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Why Forgiveness Is Heroic

"Greatness of heart," as Aristotle says, characterizes forgiveness.

In a recent post here (8 Reasons to Forgive, April 16, 2018), I made the statement that to forgive is heroic. I want to thank the person who commented on this, stating opposition to this view. Forgiveness only is a salve for the self and nothing more was the comment. This comment is far more serious than one might think upon a first reading because it gets to the essence of whom we are as persons. It is for this reason that I want my response to be more detailed than usually is the case when answering a comment directly in the earlier blog.

What, then, is heroism? Aristotle used the expression of magnanimity or what he called "greatness of heart" to describe, among other things, the concept of heroism. Magnanimity as a moral virtue goes well beyond justice, goes the extra mile with other people, and strives for much more than would be expected by the average person of the world. To be magnanimous is to be generous to others, unselfish, and forgiving.

Dr. Andrew Bernstein (; retrieved on April 17, 2018) defines a hero this way: "an individual of elevated moral stature and superior ability who pursues his goals indefatigably in the face of powerful antagonist(s). Because of his unbreached devotion to the good, no matter the opposition, a hero attains spiritual grandeur, even if he fails to achieve practical victory. Notice then the four components of heroism: moral greatness, ability or prowess, action in the face of opposition, and triumph in at least a spiritual, if not a physical, form."

To forgive on a high level encompasses the same four characteristics listed above. The highly forgiving person, then, possesses: 1) the Aristotelian virtue of magnanimity (greatness of heart); 2) an ability well above what might be considered average for a forgiver; 3) an ability to offer this gift in the face of opposition (the person offers goodness while in pain caused by the one who is forgiven); and 4) a sense of triumph simply by offering forgiveness **whether or not the other accepts the gift.**

KuanShu Designs
Source: KuanShu Designs

Forgiveness on a high level has all of the attributes of heroism described by Dr. Bernstein and shows the characteristics of magnanimity described by Aristotle.

This analysis does not imply that all who practice forgiving are doing so with heroism, nor does it imply that only a select few can so practice forgiving. We all have the **potential** for this, but we do not **actualize** this potential until we go beyond self-interest and see the offending person as unconditionally worthy of respect and kindness. We do not actualize the potential until we practice, and practice some more, the largeness of heart toward the offending other for that other person's sake, not our own. To forgive with magnanimity, with heroism, is to develop well beyond what might be considered minimal forgiving.

How a person develops in forgiving, in becoming a forgiving person, has direct implications for how that person views humanity. If one thinks of forgiving only as the salve one puts on psychological wounds for one's own sake, then this could develop into a view that people are basically self-interested or even selfish. A pessimism toward humanity could develop as one's view of the human condition. In contrast, the forgiver, who stands strong in seeing the inherent worth of the other despite opposition from that other or from norms that cry against such a view, is developing a view that people can be much more than they are right now, in the present. An optimism toward humanity is developing as forgivers see who the other can become and who the self can become---someone with greatness of heart. Of course, the offending person may reject the forgiver's generous offer, but the forgiveness still is a triumph that transcends the success or failure of the gesture precisely because of the "greatness of heart" that is connected to the gesture of forgiving.

There is an important difference between what our humanity **is** within its objective essence and what people subjectively think of humanity. Even if a person is convinced that people are only a bundle of randomly firing neurons with no purpose toward greatness, such thoughts do not make it so. We need the philosopher with a long vision, such as Aristotle, to help us see farther, more accurately regarding the human condition. In his claim that people are capable of exercising magnanimity, he is not claiming that all people across all time automatically possess this virtue. He is claiming, and here is the challenge for us all, that we **could** all reach such a level of humanity if we consciously and deliberately strive toward magnanimity every day, despite opposition from others.

At the end of the day, or even at the end of your life, you have a choice: Will I consciously and deliberately strive to be a better person? Will I consciously and deliberately strive for magnanimity? Will I then strive for the heroic version of forgiving........or will I be content to put the salve of forgiveness on my broken heart and call it a day?

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