Thursday, May 14, 2020

The perils and dangers of forgiveness



You hear it all the time, "Oh, just forgive them." Forgiveness is presented as virtuous, and as an attitude we should aspire to.

With respect, that's bunk.

Here's my reasoning.

First, there are clearly limits to forgiveness. Ask yourself, should we forgive mass murderers? Serial killers?

I would argue that it's nonsensical to hate them, they're probably sick, but forgiveness just isn't possible for outrageous crimes.

Few of us will engage directly with such an extreme case. However, in daily life, easy forgiveness leads to issues.

#1 Example: Fiona hurts Bob with her comments, and Bob forgives instantly. What happens next?

Takeaway: If you just forgive, people will hurt you again and again. You need to use hurt to push for positive change

#2 Example: Bob is furious because John sabotaged his promotion. Supposing John says he's sorry, and Bob feels compelled to say he forgives him, even though he's still mad. What happens when Bob swallows his rage?

Takeaway: Forgiveness is a process. You can't shortcut it because ignoring emotions will come back to haunt you as depression, suppressed anger etc

But the most toxic of all the "Oh, you must forgive" mantras out there is this:

#3 Example: Mary is deeply hurt when Sue laughs at her wish to become an engineer. Britt tells Mary to just forgive Sue. What does Britt think about Mary's hurt feelings?

Takeaway: When we dismiss other people's hurt, we disrespect them.

This is as plain as the nose on your face, and yet, we have the mantra. Why?  Why are victims being told to forgive? Who's saying this and why?

Why don't we tell the perps to change, do better?

Why do powerful people counsel "just forgive"? What's in it for them?

Victims are told to shut up because it is useful for the powerful that injustice continues. It's what keeps them on top.

And the flying monkeys, the people who will helpfully rage at victims, trying to scare or guilt them into shutting up, do so because they feel it's too scary to challenge powerful people.

It's easier to side with a powerful abuser than to stand up for what is right.

Also, abusers control others by gaslighting. As discussed here: how abusers act when caught out

I'm not saying you should take account of every little thing that happens. People mess up, and that's okay. Small things don't need to be called out. But for deliberate or consistent hurts, we need to speak up, for ourselves and for others. It should be done without anger, without nasty scolding, but with the intent to make it better for everyone.


True apology: accountability + steps to positive change – adding an apology is icing on the cake