This is one of those words with multiple connotations.  Unfortunately, it has fewer definitions.

Some people think forgiveness means, “I don’t want to be burdened by this any more,” that being a variation of “I am tired of being mad.”   They’re wrong.  No matter how popular it is to associate the idea of forgiveness with the idea of putting it all behind you, they are distinctly different things.

We all wrong one another from time to time.  Forgiveness does not mean reconciliation of disagreement, refraining from biased judgment, or excusing the behavior of those who don’t know better.  If your toddler flailed and pulled your earring right through your ear, would you make a big deal out of forgiving him?  Obviously not.  At least, I hope not; that would be silly.  Forgiveness takes place when there is a real debt, i.e., something to forgive.  And there are times when it is for the best.  We may not ask for grace if we give none.   If someone wrongs you unintentionally, apologizes, and asks for forgiveness, is there any reason not to grant it?  And I mean grant it promptly and with good heart, holding no grudge whatsoever.  I can’t think of one.  Forgiveness is such a forgone conclusion that it’s almost a non-issue.

The sticky part is when someone wrongs you deliberately.  What if that person took pleasure in it, and would do it again if he could?  Some say he should still be forgiven, “because it’s crucial to the healing process.”  Bull.  The essential function of forgiveness, the true definition, is the eradication of debt, making it as if it never was.  Annulling it.  But I tell you three times:  condoning bad behavior is collaborating with it.  How do you heal if you don’t acknowledge that wrong was done?  How does it help the victim to see a perpetrator go unpunished?  It sends a message to you (and to the world, and especially to the perpetrator) that it’s okay for people to hurt you.  If a person deliberately hurts you, then telling him what he did doesn’t matter, tells you your wounds don’t matter, and that it’s okay to do what he did.  It doesn’t make your wounds go away.  Pretending the whole thing never happened works like a champ in the short term, but it always comes back more powerfully later.  It’s not a ghost rattling chains in the attic; it’s the fucking Amityville Horror.

Moreover, check the reverse angle:  if someone rapes you, and you decide to forgive him, you decide not to hold him accountable, do you really think you’ll be the last person he ever rapes?  Will you be glad you decided to do nothing to stop him?  Will he have to rape someone else before you feel as if he should be stopped?  What if your rape could have been prevented by his last victim holding him accountable?  Would you wish she had done something when it was her turn, to save you from yours?

Some Jews believe that forgiveness involves steps taken by both sides.  First, the perpetrator must acknowledge that what he did was wrong.  Then, he has to make a public apology.  He must express his sincere remorse, and repent of the action; reparations may be in order.  Last, he must ask for forgiveness.  The victim should give this request sincere consideration, and then decide whether or not to forgive.  There is no obligation to forgive someone’s crime against you.  If the perpetrator has made the full request in good faith, it’s great if you can forgive — but if you can’t honestly eradicate that debt, and go forward with no grudge and no injury, it’s unfair and inappropriate to offer forgiveness.

That, I can get behind.  That accommodates the truth of the situation.  And it doesn’t place a social or religious stigma on the victim, of all people, to kiss the hand that beats her.

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