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5:40-42 - "If a man wants to sue you for your coat, let him have it and your overcoat as well. If anybody forces you to go a mile with him, do more - go two miles with him. Give to the man who asks anything from you, and don't turn away from the man who wants to borrow."

20 Oct 2018


 Philosophy professor Charles Griswold recently commented to Vision that the process of apology and forgiveness may be so expected in a culture like ours that they can become theatrical, contrived and robbed of their moral seriousness. He explains that “forgiveness is about a moral response on the part of a victim to a wrongdoer.” This concept raises ethical questions, particularly the challenge of forgiving those who are not truly sorry for the wrong they have perpetrated. 
We have all seen high profile members of the sporting and entertainment communities shedding tears as they beg for the public’s forgiveness. The world is weary of politicians making emotional apologies to their constituents and families after their financial or sexual misconduct has come to light. Even more disturbing is the specter of religious leaders “falling from grace”—not to mention trust—and being led away in handcuffs.  We have come to expect dishonesty and immorality from public figures. Corruption is uncovered with almost comical regularity. 

Those exposed in wrongdoing seem to react automatically with an impassioned plea for forgiveness. We, the public, are expected to understand that the perpetrator is essentially a good person and to extend our goodwill. Somehow, an apology is supposed to begin and complete a healing process.  
This ubiquitous process of exposure, contrition, and pardon is disillusioning. It makes it hard to teach the next generation to be upstanding citizens. It makes it all but impossible to esteem those in authority. How do we teach our children to cope with the repeated commission and forgiveness of “moral failings” without becoming totally cynical? 
It may help to encourage them to seek the root of the problem. Immoral and unethical choices can stem from complex circumstances such as scarring experiences, genetic predispositions or lack of supportive, guiding relationships with appropriate boundaries.  One report published in the December 2008 issue of the Archives of General Psychiatry reveals that perhaps one in five young Americans has a personality disorder that may contribute to the substance abuse and violence we see so commonly on college campuses. The intent of the research isn’t to promote the victim mentality, but to point out that many people make immoral or unethical choices based on factors such as emotionally scarring experiences in childhood. Early life stress such as sexual and emotional abuse or the loss of a parent can often lead to disorders in later life. No such background makes it all right to mistreat others. But appreciating the context of bad choices does make it easier to explain injustice and move on. 
It is important to keep in mind that making an apology is not the same as seeking forgiveness. To err is human, but to forgive is indeed divine. (See “Finding God’s Forgiveness.”) As with so many aspects of life, the key to processing negative experiences is the attitude we adopt—whether deliberately or subconsciously. As Martin Seligman points out in his book, The Optimistic Child, we can work on developing this vital type of mental conditioning in our children to—in effect—inoculate them against psychological damage. 
Fortunately, being in an attitude of willingness to forgive those who are genuinely repentant is not nearly as challenging as forgiving anybody and everybody who demands it of us. Caring about our fellow man enough to strive to understand their problems doesn’t have to mean we overlook or condone wrongdoing in whatever guise. However, teaching our children to walk a mile in another’s shoes could go a long way towards building the forgiving attitude that will help them in later life

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