The True Power Of Forgiveness

Ben White
Ben White

All of us has been hurt, offended and been wrongly treated by other people. We as humans have a great capacity to hurt others and be hurt in return but the ability to forgive and move on? It doesn’t come as easy. Sometimes we even wish vengeance or demand an apology.

Now, what I’m about to tell you is that we should never want that for other people and that individually, we shouldn’t require apology in order to heal and start anew. This is the model of forgiveness I propose to you. First, we need to determine what we aim to achieve when we undergo the process of forgiveness. I argue that we seek the ability to move forward from an offense that resulted into pain and grieving. We also aim to rid ourselves of the initial vengeance we want to act on when we are offended in order to not trap ourselves in the circle of vengeance and become connoisseurs of violence.

Charles L. Griswold is a Borden Parker Bowne Professor of Philosophy at Boston University and wrote the article “Forgiveness and Apology: What, When, Why?” At the beginning of the article, he recognizes that human beings have the tendency to hurt one another as this is our human nature. There are different degrees of offense and it follows too that we have the natural tendency to want to retaliate. Then he goes on to give his definition of forgiveness. It involves the victim renouncing their anger at the offender because they have, ideally, acknowledge responsibility for doing the offense, has committed to not be that same person, expressed regret to the victim and a narrative on how they came to committing the offense, how this does not define their character, and how one is changing for the better.

When the offender has taken these steps, the victim then no longer has any reason to harbor resentment.

Forgiveness then follows and the moral relationship between the two parties can start its healing process. Forgiveness to Griswold involves giving up revenge, letting go of moral hatred, and remembering the relevant facts of the offense. It is now evident that Griswold’s model of forgiveness is bilateral – requires active participation between the two parties and apology from the offender. Now, Griswold argues that this is the ideal method of forgiveness because it does not excuse – to not hold the offender responsible – nor condone – to permit the continuity of the offense. I think this is what most families of victims and people who had been wrongly mistreated asks for in return.

The model of forgiveness I propose is one that is derived from William Meninger, an American Trappist monk. This model is considered as unconditional forgiveness.

It’s one where the victim is not dependent on the offender in order to forgive.

You think, wait why am I not demanding anything from this person who has caused me insufferable and great pain? Am I excusing and condoning the offender by forgiving them even without the show of remorse, responsibility or initiative to apologize? The answer is no. Rather than an external and active participation between the two parties, unconditional forgiveness is purely internal and mostly concerned about overcoming moral hatred for one’s own being.

You may think that the claim that Meninger’s model as the ideal model of forgiveness is flawed and you’re probably leaning more towards Griswold’s but the thing is, we have to once again look at our end goal. You see, unconditional forgiveness may involve a different approach from the offender and the victim but the end goal is to release oneself from the circle of vengeance and to heal and move on from the injury thus it is the same in goal with Griswold’s bilateral forgiveness.

Everyone has a capacity to make mistakes and to hurt the people around which he acknowledges in the beginning of his article. If we keep this in mind as we undergo the process of forgiveness, we recognize that we are all capable of doing the same things and we shouldn’t require an acknowledgement from an offender in order to forgive. Desmond Tutu, another believer of unconditional forgiveness states “[a] human life is a great mixture of goodness, beauty, cruelty, heartbreak, indifference, love and so much more… this is not a belief. This is a fact.” If we keep this in mind, we realize that even though an offender has injured a person, his offense is not the defining factor of who he is. Therefore, his declaration of this is not essential. I know, it may seem hard to forgive the way Meninger proposes to forgive.

It definitely calls for a high morale and recognition that we are all just the same which is hard as we all tend to have egos and of course the overwhelming pain that the initial act has caused is far more strong.

But to forgive is a step taken in order to move on from an offense. And isn’t that our goal all along anyway?

We forgive in order to have that ability to move forward from the offense and to free oneself from the natural tendency to want to retaliate. In addition, the apology from the offender does not play a turning point in the process of forgiveness. It shouldn’t matter when an apology is given or not. The presence or absence of an apology can be because of various things – the offender had severe untreated mental illness and thus wasn’t completely aware of their actions, the offense could have been perpetuated by a youth who was reckless, the offense could have been an accident, the person who broke your heart and caused you pain may have had the best intentions even though it wasn’t apparent to you at the moment.

But should we let the absence of an apology halt our process of healing, to end the grieve we feel, and to move forward? Desmond Tutu says “[w]e don’t forgive for others. We forgive for ourselves. Forgiveness in other words is the best form of self-interest.” Forgiveness is to acknowledge that we have been wronged by someone and to let go of the natural instinct we feel to retaliate. Then and there, we will be able to move forward. TC mark

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