Live and let live, forget and forgive.

Seldom do people dispute that we should; but when someone wrongs us, we may find ourselves asking: how?

What is forgiveness?

Is it something you give to someone? “I forgive you.” with emphasis on you. To erase their guilt, to accept their apologies, to unburden their hearts, to clear their name? Forgiveness happens when someone asks for it.

Is it something within oneself, something you come to terms with in your own head? “I forgive you.” with emphasis on I. A mental act of letting go of anger, grievances, blame, independent of the party who wronged you? Forgiveness happens when you decide to forgive.

If someone does not admit to wrong doing, does it make sense to say you forgive them?
I’m imagining an unrepentant murderer; Who could say they forgive him?
Conversely, I imagine someone telling me that they ‘forgive me’ for something I did which I believed was the right thing to do; I’d feel like giving his holier-than-thou face a slap.

Yet this phrase comes to mind, “Father forgive them, for they know not what they do.” and it does not seem incoherent either: You’d surely forgive a young child who colours on expensive wallpaper regardless of whether the child is remorseful.

Is the emphasis then on ‘knowing what they do’? Wrong-doing in ignorance is immediately forgiven, full blame cannot be assigned.

Does forgiving take away blame? what about responsibility? He is surely responsible for his actions, even if he did not mean them, or did not anticipate the outcome. Does forgiving leave taking responsibility where it is (he still needs to help clean up the mess and do right by the victim) while lifting blame? Or does it simultaneously lift both? For surely one will not take responsibility if they fail to acknowledge they were in the wrong, due to ignorance or otherwise.

Someone in an abusive relationship keeps forgiving, and going back. Can you forgive, but not go back? Can you forgive, but still hold him responsible, still hold him to blame?

What does it mean to forgive?

5 thoughts on “Forgiveness

  1. Pingback: Burn the other cheek? « Salem Witch Hunt

  2. To my mind, forgiveness seems to be intrinsically linked to morality and our understanding of it. Forgiveness comes with the implication that wrongdoing has occured with a degree of harm attached to the forgiver. Whether that harm be physical or emotional does not matter – a bruise or an emotional scar, it’s still harm. Perhaps the larger question is with regards to the degree of harm, and the subsequent susceptibility of the individual to these different types of harm.

    With regards to your examples of the placement of forgiveness and it’s role in the human psyche, whether it’s something ‘given’ or something ‘accepted’, I personally feel it’s two separate issues for separate actors. For the forgiver, it’s more a sense of emotional resolution, to let go of the hate and move on with life. For the forgivee, it’s a cleansing of guilt – assuming of course, that guilt exists in the first place.

    Which brings us to the question: in what situations do we feel that forgiveness is necessary? I believe that J S Mill’s consideration of the harm principle allows us to effectively locate hard evidence of harm that should definitely procure an apology. Emotional damage is far more tricky to locate and quantify, and really is the result of culture, and an individual’s understanding of it. Society’s role in enforcing these soft rules cannot be left aside either, as society sets the boundaries for individuals through a constant, fluid interaction that creates an unofficial honor code.

    However, sometimes, individuals can have a cleavage of understanding with regards to these issues and the harm they cause to others, because they do not feel it themselves. As much as society has an influence, it does not make us into mindless drones. Discrepencies exist within the psyche, especially with regards to personal matters. Personal space and the freedom for beliefs allows things like love and affection, or family interactions to have wildly different expectations across the board. What would seem normal to one, would be very different to another in this aspect, and thus creates the conflictual nature of relationships in my opinion.

    I strongly feel that morals have a large role to play in all of this, as it’s always a wonder where our morals come from, and whether they are truly ‘right’. Is there really ‘right vs wrong’ in our world? Or are they just social constructs to keep society in order and prevents physical conflict (although it ironically creates emotional conflict). Moral ambiguity is something I’m sure we’re familiar with, but what if it was applied to everything we do? That everything is morally ambiguous when you conflate the major moral authorities of the world together and find situations where it is impossible to be right or wrong?

    That, I believe is the anarchic moral world that we have tried to avoid via notions of nobility, loyalty, honor. The implicit value we’ve placed on these terms gives us a psychological feeling of triumph upon doing the ‘right’ thing (according to a particular moral discipline, of course). We teach it to others to simplify the world, to allow for effective communication and understanding of each other.

    Thus, forgiveness really depends a lot upon whether one side feels he/she has done the ‘right’ thing, and individuals really do not have the scope for full understandings of each other. There would always be a cleavage of understanding, of information from one individual to another, making it difficult for blame and guilt to always exist in the form we expect it to be. The experience of one person is very much different from another, and it’s this gap between us that causes conflicts of morals and the perception of forgiveness.

    You mentioned the ‘holier-than-thou’ forgiveness earlier, I believe, and it’s really part and parcel of what I’m saying here. According to a major moral discipline, you’ve committed wrongdoing. To you, you doubt it is the case due to personal beliefs in a moral system, and dispute it. However, this parallels the case of the unrepentant murderer except in the form of degree and evidence of harm caused. If you don’t believe you’ve done anything wrong, it’s an insult to be forgiven.

    Will we ever reach a common understanding of morals? Will others stop telling us we’re ignorant and that they forgive us for our failings (kinda the moral white man’s burden here) and that we have to mature intellectually via moral education on their terms?

    Probably not. And this will rage on because people are different and culture is fluid. True forgiveness will only come from a perfect understanding between people, from a remarkable closeness and communication – a soulmate in life. From my perspective, anything less still works, but remains only skin-deep. It covers the cracks and keeps the majority of lives going, but the cracks will always remain, and the scars in our hearts will never heal.

    • haha thanks again for the epic essay-comment. It is longer than my actual post!

      ” For the forgiver, it’s more a sense of emotional resolution, to let go of the hate and move on with life. For the forgivee, it’s a cleansing of guilt – assuming of course, that guilt exists in the first place.”

      I suppose my main question was… does the concept of forgive require of just one of these, or always both? is one of these aspects more important than the other? can a ‘one-sided’ forgiveness exist, and is that truly forgiveness?

      And i suppose what you’re saying is that true forgiveness is where both aspects exist equally strongly. And this can only result when both parties truly understand each other AND share the same moral values. But that’s rare. so… in reality all forgiving might fall short of this.

      But even if imperfect with unequal aspects, surely most cases of forgiving still involve both ‘giving’ and ‘accepting’. so what about the extremities, is it coherent to forgive someone who thinks they’ve done no wrong?

      (also. “. It covers the cracks and keeps the majority of lives going, but the cracks will always remain, and the scars in our hearts will never heal.” awwww. so jaded. haha.)

  3. Well, overall I believe forgiveness is essentially one-sided. It’s rarely balanced, and an individual generally will inevitably gain more from it than another. So, it’s definitely not equal because you’re dealing with different emotions and interpretations – in my view of course.

    Rather, I see it more as a form of social-moral lubricant. As a link between cultures and people to allow for amicable social interaction. It keeps societies running and relatively conflict-free due to the dispensing of negative emotions such as anger and guilt, ridding the need for vengeance. Overall, it’s a rather superficial system, but one that works for the individual – and that’s significant enough. It’s highly efficient in diffusing situations and allowing people to go on with life, but yet it’s so difficult because we want it to be sincere.

    I guess we all try to have a deeper understanding of forgiveness and the implications of it on us and those who have need for our forgiveness, but I believe there comes a threshold of human understanding where we are able to accept this forgiveness for the good of both us and the other individual. It will never be a complete understanding, since we feel aggrieved to different extents and look to different moral systems, but as long as we see an understanding on the part of the other and are willing to extend that forgiveness to move on, I think we’re doing fine.

    After all, we can never fully understand what another person’s going through. Words are not enough, and there’s little point in second-guessing the other. Forgiveness thus comes in handy as a conflict resolution technique. It’s not perfect in the sense that a person gains full absolution (because he/she does not fully understand the problem), but it works perfectly by letting society continue to function

  4. Pingback: Two one-way streets | Raintree Branches

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