Although numerous events have been cited encouraging forgiveness of a wrong as a necessary step towards peaceful co-existence, the idea of forgiveness, as well as its effectiveness in maintaining healthy relationship is debatable. First, there is no legal obligation to forgive; therefore, it cannot be enforced by any legislation. Forgiveness is entirely a personal decision. Yet, questions regarding the completeness of the process, as well as future implications after accepting to pardon a wrong, make it such a complicated issue. Once a person forgives, are they supposed to forget? Is it possible to forget, and can a person have control over the process of forgetting a wrong? In the following essay, the idea of forgiveness, of whether all offences are forgivable, as well as idea of forgetting will be explored with specific attention to Simon’s question in the work The Sunflower (Wiesenthal, Cargas and Fetterman, 1998, p.13).
According to the Human Development Study Group, forgiveness is an act of overcoming negative judgments by an offended person towards the offender (Richard & Yau, 1993, p.359). Forgiveness can only take place if the offender has suffered hurt, yet is able to look upon the offender with compassion, tolerance and even love, while recognizing the fact that the offender actually has no right to these virtues.
Forgiveness involves the physical and mental faculties. In order to forgive, one needs to understand the essence of rebuilding of healthy relationships with others. Not being in a healthy relationship may have negative effects in business, social and family, or personal circles. When a person is wronged, he/she may experience bitter feelings as a way of reacting to the hurting action. Different persons experience varying intensities of hurt, and, all the more, respond differently to hurt. Personally, the way I deal with hurting situations caused by others involve four notable stages.
In this stage, the offended people usually confront the offender if they are available and make known to them the nature of the emotional experience they have undergone, due to the acts of the other person. The process may also involve misplaced aggression to other people or even to objects if the offenders are unavailable. Psychologically, display of emotions has been shown to have a positive effect on the coping process (Hella, 2005, p.1). Some people may also physically express emotions through crying, as well as withdrawal from the source of hurt, whether expecting a corrective reaction from the offender or just for independent healing.
In this stage, we seek for an explanation for what happened, whether from the offender or from within ourselves. In most cases, the offender may feel obliged to offer an explanation. Whether or not the explanation is satisfactory, it is still necessary, because it forms a basis for the next stage. In psychological studies, seeking an explanation is a crucial step to help achieve understanding, thus maintain an internal order. It also offers additional knowledge that aids the offended to better handle similar situations in the future (Wiesenthal, Cargas and Fetterman, 1998, p.51).
This stage usually involves apology from the offender, but may also be fulfilled through faith that the action will not happen again. Also, knowing that the offender feels remorse, the actions can be still fulfilling and reassuring. This is the most outwardly critical stage because it defines the person’s ability to surrender their feelings of entitlement to anger. Yet, even this stage may not guarantee that the wronged person will completely be free from feelings of hurt. Personally, I find it easy to rebuild safety with people that are not close to me as family or friends. However, it is harder to build trust with close persons, because close people should have known better than to hurt me right before they did (Wiesenthal, Cargas and Fetterman, 1998, p.73).
This stage involves voluntary commitment to not harbor a grudge. The commitment might be through a promise to oneself and to the other party. This stage is the only stage that may involve a positive reaction by offended towards offender. It relies on the other stages for actualization, and will determine whether or not future episodes may bring into memory details of past experiences. Spiritually, this stage is meant to reconcile two parties in line with teachings of the Holy doctrines (Benatar, 2010, p.2). This is the most difficult step for me individually, because it brings into mind debate as to whether the offender actually deserves this forgiveness, or there is a more justified means of making them pay for it. However, once trust is regained with close ones, it strengthens our relationship even more.
Silence at Bedside of Dying Nazi
Since forgiveness is not an obligation, Simon was right whether he forgave the Nazi or remained silent. However, the moral aspect of his choice depended on the consequence. If he would later feel burdened or troubled by not having forgiven, then he would have been wrong not to forgive. However, if in forgiving he would feel cheated of his entitlement to anger and remorse, then he would be right not to forgive. Either way, if his choice did not lead to sustainable inner satisfaction, it was the wrong choice (Wiesenthal, Cargas and Fetterman, 1998, p. 48).
A right is a moral entitlement, and in his case, it would be validated only by existence of a consensual feeling between himself and the Nazi that Simon was wronged and that the Nazi was guilty. So we can say he had the right to forgive as a person. Yet, he could not forgive in behalf of all people who suffered under the Nazi, as only they could. Therefore, in the present situation he had no right (Wiesenthal, Cargas and Fetterman, 1998, p.100).
Moral Obligations to Remember
This is relative to the authority that Simon, or others, ascribes to. It may be a spiritual requirement, or even an inner believe in forgiveness as a necessary action. In his capacity, he was obliged to bring any surviving Nazis to justice (Hella, 2005, p.1). His moral obligation was to see justice offered, only a representative body would give or deny mandate to forgive (Wiesenthal, Cargas and Fetterman, 1998, p.80).
Personally, I view forgiveness from two perspectives: psychological and spiritual. First, I believe in unlimited forgiveness. Psychologically, I look at it as a way of changing my entitlement to anger (which is an entitlement to inner slavery) to an entitlement to peace as forgiveness gives one freedom. Further, a right is only viable if it can lead to a non-contradictory feeling of satisfaction. Anger only brings satisfaction that is selfish and unsustainable, while letting go leads to freedom, free thought and continuity. Secondly, the Christian doctrine, to which I ascribe, endorses forgiveness, just as we have been forgiven by our Creator in numerous times. Numerous outcomes of past experiences of forgiveness come to my mind, and they guide me to forgive. One person who has inspired me to forgive is former South African president Nelson Mandela, as the current peaceful relationship among the citizens in that country is an evident outcome of his forgiveness.