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Forgiveness is NOT a one time event

Forgiveness: People, upon rationally determining that they have been unfairly treated, forgive when they willfully abandon resentment and related responses (to which they have a right) and endeavor to respond to the wrongdoer based on the moral principle of beneficence, which may include compassion, unconditional worth, generosity, and moral love (to which the wrongdoer, by nature of the hurtful act or acts, has no right).


Forgiveness is NOT:


· Pardon, legal mercy, leniency (a merciful judge is not the one hurt)

· Condoning and excusing (putting up with offense or letting it go)

· Reconciliation (two people coming together again)

· Conciliation (to appease or placate an offender)

· Justification (believing what the person did was fair)

· Forgetting (ceasing to remember the offense, possibly leaving one vulnerable to the offense again)

· Becoming disappointed (one can be disappointed without being unjustly treated by another)

· Balancing scales (getting back something in kind, punishing the offender)

· Self-centered (forgiving only for one’s own benefit, focusing on oneself and not the offender


Reductionistic Thinking that may be accurate but incomplete


· Letting time heal the wound (passive rather than active)

· Abandoning resentment (one can abandon resentment but have a cool, detached attitude toward the offender)

· Possessing positive feelings (one can have positive feelings toward people who have not been unfair)

· Saying “I forgive you”(one can forgive without using specific words

· Making a decision to forgive (decisions to forgive are part of but not all that is encompassed in the definition: i.e. one who decides to go to college does not receive a degree until work is accomplished)


Common Colloquialisms Confused with Forgiveness


· Forgiveness is a quick fix (forgiveness can be a struggle that takes time)

· “I’ve accepted what happened” (one can accept an event while rejecting a person involved in the event)

· “I accept what happened knowing that God will punish him or her” (this could be cloaked revenge)

· “I have moved on” (One can “move on” while rejecting a person)

· “I have the satisfaction of not letting the person get to me” (this may be cloaked revenge)

· “I like to let the person know how much he or she owes me” (this may be a form of cloaked revenge)



Forgiveness is an “active” struggle to reduce resentment. A decision to forgive is only a part of the process. The acts of abandoning resentment and increasing mercy need time to develop and cannot be forced, merely willed into existence, or ordered about by one’s thought processes.


Styles of Forgiveness


· Revengeful Forgiveness: ”I can forgive someone who wrongs me only if I can punish him or her to a similar degree to my own pain.”

· Restitutional or compensational forgiveness: “If I get back what was taken away from me, then I can forgive.” Or, “if I feel guilty about withholding forgiveness, then I can forgive to relieve my guilt.”

· Expectational Forgiveness: “I can forgive if others pressure me to forgive. It is easier to forgive when other people expect it.”

· Lawful expectational forgiveness: “I forgive when my religion demands it.” Note that this is not Style 2, in which forgiveness is to relieve one’s own guilt about withholding f forgiveness.

· Forgiveness as social harmony: “I forgive when it restores harmony or good relations in society.” Forgiveness decreases friction and outright conflict in society. Note that forgiveness is a way to control society; it is a way of maintaining peaceful relations.

· Forgiveness as love; “I forgive unconditionally because it promotes a true sense of love. Because I must truly care for each person, a hurtful act on his or her part does not alter that sense of love.” This kind of relationship keeps open the possibility of reconciliation and closes the door to revenge. Note that forgiveness is no longer dependent on a social context, as in style 5. The forgiver does not control the other by forgiving: he or she releases the other.

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