Let us forgive…
By your leave, I’m going to deviate from my usual diet of politics and such and focus on a topic that is more personal, more intimate yet just as important as (community-based or partisan) politics: forgiveness. This came about due to my propensity to be a metiche (nosy, busybody).
I was in a grocery store that has a coffee shop, with an open area with small tables for customers to drink their coffee, visit, etc. I was by there and overheard two gentlemen talking about forgiveness. Intrigued, I pretended to be looking for something in the area so as to be able to eavesdrop (i.e., be a metiche). Although, to be clear, their conversation was not private. They were talking in a normal tone of voice, audible to everyone around them.
After I left the store, I mentally reviewed the gentlemen’s conversation, and I concluded that they complicated the issue too much. They approached the issue from a variety of angles: who deserves forgiveness and who doesn’t, the “kinds” of forgiveness, etc. I believe forgiveness is a very simple notion—ironically, so simple it seems people don’t practice it often these days.
Having been raised in a traditional Catholic home, I – like many, many others, I’m sure – tended to view the notion of forgiveness from a religious perspective. A key phrase in the Lord’s Prayer, which I learned as a child, is, “And forgive us our trespasses as we forgive those who trespass against us.” And while dying on the cross, Jesus asks his father to “Forgive them for they know not what they do.” The Catholic Sacrament of Confession is predicated on the notion of forgiveness, i.e., confess your sins and you will be forgiven.
Perspectives on forgiveness…
Generally, Christian teachings are that when someone hurts us, we are under an obligation to God to forgive that person. In Matthew 6:14-15, for example, Jesus is quoted as saying, “For if you forgive other people when they sin against you, your heavenly Father will also forgive you. But if you do not forgive others their sins, your Father will not forgive your sins.” In essence, forgiveness is a quid pro quo: if we receive forgiveness from God, we must give it to those who hurt us. We cannot hold grudges or seek revenge. (What Is Forgiveness According to the Bible?, Jack Zavada, Learn Religions, February 11, 2020)
The concept of forgiveness is also an integral aspect in other religious systems such as Judaism and Islam.
But religious folk are not the only ones who traffic in forgiveness. Psychologists look at forgiveness through a therapeutic lens. To them, forgiveness is a conscious, deliberate decision to let go feelings of resentment toward or desire for vengeance against someone who has harmed you. Which, by their lights, is good for one’s mental health.
They make clear, however, that when you forgive, you do not minimize, gloss over, or deny the seriousness of an offense against you. Forgiveness does not mean forgetting, nor does it mean condoning or excusing offenses. (What Is Forgiveness? Greater Good Magazine, Science-Based Insights For A Meaningful Life, February 5, 2020)
The field of philosophy views forgiveness as an existential matter, as a two-party interaction involving a wrongdoer and a wronged party. This two-party relation-interaction is posited as a way in which victims of wrongdoing change both their own status as well as that of the wrongdoer by acknowledging yet moving past a moral transgression. In this realm, forgiveness involves the giving up of certain negative emotions towards the wrongdoer, the forbearance of negative reactions against the wrongdoer, and maybe even the restoration of the relationship with the wrongdoer. (Forgiveness, Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy, May 31, 2017)
I’m not a theologian (or even a regular church goer), a psychologist, or a philosopher, but all the above perspectives make sense and serve their purpose in their respective contexts.
Still and all, maybe I’m being simplistic, but I view forgiveness as a straightforward thing. You do something that is hurtful to someone, you ask them to forgive you. Simple, straightforward, maybe, yet one of the most difficult things in the world to do. I’ll be the first to admit that I’ve done a lot of forgiving but not quite enough asking for forgiveness. Writing this blog may stimulate me in that direction.
Some have it right, others don’t…
Alcoholics Anonymous, which has integrated forgiveness into its 12 Step regimen, seems to have it right. At some point during the 12-step process, participants make up a list of people whom they have hurt in some fashion and from whom they need to ask forgiveness. Then they contact the persons they hurt and ask for forgiveness. Over the years, I’ve received several of these calls. They are powerful. There is usually a burst of emotion when, after a back-and-forth dialogue, I tell the person who called me that I genuinely forgive him or her,
What I see a lot of, especially in the realm of politics and related matters, is apologizing. And half of this is phony—“If anyone was offended by what I said (or did), I apologize.” That’s nowhere near being a true act of asking for forgiveness. An apology, even a legitimate one, is not the same as asking for forgiveness. It is in essence simply saying “I’m sorry.” A good thing to do, to be sure, but not in the same league as true forgiveness asking.
Take a minute or two to think of the many relationships—in the workplace, at church, in politics, in volunteer organizations you may belong to, in friendships, in families, etc.—that could benefit from the practice of a bit of forgiveness. Some may even involve you. Instead of letting the moment slip away, why not go out and engage in some forgiveness? c/s
Copyright 2020 by Salomon Baldenegro. To write Salomon go to: firstname.lastname@example.org