Wednesday, March 24, 2010

Michael Josephson: Character Counts: Forgiving without condoning or forgetting

  I suspect all of us have been hurt in deep and lasting ways by the words or acts of another. It’s normal in such situations to feel hostility toward, be angry with, and make negative judgments about the person who hurt us. If we continue to think we’re right to be offended, the tendency is to carry the hurt and resentment in the form of a grudge. Usually this causes far more unhappiness for us than the person we’re mad at.

  Some religions speak of forgiveness as a moral duty, others simply as a worthy virtue. Still others impose certain preconditions on the wrongdoer before he or she is entitled to be forgiven. Whatever your religious views, it’s clear to psychologists that the ability to forgive is closely correlated to happiness and mental health.

  Some people refuse to even entertain the idea of forgiveness because they don’t think the person they resent deserves to be forgiven. Others don’t want to appear to condone or excuse the conduct, and they certainly don’t want to reconcile with the person.

  The essence of forgiveness is a voluntary decision to abandon the resentment, to let go of the anger, and to move on. It doesn’t require or imply condoning, excusing, or forgetting. Nor does it require that the forgiver re-establish a relationship with the wrongdoer.

  According to Dr. Ben Dean, the capacity to forgive is related to the character strength of empathy. People who can empathize with an offender and see things from that perspective are better able to forgive. He also says that the older we get, the more forgiving we’re likely to become.

  Hmmm. We usually get wiser, too. So maybe it’s wise to forgive.

  This is Michael Josephson reminding you that character counts.

  About the author: Michael Josephson is the founder of the Josephson Institute, a non-for-profit organization which develops and delivers services and materials to increase ethical commitment, competence, and practice in all segments of society.

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