COMMENTARY: Forgiving Without Condoning or Forgetting

I suspect all of us have been hurt in deep and lasting ways by the words or acts of another. It’s normal in such situations to feel hostility toward the person who hurt us. If we allow the offense to linger, we may carry the hurt and resentment in the form of a grudge. Usually this causes more unhappiness for us than for the person we’re mad at.

Some religions speak of forgiveness as a moral duty, others as a worthy virtue, and still others impose preconditions on the wrongdoer before he or she is entitled to be forgiven. Whatever your religious views, psychologists say the ability to forgive is closely correlated to happiness and mental health.

Some people refuse to even entertain the idea of forgiveness because they don’t think the person they resent deserves to be forgiven. Others don’t want to appear to condone or excuse the conduct and certainly don’t want to reconcile with the person.

The essence of forgiveness is a voluntary decision to abandon continuing resentment, to let go of anger, and to move on. It doesn’t require or imply condoning, excusing, or forgetting. Nor does it require that the forgiver re-establish a relationship with the wrongdoer.

According to Dr. Ben Dean, the capacity to forgive is related to the character strength of empathy. People who can empathize with an offender and see things from that person’s perspective are much better able to forgive. He also says that the older we get, the more forgiving we’re likely to become.

Hmmm. We usually get wiser, too. So maybe it’s wise to forgive.

This is Michael Josephson reminding you that character counts.

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Comments 15

  1. Timely commentary, as always. Like the thought that wisdom and forgiveness walk hand in hand…Who can be wise and yet have a unforgiving heart? It’s foolish not to forgive.

  2. I thank you for publishing this commentary. It comes at a time when I really needed to hear about forgiveness. The flip side, though, is when you’ve done something serious to hurt someone you care about and you make a contrite, honest plea for forgiveness/pardon, and the person you’ve offended does not/chooses not to respond/forgive. I guess it’s not expecting to be forgiven, but knowing we asked to be forgiven and do our best to heal from the sadness of hurting someone we love. Moving forward, making a resolve not to repeat the hurt, is essential and realizing that to forgive is a choice and asking for forgiveness is also. As was stated, to forgive is closely co-related to happiness and mental health, but I believe, so is asking to be forgiven, don’t you think?

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    2. Forgiveness is a lovely thing, but it does not mean laying down and being a doormat and enduring someone else’s endless abusive behavior. We are here to help one another but on rare occasions we are here to teach. Bad behavior has consequences. We should have learned that lesson when were children, but some seldom do. It is painful for me not to forgive, especially when asked; but it is my duty to stand firm in the face of abusive behavior. God does not ask us to be wimps; instead, He asks us to love our neighbors and to forgive seventy times seven. Sometimes the most loving thing to do is to stand up for ourselves; while at the same time, loving and forgiving others in our hearts, but setting healthy boundaries and holding firm against further abuse.

  3. Dear Mr. Josephson, Thank you so much for your commentary! I choose Forgiveness than the other way, and it is really possible, at least on my part. I find that with the gift of time and prayers , depends on the type of trnasgression done towards me. It gives me more peaceful and happier, also makes life’s journey much lighter and easier.

  4. Hi Michael,
    As ever, your commentary is so insightful. I was also struck by Sandy’s comment above and can totally empathise. Forgiveness is most powerful when exercised form both sides – forgiving those ‘who trespass against us’ and also receiving forgiveness from others for our own mistakes. It is the most powerful force against anger and resentment as these emotions can not only poison one’s soul but have very negative and very real health consequences, both physical and mental. Remember also to forgive oneself. Be kind – you never know the road another person has travelled.

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      You can forgive out of loving generosity even to those who don’t seem to deserve it or as a strategy to take your life back. Either way, we sentence ourselves to suffering if we refuse to let go and move on. – MJ

  5. Forgiveness is not easy! I am hurting and the offender WILL not accept o acknowledge thier actions…It’s all my fault…just like it was always my fault when I was a child! I wish I could walk out of this cloud of hoplessnes and see what you all see!

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      No, it is not easy but you will improve the quality of your life enormously if you accept what you cannot change and move on. If forgiveness feels to hard simply banish your hurt and resentful thoughts immediately, as soon as they appear. Don’t think about it, talk about it or write about it. Allowing the thoughts to live in your mind is like allowing a cancerous tumor in your body. Removing it is a lot less painful than leaving it. – MJ

  6. I think of the adage “forgive and forget” – it took years for me to realize that “forgetting” did not mean to forget the offense and leave myself vulnerable to being hurt in the same way and/or by the same person again. It means to forget the hurt and anger, to put the incident behind you; to let it go and move forward.

    I also think, in some of the situations mentioned by other commenters, that if we make an effort to forgive someone for their offenses or to ask forgiveness for something we ourselves have done, that we have made the effort. Whether they grant forgiveness or accept it is on them, not on us. We need to also forgive ourselves. Only then can we let it go.

  7. Suppose you accept that you have done something for which you should be and are sorry (“repentant”). To show this, you ask forgiveness. Regardless of whether you are told that you have been forgiven, you have planted a seed that may help the other person move past the incident, and heal. Good deeds are their own reward.

  8. I draw a distinction between forgiveness and acceptance. I cannot forgive someone who is not contrite and continues to offend; however, I can accept and move on and not hold on to the grudge. I would also draw strong boundaries around how to (or if I would) have this person in my life. True forgiveness is reserved for someone who is truly sorry and I can trust will not repeat the offense. Under those conditions, I not only forgive but I forget.

  9. This is a concept that I had no choice but to adopt many years ago after my son was shot and the man who committed the crime was found not guilty. He became a free man while my 17 year old son was dead. Bitterness and anger took hold of me for a few years until I truly embraced the concept of forgiveness. In a book called God Never Wastes a Hurt one sentence became the turning point for me. It read “it is easier to act your way into a feeling then to feel your way into an action”. On that day I started to speak, act and think as if I had already forgiven the man who shot my son and soon after the true feelings of forgiveness followed. My life turned around and now I am able to feel tremendous gratitude and joy.
    Thank you for sharing this as it is a tough concept to digest however once accomplished it does bring peace and joy!!!

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