Well... it finally happened.  I received a one-star rating on Amazon for my book, Forgiveness Is a Choice.  The book was published in 2001 and so, as I do some quick math here, that means that I went a full 15 years without the dreaded one-star judgement against the book.  But now the inevitable has happened.

The reviewer said this: “I was expecting something more logical.

I also do not agree to the part forgiving includes loving and respecting the person and giving gift to them... that is ridiculous.”

Jacqueline Song
Source: Jacqueline Song

And so we need to ask:

Is the author (that would be me) being ridiculous by suggesting that forgiveness includes “loving and respecting the person and giving a gift to them”?
Is forgiveness itself ridiculous for suggesting that a person who chooses this virtue should give such things to those who were unfair?

Let us examine each of these questions.  The first one is not so crucial.  If I am in error, then I should be able to correct the error when I receive wise feedback from you, The Readers.  The second issue, however, is deeply important.  If forgiveness itself is ridiculous, then we should not be writing books to help people engage in the ridiculous. Instead, we should be writing books discouraging its practice.

We will answer question 1 by examining question 2.  If forgiveness is found to have nothing to do with respect and love and gift-giving, then I stand guilty as charged of being a ridiculous writer on the subject.

Is forgiveness about giving respect and love and gifts of some kind to offending others or is it not?  The ancient traditions suggest that forgiveness is a virtue, as is justice and kindness and patience.  Stories from ancient traditions clearly show that to forgive is to offer goodness toward those who offend (see Enright & Fitzgibbons, 2015, chapter 15).  In the Hebrew literature, we find the story of Joseph forgiving his 10-half-brothers and his one brother Benjamin for attempted murder and selling him into slavery.  He, as a powerful leader in Egypt, forgives them before they even know he is Joseph. He weeps over them, embraces them, and lavishes the gifts of grain and animals on the Hebrew nation, thus saving them from starvation. Joseph’s forgiveness helped to save the Hebrew nation.  In Christian tradition, the Prodigal Son disrespects his father by asking for an early inheritance, squanders the fortune, and upon his return home in defeat and poverty, the father respects and loves the son by going to him, embracing him, and killing the fatted calf for him.  Islam has an entire book of the Qur’an entitled Joseph, again showing the qualities of respect and love toward the relatives.  Buddhism, although not using the word, forgiveness, illustrates forgiveness through story, such as the one about a philosopher, being killed by the king.  As he is dying, the philosopher continues to offer the wisdom of refusing to be anger, transcending the injustice, and instructing the king in loving-kindness to the end (all of these stories from ancient tradition are in Enright & Fitzgibbons, 2015).  Even modern philosophers such as Joanna North (1987) and Margaret Holmgren (1993) discuss forgiveness as a virtue in which love (in North’s case) and respect (in Holmgren’s case) are given to those who behave badly.  Modern clinical psychology and psychiatry follow these leads from ancient and modern times, defining forgiveness as the offer of goodness toward those who have not been good (again, see Enright & Fitzgibbons, 2015).

Sam Nelson/Flickr
Source: Sam Nelson/Flickr

The weight of history, tradition, philosophy, and the mental health professions all converge:  Forgiveness is indeed about offering love and respect and even gift-giving to those who behave badly.  Forgiveness, you see, is a paradox.  You offer something good when it is unexpected by the other, and perhaps unexpected even by the one offering such mercy.

Of course, it takes time to build up a deep understanding and practice of forgiving.  Few of us are able to forgive on the deepest level without years of practice.  In other words, we do not start the forgiveness process by loving and respecting and gift-giving.  Instead, we start in confusion, with ambivalence, and even with doubt about whether or not forgiveness is reasonable......or ridiculous.

So then, is forgiveness “ridiculous”?  Forgiveness is not about justice-seeking, but instead is about offering mercy when that has been absent in the other.  If we look at forgiveness through the eyes of justice, then I suppose it is in a certain way ridiculous (if the goal is justice-seeking and that alone).  And I further need to suppose that I, as a writer of this paradox, am more than a bit ridiculous.  Yet, forgiveness has been shown to heal the raw emotions of those crushed by unfair treatment.  Anger, anxiety, and even psychological depression can be reduced and even eliminated when forgiveness is practiced well and not rushed (Freedman & Enright, 1996).

Long live the ridiculous.  Long live the paradox of forgiving.

References

Enright, R. D. (2001).  Forgiveness is a choice.  Washington, DC: APA Books.

Enright, R.D. & Fitzgibbons, R. (2015).  Forgiveness therapy.  Washington, DC: APA Books.

Freedman, S. R., & Enright, R. D. (1996).  Forgiveness as an intervention goal with incest survivors.  Journal of Consulting and Clinical Psychology, 64(5), 983-992.

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