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Language Log

Tuesday, Apr. 18, 2017 - 12:18 p.m.

I finished reading the dissertation on forgiveness-- well, I'm still reading the conclusion, but have finished the chapters-- and it has actually clarified a lot for me.

1. Did you know that "condone" does not mean "approve of", but "overlook or tolerate"? I didn't!

2. Many instances where people (MOM) say I should forgive are really instances where they want me to condone, in the proper sense. Overlook and ignore, and they don't really care if I let go of negative feelings at all. They just don't want to hear any more shit about it, i.e., they don't themselves want to be made uncomfortable by my negative feelings. That is not real forgiveness.

I also don't think she modeled real forgiveness to me, which is why I found it unimpressive. She brings stuff up from long ago, still holds things against people. She doesn't JUST dwell on stuff, but if the subject of my nephew comes up when she is mad at him, she brings up stuff he did as a teenager. Etc. So the notion of forgiveness I saw was quite hollow.

She was big on advising other people to forgive when it was not really appropriate. She was mad at my nephew for not forgiving (and forgetting, which is also different) his father. I really don't think it would have been a virtue for him to do that at that point.

3. Actual forgiveness is always a gift, never an obligation. It does not mean forgetting about the wrong. It does not mean excusing the wrong. It may or may not be justified. It is not always correct or healthy or appropriate to forgive.

4. The purpose of elective forgiveness (cases where apology and repentance have not occurred) may indeed be to reduce the amount of resentment and anger in the world, when you can.

5. I don't actually feel that my resentments and angers are all that burdensome. I feel I do not need to forgive my mother for her abuse when she still does it when she feels appropriate. I cannot decide to trust her to do otherwise at this point. Neither do I let it poison my entire view of her (though it does make me behave less warmly to her than I otherwise might). I still have to think of this some more.

6. The examples the person gave defending elective forgiveness involved Jean Valjean (who did experience a change of heart as a result of the forgiveness), and two cases where community support empowered the person to forgive (or lack thereof did not properly allow it): a case from the South African truth and reconciliation commission testimony, where a woman sought to identify and forgive her father's murderers. The community support for that would have been crucial. Second example was concentration camp victims forgiving nazis. Basically they felt that as individuals they had no right to forgive on behalf of the Jewish community, and in the a sense of meaningful expression of true remorse and repentance by the German community as a whole, it was not appropriate for anyone to forgive the Nazis.

I have trouble generalizing these cases to experiences like my own.

7. Cases where it is not appropriate to forgive are where it is just too soon (later that evening after your children have been murdered) or when forgiveness would cause you to overlook a pattern of abuse (domestic violence cases where wife forgives abusive husband over and over). I may be misunderstanding the purpose of these examples in the argument, but that was my takeaway.

It has also clarified some aspects of Christianity to me-- how certain branches emphasize forgiveness only with repentance and apology, while others emphasize unearned grace. Frankly, the former make God seem a little weird, that it needs a good reason to forgive. But, whatever. Not my circus, not my monkeys.

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