duty of communities to exercise justice to counter that which is unjust.

Yet, what then of the effects of the injustice?  Will the quest for and the establishment of justice in societies suffice to cure the broken heart?  We think not and this is where forgiveness is needed for those who choose it.

Is there a better way of destroying the damaging effects of evil than forgiveness?  As a mode of peace, forgiveness is a paradox because at the same time it is a weapon, one that fights against the ravages of evil.  By destroying resentment, forgiveness is a protection for individuals, families, groups, and societies.


Two Truths of Forgiveness

Let us not allow one truth of forgiveness to obscure another of its truths.


One truth seems to be this: When we forgive, we often suffer. We bear pain on behalf of the one who hurt us, as one example of how we suffer as we forgive.

A second truth of forgiveness is this: As we forgive, we experience joy. We see this in our scientific studies, as people shed anxiety and anger and depression and become more hopeful.

Suffering and joy—-together. Enjoy the forgiveness journey.