Apology, Forgiveness, and Reconciliation
Forgiveness is a word that has a variety of definitions, meanings, and connotations. Depending on personal beliefs and values, forgiveness has different roles in peoples’ lives. Therefore, when someone tells you they forgive you, there are a multitude of meanings that may behind it. These varying views of forgiveness can best be seen by the plethora of ideas and motivations offered by the authors of our in-class texts.
Dr. Luskin, author of Forgive For Good believes that forgiveness is something positive mainly for the forgiver, leading to health and happiness. According to Luskin when someone has forgiven you the forgiver has taken back their power, taken responsibility for how they feel, taken control of their feelings, and made a powerful choice to do these things. However, Luskin makes clear that forgiving someone is not condoning unkindness, forgetting something painful, excusing poor behavior, a denial of hurt, or a reconciliation. Rather, it is a choice to improve one’s health and happiness and to live in the present, not the past. Thus, the forgiver is personally motivated.
In “The New Freedom of Forgiveness” the author explains that the definition of forgiveness that Luskin sets forth is typical in “western individualistic societies.” However, the article asserts that Luskin does not offer a definition of forgiveness at all, rather, that the phrases Luskin uses are a prerequisite to forgiveness. The author states that forgiveness is risking a return to conversation and a resumption of relationship. Thus, the author asserts that when someone says they forgive you there is reconciliation.
The author of “Healing Our Relationships” seems to take the middle ground and explains that forgiveness is relational in nature. It is either about restoring a relationship connection in the real world or restoring the connection that lives inside the self. Thus, forgiveness may have more than one meaning. As Luskin believed, forgiveness may be about restoring our connection to ourself, not our relationship with another person. Forgiveness under this approach is not necessarily reconciliation. However, the author indicates that forgiveness may also be about restoring a relationship connection with another person. Thus leaving the idea of reconciliation open. As is seen, this article takes the middle road in its approach to forgiveness.
After assessing these varying and contradicting views of what forgiveness is, I believe that when someone says they forgive you, it can mean three things. First of all, as Luskin describes, it may mean that they want to free themselves of the pain that you caused and move on with their life, which does not necessarily involve you. Secondly, it may also mean that the forgiver is allowing a conversation about the relationship to take place, where the two parties will ultimately reconcile and move on, together. Thirdly, forgivers may also forgive to free themself of pain and take back power, while at the same time considering, not automatically, reconciliation.
When someone says that they forgive you, I do not believe that there is one single way to describe what they mean. Rather, it is a fact-dependent statement that cannot be confined to one small definition. Although I believe that there are three possible meanings behind forgiveness, the varying definitions and theories presented by authors exemplify the endless possibilities of motivations and meanings of forgiveness. If a family member came to me and requested advice on how to talk herself into forgiving an unfaithful spouse, I would seek guidance from Luskin in Forgive for Good. In this book, Luskin offers advice about forgiveness and ways to forgive and live a happier life because of it. Thus, he would be a source of knowledge in this situation.
First of all, as Luskin explains, I would tell my family member that she cannot “talk herself” into forgiving her ex-husband. Rather, forgiveness is a choice. Luskin writes, “We will not forgive just because we think we should.” Therefore, I would encourage my family member to make forgiveness a choice, not something that she is talking herself into. Once this is explained, then I will describe Luskin’s three preconditions necessary to forgive. First, know what your feelings are about what happened. Second, be clear about the action that wronged you. Third, share your experience with at least one or two trusted people, myself included. As long as my family member has already satisfied these requirements, then we can proceed with the process of forgiveness.
After these initial steps I would help my family member understand what forgiveness is, as Luskin explains this is a major obstacle in forgiveness. I would tell her that there is no need to repair her relationship with the ex-husband just because she forgives him, nor does forgiveness mean that she must forget what happened. Rather, Luskin explains and I would re-iterate, that forgiveness is a feeling of peace that emerges as you take the hurt less personally, take responsibility for how you feel, and become a hero instead of a victim in the story you tell.
I would then discuss the benefits of forgiveness with my family member. One benefit of forgiveness that Luskin describes is that after forgiveness we can give more love and care to the important people in our lives. I feel that this is an important benefit to discuss with my family member because after three years of divorce, she deserves the opportunity to focus on special people in the present, not the past. I would explain that by forgiving she would be freeing herself of the past so that she can nurture the valuable, current, relationships in her life.
In addition, I would tell my family member that by forgiving she is not forgetting. In fact, it is important that she remember. By remembering what happened she will be able to ensure that infidelity does not happen to her again. In addition, it will allow her to praise herself for her forgiveness. By praising herself she will be able to acknowledge her courage and persistence that led to overcoming the wounds of the past.
Luskin also explains how one can bring themself to forgive, which I would share with my family member. First, I will tell her that she needs to focus her mind on beauty, love, and forgiveness. She must spend more time focusing on gratitude and love rather than grievances. By doing this she will be able to take responsibility for how she feels, an important step in forgiveness. As Luskin says, we alone control what we focus on. Secondly, I will ask her to challenge her unenforceable rules so that she can develop realistic hopes and wishes. She needs to know that no matter how good the rule is, there are always people to break it. Therefore, her rule that her spouse should not be unfaithful was a good rule, but there are always people to break the rule, such as her ex-husband. Her ex-husband already broke the rule; she can only hope that no one else does. Acknowledging this will likely help my family member to stop re-living the effect of the broken rule. I believe that by following the steps that Luskin has set forth, I will be able to encourage my family member to choose to forgive her ex-husband.
My personal view about how an attorney or mediator can appropriately explore and encourage forgiveness with a person who has unfairly suffered a serious injury is that they should play a passive role in the process. Specifically, I feel that attorneys and mediators should not expect or tell their clients to forgive. Rather, they should offer practical advice in a neutral manner about the positive aspects of forgiveness.
The first step in exploring and encouraging forgiveness with your client is to determine why they are upset and what their thoughts are on forgiveness. By determining the state of mind of a client before offering advice, an attorney or mediator will be able to tailor their comments to the client specifically. Furthermore, it gives the client an opportunity to discuss the injury with a trusted person; something that Luskin writes is a necessary prerequisite to forgiveness.
An example of tailoring comments to a client’s specific needs while still remaining neutral and passive is if the client is religious. An attorney or mediator in this situation might ask the client to share their religion’s thoughts on forgiveness. Thus, the client is reminded of their religious view of forgiveness without the attorney or mediator saying, “You are Christian so you really should forgive.” When the client is asked to analyze their own beliefs and apply them to the situation at hand, it forces them to take responsibility for their feelings. This responsibility is a necessary part of forgiveness according to Luskin. As seen in this example and countless others, it is important for the attorney or mediator to remember that forgiveness is a personal choice and not something that can be forced upon a client.
Although I believe the attorney or mediator should be a passive party to a client’s forgiveness, I do think there should be an open dialogue. An attorney or mediator may express what they believe to be the positive effects of forgiveness and how it could benefit the client. As Luskin writes, an apology can lead the client to a feeling of peace, to taking back their power, and taking responsibility for how they feel. Thus, an attorney or mediator may tell the client that they will likely feel better about the impending trial/mediation/outcome of the case if they are able to forgive. By forgiving the offending party, the client might find peace that would not be available solely through money. However, it is important that the attorney or mediator explain these positive outcomes without pressuring the client to forgive. There are two reasons for this, first if the client forgives only after pressure from an attorney then this is likely not a true forgiveness. Secondly, the client may feel as if the attorney or mediator is belittling their injury if they instantly tell the client to forgive.
In addition, it is important that an attorney or client explain what forgiveness is not. According to Luskin forgiveness is not forgetting that something painful happened, excusing poor behavior, minimalizing hurt, a reconciliation, or a giving up of all feelings. By explaining what forgiveness is not, the attorney or mediator will help the client see how personally beneficial forgiveness can be because forgiveness does not have to be given for the offending party. In addition, by explaining what forgiveness is not the client may feel relieved because they do not have to worry about sending the wrong message to the offender.
Personally, I believe that using the skills and ideas found in our class texts, an attorney or mediator should explore and encourage forgiveness in a neutral, passive manner. There should be an open communication, but this should be limited to encouragement for the client’s sake, there should not be any demands for forgiveness.