Forgiveness is a virtue. It’s a virtue because it signifies that something negative happened that warrants it being given. It shows you have the mental and emotional capacity to forgive the offending person. Taking it a step further, not holding something against someone (whether forgiveness was yours to give or not) is further demonstration of virtuousness. In general, virtues are desirable traits. Being forgetful is not a positive trait. Therefore, forgetfulness is not a virtue. So should we be expected to, as the old adage says, “forgive and forget”?
In the context of this writing, forgiving is defined as “to pardon an offense or an offender” and “to cease to feel resentment’ (Source). The applicable definition of forgetting is defined as “to cease or fail to remember” and “to fail to think of” (Source). Thusly, forgiving and forgetting are not synonymous, and I postulate that they shouldn’t be expected to go hand-in-hand. Again, I strive to be and encourage others to be virtuous. This means that I fully believe in forgiving people for both small and large misdeeds. Being unwilling or unable to forgive others only leads to an increase in our own feelings of resentment, as well as fostering resentment in the mind of the offender. Forgiving is healthy because it requires critical thinking about a particular situation. It requires objective review of each piece of the situation, allowing us to separate the unimportant pieces from the important ones. Finally, objectively doing so allows us to accept what we have done wrong.
An example of this would be a scenario all too commonly seen. A drunken driver hits another vehicle, injuring the other driver. The law should hold the drunk driver legally and financially liable. If justice is properly served in this sense, the victim should forgive the offender. They’re another human being who made a mistake. Is it easy? No, it’s not. That’s one of the reasons it’s a virtue. Growing up, I knew a family where the father and daughter were killed, but the surviving wife and son not only forgave the drunken driver but also ended up having a positive relationship with them. It may not seem like the probable outcome, but it is a possible one. Befriending the person may seem like a bridge too far, but letting go of resentment is, as previously mentioned, crucial for your own mental well being.
Now let’s talk about forgetting. Then, we’ll join the two back together to make the real point. As stated, forgetting is generally a bad thing. I forgot to turn off the stove. A fire may ignite. I forgot to buy milk. I can’t have cereal. It’s a cause and effect thing. Let’s make it harder. Should I forget what the drunken driver did? To this end, can I possibly forget an offense that causes lasting, if not lifetime, damage? I believe the answer to both should be “No.” If I were to completely forget, the possibility increases that I might drive drunk. Remembering the misfortune and, in this case, pain and suffering is a deterrent in itself. Looking at it through a simpler lens, if I’m emotionally hurt by someone’s lies to me and remember what it feels like, I will hopefully refrain from inflicting that same pain on someone else. Additionally, if I completely forget physical or emotional harm some does to me, this would allow them to inflict the same pain again. Remembering in this context ensures we don’t become victims of cyclical abuse.
Bringing the two words back together, I fully acknowledge the necessity of forgiving people. As such, it’s perfectly reasonable for the offending party to expect to be forgiven for a misdeed. That said, there’s one more critical element that is often carefully stepped around by the offending party. Too often, people expect to be forgiven without having to openly acknowledge their misdeeds and the pain they cause. As I continue….and continue….to tell my own sons, the first step to moving forward from a problematic situation is taking ownership of our part in it. I can’t simply say, “I’m sorry,” and expect it to resolve everything. If I expect my wife to forgive me for a random stupidity, I say something like:
I’m sorry for (doing/saying/being/etc.). I know it caused (x, y and z). I promise I’ll do my best to not (insert offending action) again– What MIGHT Work
Does this magically absolve me of responsibility? Does it make the offending act go away? No, the act and the resulting pain occurred. Will it be easy for her to forgive me? It depends upon the seriousness of the act and potential for short or long term, physical pain, emotional pain, financial loss, etc. As the person asking for forgiveness, I seek a chance to repair the relationship snd rebuild whatever trust has been lost. If I can’t take the first step of accepting every aspect of what I’ve done leading up to and surrounding it, I shouldn’t expect to be forgiven, much less have my trespass forgotten. Also applicable is the fact that lying doesn’t always stem from only what’s said but also by what is purposefully omitted.
Ultimately, I also cannot make someone forgive me. If they don’t accept my apology and assurance to do or be better, I can’t be resentful toward them. Sometimes, we have to accept that we’ve done too much or gone too far or in some cases let it go far too long. In that case, all we can do is try to be better for those stilling willing to give us a chance. Life would be easier if we could forget small and large traumas. This is especially true for the offender, who would essentially be free of accountability. Unfortunately, forgetting is only easy when it comes to having to eat toast instead of cereal. It doesn’t work for life altering things. Such is not how real life works. Time does heal all wounds….if we forgive. Forgiveness is a virtue we should all strive to practice and visibly demonstrate. But we can only forgive when forgiveness is genuinely asked for and complete honesty is given. So, strive to forgive but always remember what happened. That is all.