So often when I talk with people who have suffered severe injustices, they are not ready to forgive. This is a normal reaction because a time of anger and adjustment to what happened is important. Forgiveness never should be rushed or pushed onto anyone. To the injured does the decision to forgive belong.
Within the past few weeks, I was talking with a teenager who lives under very trying circumstances. He lives on the West Coast of the United States. He has a history of violence against others because “this is the way you survive,” he told me. “Forgiveness is a sign of weakness,” he added. “You just can’t imagine what my family would say if I came home and proclaimed that I am forgiving those who hurt me. They would get a big laugh out of this.”
Yet, his strategies are not necessarily working for him. He is in a special program and could be expelled from his school and even from his school district. Three of his relatives are in maximum security prison. I hope we can keep him from following them.
In many of my writings, I make the point that when you forgive, you also should seek justice from the one who hurt you. As an example, if someone continually verbally abuses you, it is good to ask that person to stop the abuse.
One person recently asked me if he now must—-must—-seek justice even if it is not expedient or helpful to do so. As an example, suppose you have a boss who is annoying but not abusive. Suppose further that your pointing out the annoyances will harm your position in the company. Are you morally obligated to seek justice as you forgive? No. As with your choice to forgive or not, it is your choice whether or not to seek justice.
We need to keep a balance here. There is no rule that says when you forgive you must not seek justice. There is no rule that says when you forgive you must seek justice.
Instead, use your wisdom and sense of fairness as you ask yourself: Should I be seeking justice in this particular case?
If seeking justice is the reasonable option, it may be best first to forgive so that you do not approach with deep anger the person from whom you will be asking fairness.
I was reflecting on all of the disorder within schools during 2015 and 2016. It has been reported that there were 35 shootings at schools in the United States in this two-year period. Think about that for a moment. The context of the shootings centers on innocent children, adolescents, and young adults (at universities) who are unarmed and innocent.
How many family break-ups were there in 2015-16 or acts of bullying that cut deeply into the very being of those bullied?
Forgiveness is a profound response to disorder. What do you think? Do you think any of those school shootings would have happened if the ones responsible for the mayhem had practiced forgiveness and rightly ordered their emotions from rage to calm?
What do you think? Do you think all of the family break-ups would have happened if both sides of the conflict practiced forgiveness? And perhaps the forgiveness needed to be toward people from years before because our left-over anger from childhood can follow us into adulthood and strike the innocent.
Forgiveness likely could have averted some of those break-ups if forgiveness toward each other in the present and toward parents from the past had been practiced. Forgiveness could have restored order……..and prevented disorder.
The same theme applies to bullying. If those who bully could only forgive those who have abused them, would the bullying continue or would the behavior become more orderly, more civil?
Forgiveness is one of the most powerful forces on the planet for restoring order within an injured self, within relationships, and within and between communities. Forgiveness is one of the most powerful forces on the planet for preventing disorder.
What do you think? Do you think that forgiveness could save our planet from destruction by enraged people with the weaponry to destroy?Forgiveness is about order, protection, wholeness, and love.
It is time for individuals and communities to see this and to have the courage to bring forgiveness into the light….to restore and then enhance order while it destroys disorder.
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 under-doing 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.
When we are treated deeply unjustly by others, we have a tendency to be wounded in at least eight ways. First is the injustice itself. Second is the emotional reaction, such as considerable anger or frustration or sadness. Third, we sometimes feel shame because others are looking and wondering. Fourth, all of the above can make us tired. Fifth, we sometimes can’t stop thinking about what happened. Sixth, as we compare ourselves to the one who hurt us, we see ourselves as coming up short. Seventh, we sometimes have to make unwanted changes in our lives. And eighth, we drift into pessimism.
One injustice, eight wounds. Now, suppose one person hurt you deeply 20 times. That is 20 X 8 = 160 wounds you are carrying around inside of you.
Suppose further that 5 other people have hurt you 10 times each……just wait a minute., please….doing the math here……That is 400 more wounds. Adding the first person who hurt you to the other five who hurt you and look. You are carrying around at least 560 wounds inside of you.
Injustice has a way of making us round-shouldered if you think about it. But be of good cheer. Forgiveness properly practiced can eliminate most of these wounds, allowing you to stand up straight perhaps for the first time in years.
Do the math…..then please consider forgiving.
When you self-forgive you are struggling to love yourself when you are not feeling lovable because of your actions. You are offering to yourself what you offer to others who have hurt you: a sense that you have inherent worth, despite your actions, that you are more than your actions, that you can and should honor yourself as a person even if you are imperfect, and that you did wrong and need to correct that wrong done to other people.
In self-forgiveness you never (as far as I have ever seen) offend yourself alone. You also offend others and so part of self-forgiveness is to deliberately engage in seeking forgiveness from those others and righting the wrongs (as best you can under the circumstances) that you did toward others. Thus, we have two differences between forgiving others and forgiving the self. In the latter, you seek forgiveness from those hurt by your actions and you strive for justice toward them.
Editor’s Note: Learn more about self-forgiveness in either of Dr. Enright’s books 8 Keys to Forgiveness or Forgiveness Is a Choice.
Yes, we have read parts of Fr. Hurd’s book on the topic of forgiveness. We would recommend it as a Catholic source. Also, if you are interested, Dr. Enright has a short paper (8 pages) on this same topic. If you request this from us, we will send a copy by email to you. Click this link for a review of Fr. Hurd’s book “Forgiveness: A Catholic Approach.”