By: Chris Warren.
Every day, often more than once, there is a celebrity, politician, or large corporation making a public apology for something or another. Some of these pleas for absolution are sincerely offered for genuine slights, others are purely for appearances. On an interpersonal level, there are two sides to everything, and the other side of “I’m sorry” is “I forgive you.” Sometimes forgiveness is given as a one-way sentiment when the offending party is not the least bit sorry and is not asking to be forgiven. No matter which way we work this, it’s a lot easier to offer an apology than it is to respond with forgiveness.
Being sorry (usually) carries no price tag other than an implication that the offensive behavior will not be repeated in the future. Forgiveness requires a much larger investment of faith. When we forgive someone, we are basically extending them credit. We are trusting them not to do whatever it is they did that incited the apology in the first place.
When all is right in the world, forgiveness is given and received in equal amounts. We subconsciously do a little emotional accounting to decide if the offender has enough “credit” to warrant forgiveness. A frustrated parent is not likely to believe any recycled assurances to be on time, next time, when a teenager is caught sneaking into the house late at night after promising many times before to be in by curfew. Meanwhile, the typically punctual kid who slips up once in a while will probably get a pass. A fair person will also take into account their own previous misdeeds: It’s easier to be lenient with others when if you can admit you’re less than perfect yourself.
One of the biggest fallacies about the apology-forgiveness transaction the presumption that the damage is fixed and everything can return to normal. Forgiveness in itself does not really “fix” anything. All it means is the someone has let go of their anger. Some damage cannot be fixed. Compensation, when it’s possible, is at the discretion of the forgiver.
It’s a tiresome but truthful maxim that love is what makes relationships work. Yet no one ever talks about how forgiveness is what makes love work. Every relationship is going to have moments when each side commits some kind of violation against the other. There are only two solutions: Extend forgiveness and move on, or don’t forgive them. Both options may or may not include ending the relationship. Withholding forgiveness but staying in the relationship anyway is a dead end conclusion that assumes living in resentment and mutual disrespect is a legitimate path.
The whole point of my mental hopscotch here is that love cannot exist without forgiveness, and vice-versa. By the way, this concept is a basic tenet of several major world religions, including Christianity. It’s not that difficult to grasp. Apology-forgiveness recognizes that we are all imperfectly human. It recognizes that you can’t be indefinitely angry at someone while at the same time claiming to love them. Forgiveness gives both wrongdoers and the wronged at a path out of their respective dilemmas, even if it’s only a partial path. Forgiveness does not promise a perfect outcome, nor is it an assurance that “everything will be the same,” nor that all damages will be undone.
There are uncountable books and television shows and websites dedicated to the pop psychology of anger, disgust, fear, happiness, sadness, and surprise but very few dedicated to forgiveness. Forgiveness is the neglected stepchild of human emotions. A truly wise and loving person kindly gives others a forgiveness credit limit equal to what they expect for themselves. No one wants to be placed in a position to forgive but everyone wants to receive it. Forgiveness exists because it has to.