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We Should Forgive Only If the Other Person Deserves It
Whether the persons who hurt us deserve our forgiveness has nothing to do with our decision to grant it. Their apologies or amends might make it easier for us to forgive them psychologically, but it isn’t a requirement. We forgive for ourselves, not for the offending parties, so it doesn’t matter whether they deserve it or not. The phrase “deserves to be forgiven” and its reverse “doesn’t deserve to be forgiven” are such a part of the English language that we don’t stop to consider whether “deserving” is a valid reason to withhold forgiveness. It isn’t.
When Tom was thirteen, his father divorced his mother and remarried shortly thereafter. Desperate for his father’s companionship and approval, Tom moved in with his father, stepmother, and three stepbrothers and stepsisters from his stepmother’s first marriage. It quickly became clear
that Tom would not be treated like the other children, like her children. He was denied the new clothes, the new bedroom furniture, and the electronic wonders that went to the others. More important, he was pointedly denied the praise, the approval, and the hugs that were given to his step siblings. Tom spent a miserable three years in his father’s house, returning to his mother when he was sixteen. His father kept promising him love, affection, and good times, but he never delivered them. Tom finally forgave his father for the brutal emotional treatment of his adolescent years but not because his father deserved it. Tom did it because he deserved it, because he wanted to be free of that regret and the pain it caused him.
We Only Forgive in Response to a Request for It
No request from the offending party is necessary for our forgiveness. It is we who ask ourselves to forgive the other person, and it is we who benefit most from that forgiving. It doesn’t matter whether the offending parties ask us to forgive them or not. In fact, some of the parties who hurt us may never know we have forgiven them. Or care. Others may be dead and incapable of asking for forgiveness. When Erek married a woman whom his parents disapproved of, they disinherited him and refused to see him or his family again. They took that commitment to the grave, having never seen their grandchildren. Erek forgave them even before their deaths, but they never asked for that forgiveness, nor were they particularly interested in receiving it.
If We Forgive, We Are Being Disloyal to Those the Offending Party Hurt in Addition to Ourselves
This misconception is a culmination of the preceding myths, which hold that forgiveness means having to forget or excuse offending behavior, reconcile with the offender, release the offender from accountability, or judge the offender deserving of forgiveness. Not one of the foregoing myths is true, yet they are all part, in one way or another, of the myth that forgiving is an act of disloyalty to the people the offending party hurt.
Margarita’s child was abducted while playing in the front yard and later
STEP EIGHT: FORGIVING OTHERS
killed by an itinerant with mental problems. At first, Margarita was unable to forgive. Then the hatred began to consume her. As she sought to forgive, she feared that forgiving the killer might be an act of disloyalty to her child. Gradually, Margarita came to see that the reverse was true. She was confident that her child wanted her to be happy, free of the hatred that was devouring her, and released from the agony of focusing on her child’s violent death. The route to that objective was through forgiveness, so Margarita came to believe that forgiveness was what her child would want for her. Margarita’s friends did not agree that she should forgive the killer and aggressively or subtly tried to dissuade her. But Margarita persisted, convinced that she had an ally in her child and that she must forgive if she were to find peace. Margarita did ultimately forgive the killer. She also found release from the hatred and freedom from the torment.
We Forgive Only on the Basis of Certain Conditions Such as Getting an Apology
Forgiveness is unconditional or it is not forgiveness. If we make our forgiveness conditional on what the other party does, such as apologizing, we have made the perpetrator the decision maker in our process of forgiving. Ironically, we have turned our lives over to the very person who has hurt us, to the very one we resent or hate.
Those who don’t understand the purpose of forgiveness often demand an apology as a condition that has to be met for them to forgive. But no apology is necessary. Requiring an apology implies that the offending party can “earn” our forgiveness through an apology. But forgiveness is always freely given. We give it for ourselves, not for the benefit of the offending party. Forgiveness can be granted for the sake of others as well as for our own sake, but it is primarily granted because of its positive effect on the quality of our own life. Even in those cases where we continue to be injured and there is never an apology, we can still forgive.