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What It Means to Forgive

This New Year's as we reflect on our experiences with friends and family we might think about forgiveness, both given and received. Philosopher Charles Griswold provides some guidance. Christie Nicholson reports

This New Year's, maybe sparked by renditions of Auld Lang Syne, we might reflect on times with friends and family. And maybe we might think about forgiveness.

Well Charles Griswold, professor of Philosophy at Boston University, outlines the complexities of forgiveness in a recent blog post.

Certainly to forgive we must abandon thoughts of resentment and revenge. But it’s not just this. We must also find the act and the person who committed it fitting of such anger. (We wouldn’t call it forgiveness if a four-year-old told us a tall tale.)

Griswold holds that ideal forgiveness is one where the offender admits their wrong-doing and takes steps to repair the damage. In taking such steps offenders are seeking forgiveness. So there is a two-directional relationship here between the forgiver and forgiven.

An imperfect form of forgiveness, according to Griswold, is the unilateral one where one forgives, independent of any steps taken by the offender.   Griswold believes that true forgiveness is a bilateral act that preserves a “moral relation between self and other.

He notes forgiveness is not merely relief from anger but rather it is the act of expressing moral ideals, like truth, mutual respect, reconciliation.

And for this I'd recommend old acquaintance not be forgot.

—Christie Nicholson

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