Forgiveness improves the human experience

It feels wonderful to be forgiven. The burden of misdeeds, with which people can almost physically feel weighed down, may be lifted with the belief that they are no longer being judged. They are given a clean slate and reminded that they should seize the opportunity to do good deeds and avoid hurting others.

It feels wonderful to forgive

Although injured, those who forgive let go of their fear and their sense of victimhood. They leave a place of passivity (being the ones who are taken advantage of), and they take control (becoming the ones who forgive). This gives them more freedom to choose what to do, who to be, and who to be with.

Forgiveness disrupts the stereotypical roles of the offender and victims. When people forgive and are forgiven, they start to re-frame this typical understanding of injury, so that they are no longer restricted by it. They no longer have to spin their wheels by acting only in the way that is expected of offenders and victims. They can chart their own course to healing.

Opening the possibility of perceiving the offender differently

Forgiving is not the same as forgetting. In fact, when one forgives, one must recognize the offense that occurred and acknowledge its impact. If the offense were entirely forgotten, there would be nothing to forgive.

Yet the true forgiver will refuse to allow the offense to remain a permanent obstruction to his or her perception of the one who caused the hurt. At the very least, the forgiving victim stops demonizing the offender and begins to see them as a fellow human being, one who has flaws and who suffers.

Some wounds are so deep and some crimes so shocking that friendship between the offender and the victim would be inappropriate, if not impossible. These two people may need to have no relationship at all and maintain no contact. In this situation, the person who forgives can at least try to remove the cloud of hurt that obstructs their memory or their perception of the person they are forgiving.

In other situations, the relationship may be repaired to some extent. Forgiveness means recognizing that it is unfair to define the offender by his past actions, especially when he very well might be trying to change. Forgiveness means removing the barriers to a renewed relationship.

Discovering the appropriate relationships with former or current enemies is a meaningful step towards peace and healing. After being grievously hurt, some people are not able to hear the sound of their offenders’ names without feeling their blood start to boil. They may gossip or even plot violence in retribution. In this situation, the personal benefit of forgiveness would be serenity. Simply quieting their anger and feeling less ill-will towards their enemies often turns out to be the best and most appropriate relationship possible.

The offender’s responsibility

The offender’s responsibility is to apologize: to admit wrongdoing, take steps to prevent the misdeed from happening again and ask for forgiveness. If the victim agrees, they have arrived at a mutual understanding. But forgiveness can be given even when the offender has not apologized. The offender may deny responsibility for her crime; she may remain angry and dangerous; or she may die, be incapacitated or disappear before she has a chance to indicate that she is sorry. And yet, she can still be forgiven – that is, the victim can let go of her judgment-clouding anger that further poisons the situation.

Forgiveness improves everyone’s life

The benefits of forgiveness have a ripple effect throughout society. By calming private and public anger, stopping the cycle of violence, and demonstrating how a rift may be peacefully bridged or simply moved past, forgiveness may make future crimes less likely.

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