Forgiveness Is A Prerogative

Forgiveness Is A Prerogative

Vijai P. Sharma, Ph.D

An informal survey observes that seven out of ten people are not on "talking terms" with at least one close relative or friend for something that happened in the past.

Unresolved anger and hurt has alienated parents from their grown up children, brothers from sisters and close friends from one another. The grievance that simply wouldn't go away has continued to rob them of true happiness. A vacuum in life they can't fill and a hurdle they can't jump.

We feel justified in holding a grudge. We tend to blame the other party for not making the necessary reparation, taking the first step to thaw the ice or offering a sincere apology.

Forgiveness is the answer for such woes. Forgiveness can heal countless fractured relationships, reunite estranged parents, siblings and friends and restore happiness on all sides.

Forgiveness has always been a part of religious education in many societies. Why not teach it in schools and colleges as well? Make it a part of the social science curriculum along with character education, conflict resolution or survival skills. It is encouraging to note that behavioral scientists are giving the matter more attention. Perhaps, it should be included in all health education programs.

How should we define "forgiveness?" An idealized view of forgiveness may sound noble and angelic, but it can discourage some aggrieved individuals to even consider forgiveness. For instance, forgiveness expert James North defines forgiveness as an act when an injured person is able to view the wrongdoer with compassion, benevolence and love while recognizing that he or she has willfully abandoned his or her right to them.

"Compassion, benevolence and love?" In some cases, these may not be attainable or even desirable. Asking or expecting them from a victim may sometimes be insensitive.

Forgiveness researchers Robert Enright and Catherine Coyle say forgiveness means that a person who has suffered an unjust injury chooses to abandon his or her right to resentment and retaliation, and instead offers mercy to the offender.

This might be a better way to define what forgiveness is and what it's not.

To forgive never implies that the actions of the offender in any way were justified. The fact remains that the victim suffered an injury that he or she should never have been subjected to.

The wrongdoer owes the wronged person something, morally, legally or materially. As an act of forgiveness, he or she voluntarily relinquishes the right to that claim.

It is the right of the victim to experience rage and to retaliate. However, the victim may choose to not exercise the right to retaliate, and instead GRANT (rather than "offer") mercy.

Too many people superficially apologize and "beg" for forgiveness. Likewise, too many people extend superficial forgiveness merely out of a sense of obligation. It is unfortunate.

Superficial or premature forgiveness may get the wrongdoer off the moral hook, but would do no good to the victim. Such forgiveness neither cleanses the soul of the wrongdoer, nor does it heal the heart of the aggrieved.

A person, who is numbed by the sorrow and hurt and has not allowed himself or herself to feel the buried anger and hate for the wrongdoer, should not be asked to forgive.

True forgiveness can only occur when the act of seeking forgiveness is genuine and forgiveness is extended without any pressures, obligations or social expectations.

The concept of "forget and forgive" deserves clarification. Forced forgetting is a form of repression or denial of the emotions. Such forgetting is like feeling the tumor inside you but still turning away from treatment. Forgiveness in full recognition of one's own anger and hurt is like receiving the recommended surgery for that tumor.

Forgiveness and reconciliation are two different things. Reconciliation implies restoring the relationship to a pre-grievance level. Sometimes, a victim may be ready to forgive but not to reconcile. If there is a possibility of re-injury because of the proximity with the offender, the victim may want to forgive but shouldn't feel obligated to reconcile.

Sometimes, "inner forgiveness" is the right thing to do. Inner forgiveness is entirely an internal work and may not involve any communication with the wrong doer. In the case of inner forgiveness, the wrong doer may never apologize and the victim may not be sitting down with him or her and saying the three sacred words, "I forgive you." To move on in life, a victim in his or heart simply forgives the offender who is not capable of understanding or owning up to the unjust act.

To not forgive is our right, but to forgive is our prerogative. May we use this prerogative in the homes, extended families and our communities!

Return to Self Help 

Copyright 2003, Mind Publications 
Posted January 2003


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