Forgiveness: Its Place and Purpose

3 03 2009

NOTE: This inquiry is not yet complete, I will update it here when its finished. 


My intention in this inquiry is to understand the action and dynamic of “forgiveness.” I strive to find its basis through its definition and the definitions of words related to it (namely “offense” and “wrongdoing”), in addition to the conditions that might apply to what could be considered an offense or wrongdoing. From here I look at the potential reasons to forgive, which leads into analysis of all information covered and a deeper perspective into the proper function of forgiveness in our lives. (I WILL UPDATE THIS WHEN NEEDED)


What it Means to Forgive:

    The inquiry will begin by first settling what it means to “forgive.” The dictionary gives the following definitions among others:


1) To cancel an indebtedness or liability of: to forgive the interest owed on a loan.


This third definition seems to apply most directly to monetary issues. However, we might understand how one could cancel and indebtedness for other reasons. For instance, a young boy spray paints my car as a prank. I catch him in the act and tell his parents, agreeing that he will do 20 hours of work around my house. I could “forgive” the boy and in this context cancel his liability to me.


2) To grant pardon for or remission of (an offense, debt, etc.); absolve.


This definition appears valid. There might be a great many reasons to pardon an individual. We may determine that their act of “offense” (a word we will explore later in the inquiry) was not due to their own will, or was their best course of action in a tight situation, and so we determine that act to be “forgivable.”


3) To cease to feel resentment against: to forgive one’s enemies. 


This definition is understandable, but does not seem to be ideal. One might experienced prolonged negative emotions due to another’s act of offense, but who would choose to experience their life with these feelings? It seems as though we do not need these feelings in order to hold one accountable for a wrong-doing. We might continue to hold one accountable for a wrong-doing, and so understandably treat them differently in terms of trust – yet at the same time not harbor negativity and hold negative emotions all the while. This “different treatment” will be taken into account later in the inquiry.



What it Means to “Offend,” or to Do Wrong:


In order to understand forgiveness, it is seems necessary to explore the idea of “offense”. The dictionary defines this word in the following ways, among others:


1) To act in disregard of laws, rules, contracts, or promises.


This definition states that any act that disregards and goes against a previous agreement (to the state [by law] or to another person [by an expressed agreement or contract]) may be considered an offense. This is understandable as well. This definition does involve the volition of the “offender” in that the word “disregard” is used. A disregard is to pay no attention to; leave out of consideration; ignore. To disregard is to neglect. The neglect is in the context of the previous agreement. 


2) To err in conduct; to commit a sin, crime, or fault.


This definition claims that any act which is sinful (assumably a religious term), a crime, or a “fault” can be considered an offense. The term “fault” may be exceptionally vague, but it takes into account an important facet of wrong-doing; the intention of the “offender” – the agent. A “fault” is an act that can be pin-pointed to one’s own will, one’s own conscious decisions, it is something that the “offender” is responsible for. “Crime” does not imply an individual’s intent, only their action. A man might be woken up in the middle of the night to a phone call that his child is in the hospital, and he may leave his driver’s license at home. Driving without a license is technically a crime, for he neglects the agreement he has with the state – yet his intention is not to hide his identity, or to harm anyone whatsoever, but to visit his hospitalized child as soon as possible.


3) To hurt or to cause pain; to affect disagreeably.


This definition states that any act that affects one in a disagreeable sense can be called an offense. In a sense this is understandable, but it seems as though more than this criteria alone is responsible for one to truly offend. It can be stated that offense is in the mind of the “offended”, and this seems to be true. However, it would seem as though the will and intention of the “offender” aught to be taken into account. One might make their old friend a carrot cake for their birthday, not knowing that their friend is repulsed by carrot cake. Would this be an offense? It could be perceived to be, but the intention of the act seems clearly to be one of the intent of contribution, of mutual enjoyment. 


We will here also cover the definitions of “wrongdoing”. The dictionary defines this word in the following ways, among others. 


1) Behavior or action that is wrong, evil, or blameworthy.


This definition points out that a wrongdoing may involve evil (perceivably in its intent), or that it must be blameworthy – obviously referring to the conscious responsibility of the agent. “Wrong” here seems to refer to an improper action – possibly equivalent to making a wrong turn in an ethical sense.


2) Departure from what is ethically acceptable.


It is not clear as to weather this definition seems fitting. It refers to social value norms as the basis of weather one has done wrong or not. One might live in a society where animals are not killed and eaten, for this is deemed to be an expression of hubris and a useless act of violence. In this unique culture, people may believe that one need not kill animals for their nutrition, and that animals are their equals. By this definition, a farmer in our country would be a wrongdoer in that context. The definition seems to fit certain cases and not others.


3) Activity that transgresses moral or civil law.


Again here we see reference to customs in the form of civil law. In the imaginary country used in the above example (where animals are not allowed to be killed for food), an animal killer with the intention to feed himself would be a wrongdoer, and would be committing an act that some might resent him for. The other portion of this definition deals with moral law, which is vague be seems to refer to a sort of basic ethical sense.



Requirements of “Offense” or  Wrong-Doing:


Above we looked into a variety of definitions for “offense” and “wrongdoing.” and aimed at discerning what it was about them that made a wrong-doing a wrong-doing. In order to understand forgiveness in the first place we must understand offense, for without a perceived offense there is no apparent reason to forgive. We can here lay out tentative requirements for offense:


Malicious Intent: This was not brought up in any of the dictionary definitions found by this inquiry, yet it is a vital aspect of wrongdoing. Malicious intent involves an action by the “offender” that aims directly to harm another in some way. This includes both misleading (possibly by lying about investing you money what a man intends to steal it), or coercion (such as in an instance of rape). The other forms of neglect may indeed harm others, but they do not necessarily involve a rational desire to hurt others. The man who chooses not to pick up his friend from the airport does not do so to hurt him, just to benefit himself. The man who fills up his water bottle does not intend to hurt the other thirsty runners, he just neglects to factor in their benefit from the fountain that he uses. 

This will be deemed a just requirement of offense in this inquiry.


The Responsibility of the “Offender”: In order to rightfully be offended by any act, we must assume that the perceived harm done was the conscious fault of the “offender.” For instance, if a dear jumps from the dense woods out into the middle of the road and is struck by a man, we can barely hold him as the “offender” if that deer bounces off our car as well as we pass by – it was not remotely his fault. He was driving along responsibly with good intentions and a deer leapt out from nowhere and bounced off his car, his volition was not at all involved in the damage to our own vehicle. In order for anyone or any association to be at fault, they had to have made improper decisions, neglected information, or gone against the benefit of others with their conscious choices. In this case of the bouncing deer carcass, we cannot “blame” the other man. This justification for identifying a wrong-doing is a pre-requisite for the next three terms below.

This will be deemed a just requirement of offense in this inquiry.


Neglect to Pay Adequate Attention to Matters in the Consideration of Others: To be clear, neglect here refers to a disregard or a slight. Neglect to pay adequate attention certainly does not entail ill wishing or evil intent, but it does place the responsibility on the agent. For instance, if one decides to back out of his driveway swiftly and accidently hits a neighbor’s dog, he can likely be held responsible. He aught look carefully behind him before he moves his vehicle, and in taking this kind of consideration he could have probably avoided the dog. 

This will be deemed a just requirement of offense in this inquiry.

Neglect of One’s Agreements or Contracts: This is an integral facet of offense. This can range from forgetfulness, which might be considered paying inadequate attention to matters (see above), to downright avoiding one’s previous contracts in order to benefit oneself (see below). The breaking of contract can generally fall into those two categories, but it is mentioned here because it is common and understandable. If I for instance, a man might forget to pay a neighbor a debt, or he may avoid doing so in his own benefit. Either way he harms the neighbor by not paying him what is rightfully his, and a wrong-doing has occurred. 

This will be deemed a just requirement of offense in this inquiry.

Neglect of Another’s Benefit for One’s Own: This is a kind of neglect that does not necessarily involve an agreement to others. For instance, one might go to a water fountain to fill up a large water bottle after a long run. This may be offensive to some if that is the only fountain in the entire building, and plenty of other thirsty runners are waiting to rehydrate. The man did not promise anyone else that he wouldn’t fill up his water bottle, and there is no law against doing so. He simple doesn’t take the benefit of their hydration into account. This also does not have to involve malicious intent. The man filling the bottle may mean no harm at all, but he nonetheless slights the other runners by benefiting himself above them.

This will be deemed a just requirement of offense in this inquiry.


Harm Experienced by the “Offended”: When one experienced pain or suffers, or even becomes frustrated, this may be associated with another person. or group, and hence one becomes the “offended,” the other group the “offender.” It can be said that something is not truly an offense unless it brings about some form of harm to the “offended.” This harm may come in many forms, not merely by obvious causes such as hitting one over the head or stealing one’s possessions. Some people might be offended by an offer of money to help them through a rough economical time – this could be perceived to be an insult to their own capacity to support themselves. Though harm in some subjective form must be experienced by the “offended” for an offense to be made, harm in and of itself does not indicate an offense. It must be linked to the actions of another, and the other’s responsibility for those actions. Let it be known that I do believe that other people can identify and seek to punish others who have done wrong, and I also recognize that people may take offense to wrongdoings that were not perpetrated on them at all – such as the actions of a mass-murderer in another country. In any case, harm is in some way done to some person for anything to be considered an offense, so this factor must be taken into consideration.

This will be deemed a just requirement of offense in this inquiry, provided that it refers also to the conscious responsibility of the agent. 


Divergence from the Moral Norm: One could interpret a divergence from moral norms as a requirement of “offense” or identifiable wrongdoing. For instance, if one were to juggle puppies over an open flame, some people might consider this to be an offense. This factor by itself does not seem to warrant anything that would need to be forgiven. Any act that diverges from moral norms and would need to be forgiven seems to also violate some of the above requirements of an offense (since “harm experienced by the ‘offended'” must be included necessarily, but not without reference to conscious responsibility on the part of the agent).

This will not be deemed a just requirement of offense in this inquiry.


Any of the above qualities may be present in an “offensive” situation. Any of the above terms may be used for one to identify if they believe they have been “wronged.”

Of course, there is always a subjective aspect of such interpretation of acts and events. Someone might feel quite offended by a man who speeds by him in the high speed lane at 30 MPH over the speed limit. The “offended” might recognize that such an act neglects the speeder’s agreement to the state, and also that the individual neglects the benefit of safety of others on the road for his own benefit – arriving sooner or getting a thrill from danger. The “offended” might even perceive such an act as one of malicious intent, and my view the speeder’s drive by as an attempt to scare him off the road and harm him. 

One could potentially be offended by any event, imagined or actual. For instance, a fake documentary could be aired about a violent political leader on some small Pacific island. This documentary could enrage numerous individuals, bringing then to label this “political leader,” revile him, and wish ill upon him. Even though the man and events are a complete fiction, people may “take offense” and harbor resentment regardless – it is entirely a function of their mind.



The Results of a Perceived Offense / The Entailments of Forgiveness:


What results from an offense? What does forgiveness entail? How might one’s interactions with an individual differ after a perceived “offense” if he was forgiven or not forgiven? Again the trends might be different from person to person, but we might identify common threads. All of the terms below could potentially be the resultant ideas of he who believes he was done wrong, and the abolishment of these ideas could be said to be the result of forgiveness.


A Sense of Debt or Entitlement: After a wrong-doing, the “offended” might hold that the “offender” owes him something. For instance, if one’s property is damaged or one’s rights have been violated, one may hold the “offender” responsible for their repair – or some other form of repayment. Since the “offender” was responsible for the offense done prior, the “offended” might hold him responsible for some form of payment. If an action is not forgiven, then the “offended” may hold the “offender” is owing him an favor or some kind of repayment – to which the “offender” may or may not agree to. After forgiveness, the “offended” may release any sense of debt that in his mind the “offender” owed him. This absolving of the debt may or may not involve the actual repayment or repair of damages, but in either case it involved the removal of a sense of 

This seems quite understandable. When someone have committed a wrong-doing, it can certainly be expected that they would repay such a wrong-doing. For instance, if a man hit your car by his own negligence on the road, he can be expected by law an by courtesy (assuming he wants to avoid further trouble of genuinely wishes to undo his damage) to use his resources to fix the damages. If a man steals your wallet and is caught by the police, it is understandable that he should be expected to repay the money that he had taken.

This will be deemed a valid result of “offense” or entailment of forgiveness in this inquiry.


Trust or Other Judge of Character: When an offense is perceived to be committed, the “offended” may form an idea about the character of the “offender.” He may deem him inconsiderate (if he was perceived to have neglected the benefits or rights of others), he may deem him untrustworthy (if he was perceived to have broken a contract or promise), or he may deem him evil (if he was perceived to have acted in malicious intent towards others). In this sense, the “offended” may act towards the “offender” in regard to how he views his character. He may choose not to involve himself with the “offender” if he deems him inconsiderate, he may choose not to state certain information around the “offender” if he deems him untrustworthy, and he may even choose to be malicious towards the “offender” if he deems that the “offender” has been malicious towards others. A forgiveness may entail a “cleaning of the slate” in the mind of the previously “offended” about the character and qualities of the “offender.” He may now release those previous labels and be open to view the previous “offender” without pinpointed faults or qualities that he placed on the previous “offender” from the previous offense event. 

Being as a possible entailment of offense is a rational judgement of the “offender,” it makes sense that a possible entailment of forgiveness is the relinquishment of certain judgements about the “offender,” and hence a different way of treating that individual or organization (whoever has made the offense). 

However we might again warn that placing a black mark on an “offender” simply for his perceived offense. It does not follow necessarily that since one was harmed by another, that other takes on negative qualities instantly.

It may very well be that an “offender” commits and act and it seems remarkably indicative of certain qualities. For instance, a man seems to be very trustworthy and steals large sums of money from us. We could hence deem such a man to have this capacity, and so not to be trusted. In another example, we might be bludgeoned by a man for no reason, and so we see that his intent was malicious and intentionally harmful, and that he is capable of such acts (again, it is within the range of his character to do such things). In this instance, “forgiveness” could entail a removal of that perceived negative quality from the “offender” (the reasons or requirements for doing this will be discussed later).

This will be deemed a valid result of “offense” or entailment of forgiveness in this inquiry.


Resentment and Negative Emotion: A forgiveness might signify a relinquishment of negative emotions towards a specific person, association, etc… One may have deemed another responsible for an offense and hence held resentment towards him. Forgiveness in this case might signify the release of such internal tension. Hence, the result might be more civil and pleasant interactions between the “offended” and the “offender.”

This seems again to involve unnecessary negative feelings, the harboring of negativity within oneself and towards another. It may seem as though anger is permitted (this is a topic that will be explored later) in certain instances, but to hold onto such negative energies “because someone offended us” seems fruitless in any respect.

This will not be deemed a valid result of “offense” or entailment of forgiveness in this inquiry.


Wishes of Misfortune: When an offense occurs the “offended” may harbor not only resentment towards he who committed the offense, but he might also wish ill upon him. A man may wish misfortune on the “offender” for harming him. Forgiveness may be the end of such ill wishes, and in the mind of the “offended,” it may signify viewing the “offender” as neutral, not to be praised yet not to be reviled (as he was prior to forgiveness). 

Again it appears useless to wish ill upon others. A man may have harmed you or your family. To work towards his just punishment seems rational, to fume and boil over with mental fantasies of his torture seems on all accounts fruitless.

This will not be deemed a valid result of “offense” or entailment of forgiveness in this inquiry.



Requirements of Forgiveness:


Above we have investigated the possible results of an offense. As stated above, forgiveness would likely signify the resolving of these results. For instance, if an offense drives one to resent the “offender” (a result of offense that we have determined in this inquiry to be invalid, and we will discover why), than forgiveness will serve to absolve this resentment. If an offense brings one


The Acceptance and Presence of the “Offended”: First allow me to write with regards to “holding a grudge” or “harboring resentment” toward the “offender.” This kind of response to an offense seems to bring with it no real benefit – for it takes away from one’s own personal experience of the present moment and tarnishes it with negativity, negativity that might affect others as well. In addition, continuing to feel these painful feelings of anger and hurt do not “right” the “wrong” in any way. If the one “wronged” in the event is able to accept what happened – not by condoning the prior act but by not resisting (accepting) the reality that the act or event has occurred – then he is able to move past the ripple-effect of negativity in his life and live in positivity, despite “unfortunate” or potentially “offensive” events happening in the past.

Without a ceasing of such negative emotions, without lifting heavy labels from others, it does not seem as though anyone can truly be forgiven. What would forgiveness signify if one were to still revile the other and label him with negative qualities? The obligation of debt that the “offended” placed over the “offender” may be lifted, but the negativity and labels persist, and so in the mind of the “offended,” he is still the “offended” and the other man is still the “offender.”

This requirement of forgiveness will be deemed valid in this inquiry.


The “Offender’s” Conscious Responsibility: It has previously been stated that when we rationally “take offense” to an act, as stated before, we put the responsibility of an act on another. We find that a man was not responsible for his neglect of following through on a contract, or for his apparently malicious act, we could not rationally take this as a wrong-doing. Again, it is possible that any absurd act could be interpreted as an offense, but without a remote responsibility or volition of the “offender,” he no longer rightfully deserves the title of the “offender.”

This seems to be a core distinction for forgiveness. If we previously have considered the “offender” to be consciously acting against us or in neglect of us, then we could likely realize the wrong-doing. If we are to find out later that his act was not of his own will, and was not something that he could have reasonably prevented, then we would seem to have no reason to wish ill upon him or hold a debt above him. It would also seem possible to forgive an individual even if he was consciously responsible for his “offense.” However, it is important to note, as we have already, that without conscious responsibility the “offender” cannot be labeled the “offender” at all.

This requirement of forgiveness will be deemed valid in this inquiry.


The Wrong-Doer’s Acknowledgement of Wrong-Doing: A potential and common aspect of forgiveness is the acknowledgement on the part of the “offender” that he has done wrong to the “offended.” For instance, a man’s car is hit by another man who may not have been paying attention to the road. The man who hit his car might be more likely to be forgiven if he comes out and apologizes than if he ignores the event and speeds away. His apology likely signifies that it was not his intent to hurt, and that he takes responsibility for the action that he has committed than may have hurt the other. The apology shows his valuation of the other man’s life and vehicle, it conveys that he cares for the other as a human being and would not intend harm. His ignoring the event likely signifies that he does not choose to face the action he is responsible for, and does not value the life or vehicle of he who was hit.

This facet of a forgiveness requirement can be difficult to understand, however. A man may hit someone else’s car, steal a wallet, or murder a family, or any other acts of negligence or malice – and make statements about the fact that he acknowledges the act as a wrong-doing and will not do such things again. Anyone can state that they recognize a wrong-doing. This statement in it usually contains three parts: admitting an act as wrong-doing (hence holding oneself responsible), expressing emotional pain in remorse or sadness (which we will discuss shortly), and expressing that such an action will not occur again (the negligent driver may express that he will no longer make phone calls and drive simultaneously, a thief may express that he will change his character to ensure that this wrong-doing will not occur, etc…). 

It would seem as though this aspect of forgiveness may serve a relatively important purpose. If one admits to doing wrong and seems to genuinely not agree with his past actions, this would be – if nothing else – a recognition of his own responsibility and a show of respect for the “offended” as a person. Certainly, however, not all statements will be genuine, as we have stated prior. The reasonableness of another’s statement of admitting to wrong-doing and their commitment to correct their tendencies or character is up to the “offended,” for he is who will make the decision to forgive. The statement of the “offender” would have to be taken in context and understood along with his history, voice tonality, etc…

This requirement of forgiveness will be deemed valid in this inquiry.


The Wrong-Doer’s Related Painful Feelings: Similarly, one might believe that the pain of guilt or sadness of the “offender” is indicative of weather the “offended” grants forgiveness. In a way this makes sense, for pain on the part of the “offender” might signify that the act he had committed went against his values, and he genuinely regrets his action. A regret seems to signify that such an action is less likely to occur in the future. Painful emotions might also spring from one being caught and punished. Someone who hits your car by accident may seem to be in emotional pain more because of their own insurance cost than because negligent driving goes against their values. In this case, the driver of the car would seem to at least aim to drive more carefully for his own sake. We might also take a more extreme example of a rapist who is caught by the police. His painful emotions may be due to his guilt conscious or his believe that his will is not strong enough to restrain his evil urges, but they are likely due to his being caught and punished. We cannot see such pain as indicative of change in character or values, or in tendencies. In this case it seems ambiguous weather or not emotional pain should be a requirement for forgiveness.

Might it be possible to commit a wrong-doing (be it one of negligence or malice), recognize the wrong-doing as such, seek to correct this mistake (by repairing damages or example, or replacing stolen items), and at the same time not experience emotional pain? Would the feelings of emotional pain necessarily be more indicative of a genuine guilt and a genuine recognition of wrong-doing or a genuine change in behavior (IE: remembering promises, not stealing, etc…)? It would seem rare but perfectly possible. Certainly there may be instances where we can see the pain in the offender and take it into some kind of consideration, but it does not appear to be clear indicators in any instance of wrong-doing. Since “painful feelings” seem vague and as we have stated before, they are ambiguous in terms of their indications – it may not be reliable to factor them into our decision to forgive or not to forgive. 

This requirement of forgiveness will be deemed invalid in this inquiry.


Alleviation of Harm: As was stated above in the section on requirements of “offense,” an “offense” seems to imply some form of harm or hurt. It might appear to be rational, then, to assume that forgiveness must entail the alleviation of the hurt, or the repayment of the damage done by the “offense.” For instance, if one steals money from another, this is a form of hurt. If one damages another’s property, this is another form of hurt. In these examples, the hurt or harm likely be said to be repairable. The money can be paid back, and the property can be repaired. There are other examples, however, of irreparable hurts. For instance, one might accidently run over a neighbor’s precious pet cat. This cat cannot simply be replaced. Or one could attack another with an axe and sever his arm off. This injury cannot be repaired – the arm is gone and the individual has lost the capacity to use it forever. In either case, it might seem as though such acts are not repairable and hence unforgivable.

Upon further inspection, it can be understood that one entailment of forgiveness is the absolving of any sense of debt or obligation – weather or not the specific “wrong” is fully “righted.” In this sense, a man may forgive his brother for stealing money from him, even if he never gets the money back. The forgiveness in this case translates to the absolving of the debt owed (possibly among other conditions).

This requirement of forgiveness will be deemed invalid in this inquiry.


Review of the Analysis; Towards the Ideal of Forgiveness:


Throughout this inquiry we have looked at a variety of definitions, justifications for offense and forgiveness, and the like. In this segment we will strive to seek the ideal purpose and place of forgiveness. Italicized above (and numbered above in the case of the definitions) are many facets, many pieces to the grander puzzle of what forgiveness can mean for us. Underneath those terms the inquiry has aimed to determine their individual validity and place. Here will be an attempt to  assemble the puzzle of forgiveness more coherently in order to understand the whole. 


In the above sections I have outlined numerous facets of the process of forgiveness and offense.


Allow me to make what is possibly the most important distinction in this inquiry: to “take offense” and to rationally identify a wrong-doing are not identical. 

To rationally identify a wrong-doing does not have to involve the sense of self-concept or the negative emotions that come with it. This merely involves making the connections necessary to conclude that another person has harmed you in some fashion, and that this harm has resulted from his own conscious responsibility, by; his malicious intent, his neglect to adequately consider others, his neglect to follow through on contracts or promises, or his neglect of your own benefit for his own. A man who recognizes such an instance may rightly seek to be repaid for damages, and may rationally judge the other individual’s character to some extent – depending on how much evidence he has acquired. 

To “take offense” means to involve one’s self-concept, to allow an action or event to trigger negative emotions within us, emotions that do not have any useful function in our lives. These emotions cloud our judgement and have a detrimental effect on our own experience and on the experience of those around us. To “take offense” is to be trapped in thoughts of the past, thoughts of what someone has done to you, or what you want to do to them. This leaves on potentially trapped in the labels of oneself as the “offended” and the evil other as the “offender.” This negativity leaves us fuming with resentment for the other, and even with wishes of pain and misfortune on the other. This may lead us away from forgiving, to retain our ill wished on the “offender,” or to wish to see him suffer in order to grant forgiveness at all.

Let us use a mundane example of an offense from both the perspective of the individual who “takes offense” and he who rationally identifies a wrongdoing.



Situation 1: Hit-and-Run


While driving to work one morning, a man attempts to pass you an ends up clearly bumping into the side of your vehicle. After looking over at you in a panic the man drives off – seemingly to avoid the incident. When the man is pulled over, he admits to his incidence of hit-and-run, and tells the officer that he has just received very bad news at work and was in a hurry to arrive.He states that he will certainly pay back the damages and promises that he will not allow his emotional distress to affect him in such a way when he is behind the wheel ever again.

At this point one can recognize that a wrongdoing has occurred. A man who seems clearly in control of his own actions has neglected to pay adequate attention to the road and in turn has not considered others on the road. The result is a kind of “harm” in the form of obvious vehicular damage. 

The agent’s responsibility, his lack of consideration, and the resultant harm are all requirements of “offense”. 

Here the individual does not seem to show any kind of remorse, but he does recognize his responsibility and his wrong doing – and at the same time clearly states that his action was not out of ill will. After being pulled over he has stated that he will gladly pay back the damages, he claims that he recognizes that to be fair. 

The agent’s admission of wrongdoing and agreement to pay for the damage are possible conditions required for his forgiveness. In addition, we can aim to understand the man’s character and intent by his actions and words. Though he did hit and run, we might attribute this to his claim of emotional distress. He also claims to recognize his wrongdoing and promises not to act in this way again. This information is certainly not adequate to fully understand the man and his intentions, but we can take these aspects into consideration in the way we deal with this event.

Situation 1: Rationally Identifying a Wrongdoing:

After such an event, one could rationally identify a wrongdoing and seek a just result. This would involve the determination that a debt is owed by the man who hit your vehicle, and this might also involve a judgement of the man’s character (one might for instance, determine that the man is likely afraid to put up with the consequences of his negligence due to his panicked look). At this point one would seek to understand the facts, to take down the man’s license plate and to call authorities about the damage. After making sure that the man’s actions were his responsibly (an that, for example, there was not a man with a gun to his head telling him to speed profusely), one would seek a resolve to the problem by being repaid for the damages done, and possibly by aiming to punish the other driver for his reckless driving (to deter such dangerous actions in the future). In this case, the act of forgiveness on the part of he who has acknowledged the wrong doing might involve the acceptance of the event itself, the repayment of the debt, and removing any judgement from he who drove recklessly. This process may be moved along by the acknowledgement of he who has done wrong that his at was in fact his own responsibility. Even without this acknowledgement, however, the rational individual may be said to grant forgiveness by never allowing resentment to enter into his mind, and by dropping all mental labels involving the incident.


Situation 1: Taking Offense:


As a result one could also respond by “taking offense.” This might involve rational processes such as an acknowledgement of a debt owed by the man who has hit your vehicle, and possibly a judgement about the character of the driver. By “taking offense,” however, one has likely also began to resent the other individual, experiencing negativity within oneself and harboring ill will against he who has damaged one’s property. One’s judgement of the man might be particularly harsh and cruel. At this point, one’s self-concept is involved and one has become the “offended,” the wrong doer has become the “offender.” In this case, we will likely seek to punish the “offender” if he was in fact responsible (as he appears to be), to bring him to repair the damages he has done. In the spirit of our resentment, we may also wish to see his anguish – both because of what he has done to us and as a requisite of our forgiveness. In the case of “taking offense,” forgiveness may be more difficult because of our intrenched negativity and labels of “offended” and “offender.” Our resentment may bring us to hold onto these aspect of the offense. If forgiveness is to be given at all, it seems as though it would have to involve the eventual dropping of resentment and labels, and the acceptance of the event and of the character of the other individual – in addition to seeing the debt rightly repaid.


Let us now view this duality in the place of a much more serious instance, an “offense” of great magnitude.



Situation 2: Murder and Kidnap:


A woman returns home to find an odd silence. No television is on, no music is playing, and there is no sign of movement or voice from upstairs. She curiously walks up the stairs to find blood on her own bedroom floor, along with a typed note. The note informs her that he husband has been killed and her two children have been kidnapped for ransom. The murderer is never caught and the children are never recovered. It is found 6 months later that this same murderer has struck again in a different state, and he leaves a note insulting all of those he has harmed in the past, and insulting those who are attempting to find him.

Here the wrongdoing is all but too clear. Someone has clearly acted in malice and in their own sick benefit by taking numerous lives. The acts were clearly planned and calculated matters.

The conscious responsibility of the agent, his malicious intent, and the harm done to others for his own benefit are all possible requirements of “offense.”

The wrongdoer in this case seems to show absolutely no remorse for his actions – nor does he remotely recognize them as evil acts. He seems to have absolutely no consideration for any human life. In fact he insults those who he has harmed, aiming to strike deeper. His crimes can never be repaid, and he would not be willing to repay them even if they were.

The wrongdoers admitting of a wrongdoing, the repayment of his harms, and his conscious intent all are potential requirements for the wrongdoer’s forgiveness, as listed in the previous sections.

Situation 2: Rationally Identifying a Wrongdoing:


Someone in this situation would certainly be expected to be deeply troubled or hurt by these offenses. Rationally identifying a wrongdoing here is obvious. It is the action taken and the considering of this situation that will vary from person to person. From this act, we can determine that the murderer has in fact done irreparable damage, and that he should be held completely responsible for these actions. Even a very just individual would find it difficult not to revile or hold resentment against such a wrongdoer, especially if one’s own family was victim. One might rightly strive in every way to bring the killer to justice, and to inform other people about the present danger of the serial killer. Seeking to punish this individual would be just, most people would want to see the killer’s activities cease and for him to spend his life behind bars or be put to death. In such an extreme case, might we break from those terms above that I have labelled invalid? For instance, would the results of this offense not be resentment towards to “offender,” and ill wishing upon him? In the case of ever forgiving such a wrongdoing, would we not want to see immense guilt and pain in the heart of the offender before we ever would consider forgiving him? Such an extreme offense would seem to warrant these responses within us.

It could be argued though, that one could in fact (with time, social support, strong ethical convictions, etc…) remain true to those results of offense and forgiveness requirements that this inquiry has deemed valid. It could be argued that the involvement of the invalid factors mainly originate from the involvement of the self. From a standpoint of a peaceful and good life, what is the good in resentment, ill wishes, and requiring the murderer to feel pain before he is ever forgiven? Resentment will only bring about negativity in one’s own emotional experience, a negativity that might affect others that one cares about – thus perpetuating itself. This emotion would do no practical good in bringing the wrongdoer to justice, and it may in fact inhibit one’s clear judgement. Wishing ill upon such a murderer would also seem to have no positive consequences. Surely we would want to see the murderer adequately punished, and we may rightly believe that he aught to be put to death. However, by imagining the torture and suffering of the murderer and wishing the worst upon him, we do nothing but fill our minds with more hatred and resentment, and by taking glee in suffering we become like the murderer himself. In some societies, torture of the murderer would seem a just repercussion of his acts. This torture punishment or the punishment of death may be fitting for the wrongdoings committed, but again; taking glee in such pain cannot result in any real good on our part. Similarly, how would the murderer’s own suffering play any part in his forgiveness? If we witnessed the murderer crying every night before he went to sleep, this pain might be recognizable as the pain of violating his deepest morals, or it may be the pain that he experiences knowing he will never be able to cut human flesh again – we cannot tell. As stated prior, if we were to require pain in the offender for his forgiveness, we might delight in it and so bring out the evil in ourselves, not the rationality and justice within us. One would ideally be able to eventually accept the event and continue to live a life in peace, even if that life is dedicated to bringing the murderer to justice (weather or not we can call this forgiveness will be discussed further in the inquiry). 


Situation 2: Taking Offense:


Obviously “taking offense” after such an incidence seems natural, instinctive. I do not deny the horribleness of this scenario, nor its potential to affect the emotions of those involved in a massively negative fashion. The murderer has likely struck closest to what we identify with, to what we involve in our self-concept: our closest family (as well as those other innocent people killed). With the involvement of our sense of self-concept, and the atrocities committed, forgiveness would seem to be utterly impossible if we were to “take offense.” We would boil in hatred and burn in anger, yearning for the murderer to feel pain. We could be consumed in this cloud of negative emotion, unable to live a day with control over our own thoughts – as we would be immersed in an painful obsession with the murderer.

Again this seems a natural response to such a situation. However, in a sense, the involvement of the invalid facets of ‘the results of offense,’ ‘the entailments of forgiveness,’ and the ‘requirements of forgiveness’ seem to be tied completely to the involvement of the self-concept, and the perpetuating cycle of useless negativity that results from its involvement. In the deepest sense, these emotions and obsessions with negativity can not produce positive results for oneself or for others, they are not conducive to a life in enjoyment or a life of control over one’s thoughts. They are not even conducive to bringing the “offender” to justice. In another important sense, the involvement of the self-concept and the resulting negativity could be seen to signify a victory on the part of the murderer, or even on the part of evil in general. The murderer in our example yearned to bring about suffering in others, he yearned to spread pain and negativity. Through your approach to his wrongdoings, you may inadvertently become an agent in his cause. Does this suggest that we aught to forgive any act? It may mean that we should consider transcending the idea of forgiveness in general.



Need We “Forgive” at All?:


Of course by this I do not mean to say that we aught to harbor grudges and permanently label all those who we perceive to do us wrong or do wrong in general. I do not believe that justice should not be served, that we aught to condone all acts in the same way. Nor to I ignore the reality of emotions – positive and negative – in our human experience, especially related to tragedy. What I mean to say is that the act of “forgiving” or “not forgiving” may serve no beneficial purpose in our lives other than identifying those who we resent, or by putting the name “non-forgiven” to those whom we believe owe us something or those who we believe have defective characters.

Let us pose the question: Is it possible to deal justly with situations and so abide only by the factors above recognized as valid? In other words, is it possible to accept (not to be confused with “condone”) the reality of an event and deal with it practically, without involvement of the self and its associated negativity? 


Refer to Situation 1 and 2. In either case, what would it mean if one were to say “I have not forgiven that man for his offense”? This would either entail:


a) The involvement of one’s self-concept, and hence my continued ill will and resentment towards the wrongdoer, in addition to one’s labeling of oneself as the “offended” and the other as the “offender.”


b) The practical and valid aspects previously mentioned; IE: you still believe that the other has not been brought to justice and/or still owes you a debt of some kind, or you believe that the wrongdoer’s character is still conducive to similar offenses. 


Ideally, the entailments of (a) would not be present, for they seem to serve no purpose in our lives and in fact are detrimental to them. In the case of category (b), it seems like these conditions to not even necessitate the use of “forgiveness.” If the statement “I have yet to forgive him” genuinely entails “I have not absolved my belief that he owes me a debt,” then why not state the latter? If you accept the situation and are not in negativity, then it is a practical concern, and “forgiveness” would simply be an abstraction, a word that can entail so much more than practical justice or judgement.






Notes on Terms Used:


Let it be known that “offended” and “offender” are recognized only to be only ideas in the mind of one individual. When an “offense” is committed, it is only classified as one in the mind. Objective, metaphysical labels are not placed on any “offended” or “offender.” This is why I always use quotation marks around “offended” and “offender,” because they are matters of perspective. I also use the works in quotations to signify that they are not representative of an individual only, but possibly of an organization or group. A group may be the “offended.” In addition, anything can be perceived as the “offender.” One could believe than an animal is an offender, or even that an inanimate object is an offender.

In addition, using such labels in any literal fashion may limit one’s ability to view reality more broadly. Labeling oneself as a victim and another as a perpetrator may not be useful outside the context of court and in identifying responsibility and the people involved in an act that was deemed an offense.