I don’t get it.  You say it is important to “give the other a gift” when we forgive.  Why the emphasis on gift-giving?

I emphasize gift-giving because that is part of the definition of what forgiveness is.  As we forgive, we give to the other, particularly the one who has hurt us.  Thus, to give a gift of some kind (perhaps a smile or a returned phone call) is to exercise the virtuous nature of forgiveness.

For additional information, see Forgiveness Defined.

Forgiveness, I have concluded, is ultimately a selfish act.  We do it for ourselves.  Comments on this?

There is a large difference between what forgiveness is and some of the consequences realized when we forgive.  One of the consequences of forgiving others is that we, ourselves, begin to feel better.  Yet, these more positive feelings toward the self are not what forgiveness actually is.  Forgiveness is a deliberate, self-chosen virtue of being good to those who are not good to us.  This, as you can see by the definition, is focused, not on the self, but instead on the other, on the one who hurt us.  Thus, forgiving is not a selfish act or even a self-interested act, but one of the consequences is that forgiving helps the self.  This is not selfish to want to feel better and at the same time we should not confuse what forgiveness is and one of its consequences.

For additional information, see Forgiveness Defined.

Should Forgiveness Education be required in school curricula for kindergarten through grade 12?

Let me start with a question: What is the major purpose of education?  Is it to prepare the student well for adult life?  If so, how are we now preparing students to confront and overcome the grave injustices against them that can rob them of their happiness and even lead to their displacing their discontentments onto others?  I think this overcoming of deep resentment happens only through forgiving.  What is more important: learning how to balance a checkbook or overcoming deep resentments that could kill a person?  The answer to this question, then, leads to my answer to your question: Yes, if education is to help people prepare for the rigors of adulthood, then it is wise to bring forgiveness education into school curricula.

For additional information, see Kids Are Smarter Than You Think.

South Korean Leader Begs Forgiveness for his Role in Spreading Coronavirus Disease

BBC News, South Korea – The leader of a religious sect in South Korea has publicly apologized and begged forgiveness for the role he and his followers played in spreading the coronavirus (COVID-19) to thousands of others there. 

“I would like to offer my sincere apology to the people on behalf of the members,” said Lee Man-hee, head of the Shincheonji Church of Jesus, a new religious movement (NRM) group. “We did our best but weren’t able to contain it fully.”

Lee Man-hee, head of the Shincheonji Church of Jesus in South Korea, bows down in apology following accusations by South Korean officials of spreading the coronavirus epidemic.

Wearing a white mask and fogged glasses, the 88-year-old Lee suddenly stood up in the middle of reading his remarks at a hastily-arranged news conference outside the Shincheonji Church in  Gapyeong on March 3rd. He twice silently knelt beside the desk he was seated at and bowed his head to the ground over clasped hands, a significant gesture of contrition in Korean custom.

According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention in Seoul, 57% of all patients infected with the coronavirus in South Korea were affiliated with the religion that Lee founded in 1984.

Lee is the charismatic, self-proclaimed messiah (“the second coming of Jesus”) of the church he founded in 1984. He has been widely criticized for failing to do enough to stop the virus after one of its members tested positive and infected many others.

A 61-year-old female church member developed a fever on February 10 but refused to be tested until a week later. By that time, she had participated in at least two services (along with more than 1,000 other followers) at a Shincheonji Church in the city of Daegu. She also traveled to crowded spots in the capital of Seoul (metro population of 25.6 million) before she contacted a hospital to get tested.

The next day, Feb. 18, health authorities announced she was the country’s 31st confirmed coronavirus case. After that, the number of confirmed cases in South Korea skyrocketed with the majority in the region of Daegu. As of March 22, the country had recorded 8,961 confirmed coronavirus cases (75% of them in Daegu) and 111 deaths, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention in Seoul.

“I don’t know how this happened, but we will make utmost of efforts, and we are aware that we were wrong,” Lee said at the news conference. “We thank the government for making efforts when what we had tried to stop the coronavirus spread wasn’t enough.”

South Korean soldiers spray disinfectant in front of a branch of the Shincheonji Church of Jesus in Daegu last week. Some government officials are calling for the sect to be dissolved and its founder to be charged with “murder through willful negligence.”

Lee’s news conference came after Seoul’s mayor filed a criminal complaint asking for an investigation into Lee and other church leaders on charges including murder for their failure to cooperate with health officials. Lee had previously called coronavirus the “devil’s deed” designed to stop his church’s growth (he claims about 200,000 followers in South Korea) but, following government orders, he has closed all of the church’s 74 sanctuaries around the country.

South Korean President Moon Jae-in has declared the city of Daegu and parts of the surrounding province as “special disaster zones” because of the unusually high number of confirmed cases in that area. Growing anger over the sect’s handling of the outbreak has sparked a petition calling for the church to be disbanded. Nearly 1.2 million people have already signed it.

Meanwhile, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (Washington, DC) recommends that travelers avoid all nonessential travel to South Korea. For an update on the worldwide pandemic, please scroll down to see the article Tracking the Global Coronavirus Outbreak.

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I tried to expand my perspective of the one who hurt me. When I did this, I truly saw all sorts of hurts in this person.  Do you know what effect this had on me?  It made me not like myself because I now ask this: “How could I not have seen all of this before?” I think I am stupid and so now I am not liking myself very much. Help!

Let us take comfort from Aristotle here.  This ancient Greek philosopher instructed us that it takes much time and effort to grow in each of the moral virtues such as justice, patience,  kindness, and forgiveness.  None of us is perfect as we try to exercise any of these virtues.  As part of the process of growing in the moral virtue of forgiveness, we are challenged to take this wider perspective on those who have been unjust to us.

I have found that it is quite rare for people to take this wider perspective without some instruction.  So, please be gentle with yourself.  You still are growing in this moral virtue.  You cannot be expected to be perfect in this process. So, as you take this longer perspective on the one who hurt you, please try to be encouraged that you, like most of the rest of us, do not automatically generate such thinking.

Therefore, you definitely are not, in your word, “stupid.” We are all on this journey of discovery and it is all right that we are not perfect at this point.  In fact, Aristotle counsels us that we never reach full perfection in any of the moral virtues.

For additional information, see Learning to Forgive Others.

Can forgiveness restore a person’s sense of hope for a better future?

Yes, this can happen and here is one example.  A study by Hansen and Enright (2009) was done with elderly women in hospice.  Each had about 6 months to live. We screened the participants so that each of them had been hurt deeply in the past by a family member and each participant still was not forgiving.  This was our shortest forgiveness intervention ever, 4 weeks.  It was short because the life-span expectancy was short for each of the courageous women who volunteered for the study.  At the end of the study, those who had the forgiveness intervention increased statistically significantly in forgiveness toward the family member(s) and in hope for the future.  Some of the participants called their family to their bedside and talked about forgiveness and reconciliation in the family.  Why did hope increase significantly?  I think this occurred because the participants now knew that they were leaving their family in a much better position, a place of forgiveness and harmony.

Here is the reference to that research:

Hansen, M.J., Enright. R.D., Baskin, T.W., & Klatt, J. (2009).  A palliative care intervention in forgiveness therapy for elderly terminally-ill cancer patients. Journal of Palliative Care, 25, 51-60. Click here to read the full study.

Can we forgive sociopaths, those who seem to lack all empathy and so just can’t help their crimes?

I find your question fascinating because it has a hidden philosophical assumption.  You see sociopathy as a disease, similar to a physical disease, in which the person “just can’t help” the behavior.  While it may be the case that some who show this lack of empathy may have brain abnormalities, it is conceivable that many others have become non-empathic because of a slow accumulation of free-will decisions made over the course of the person’s life.  In other words, the idea of “just can’t help” it may be occurring now because of choices made that deliberately hurt others, with a knowledge that it was hurting them.  So, yes, you should be able to forgive those who show sociopathy.

For additional information, see Why Forgive?