In a recent post, I discussed having a hypothetical “difficult” conversation with two relatives who ignored my husband and me at a family gathering. I assumed that we had offended them in some way rather than they simply disliking us on general principles.
One of the last points I made was to decide whether it was even worth it to have the conversation. Should we simply move on? Since, we have not seen these relatives in years and chances are it will be years before we see them again, should we simply forgive and forget?
Which brings me to the concept of “forgiveness.” I recently finished a book by Peter R. Robinson, Professor Emeritus at the Straus Institute for Dispute Resolution at Pepperdine University entitled, Apology, Forgiveness and Reconciliation (2019).
After discussing the concept of “apology” (which I have discussed in a previous blog, Prof. Robinson addresses “forgiveness.” Is it a process that takes a while or an event? Is it located in the rational mind or in the heart? Is it a decision or a feeling? (Id. at 142-3.) Is it dependent on an apology or something one can do without the offender apologizing? (Id. at 144.)
While the answers to many of these questions are personal, Prof. Robinson notes that one can forgive in the absence of an apology: ““Forgiveness” is for us and about us and not the offender.” …” Forgiveness means taking back our power.” (Id. at 144.)
In deciding whether to forgive, we must consider three variables: animus, reparations and future relationship. By “animus” we must ask ourselves whether we wish them well, are we neutral about it or are we at the other end of the spectrum, wishing them harm? Looking at “reparations” on a spectrum, are we willing to waive them, do we want partial reparations, or do we want full reparations? And finally, looking at future relationship on a spectrum, are we willing to completely trust the individual and resume the relationship, are we willing to trust but with caution or do we never want to see the offender again? (Id. at 145-150.) Thus, one can forgive but still require reparations: forgiveness does not necessarily mean to forget. (Id.)
These three variables are important in assessing the type of forgiveness at issue. The first is “Therapeutic” which is “… based on the premise that the objective is to advance the happiness and serenity of the forgiver.” (Id. at 151.) In this model, the victim simply releases her anger and resentment and moves on. (Id. at 151.) It is unilateral in which the victim no longer allows “… the injustice to dominate his or her thoughts and feelings.” (Id.) The victim no longer allows the offender to occupy space in her head and decides to move on with her life.
The second model is “Relational” in which “the objective is to restore a broken relationship.” (Id. at 154.) This necessarily involves reconciliation with the offender. (Id.) Here, “forgiveness is granted so that relationship can be restored or protected.” (Id.)
The third model is “Redemptive” which is based on our belief or value system. Our values or beliefs which can be religious or moral, are so important to us that we believe forgiving is paramount. (Id. at 157.) To make this point Prof. Robinson quotes the last two lines of Mother Teresa’s Poem: “You see, in the final analysis, it is between you and God; It was never between you and them anyway.” (Id. at 158.)
Disputes in general are about being offended or injured in some way. When an apology and/or reparations are not quickly forthcoming, a lawsuit often follows. While an apology may still never be forthcoming, perhaps the victim can think about “forgiveness” and use the “therapeutic” model to settle the matter and move on with her life. As a mediator, therapeutic forgiveness is definitely a topic to raise with a party in the right situation. In so many lawsuits (or disputes), “…the pending lawsuit rents so much space in the client’s mind, that it becomes a long-term anchor tenant.” (Id. at 243.) It is time to evict the tenant and move on; a discussion of “forgiveness” is one tool in the toolbox that allows me to do that.
Personally, perhaps it is time I engage in therapeutic forgiveness by evicting these relatives as tenants in my mind and move on looking for happiness and contentment elsewhere.
… Just something to think about.
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