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Apologies, Revenge and Forgiveness

March 5, 2010

While the debate has died down over whether Tiger’s apology was sincere, some asked why people cared so much? I think all the world has been injured by a loved one at some time or another, although without the media circus of the world tuned in to “what does a real apology sound like, will Elin seek revenge, and more importantly, how does forgiveness happen after such betrayal?

We tuned in because we’re all wired for justice, and as such partook of the modern version of penance that earlier in our history took the form of a day in the stockade. But just as we’re wired for justice, we’re also wired for revenge. That’s evident from the tell-all accounts of betrayed partners such as first lady of N.C., Jenny Sanford. Revenge, the dessert best served cold, is now in black and white and on Kindle too. Revenge is easy and automatic. But how about forgiveness?  That takes real work.

One of my favorite cartoons reads, “I don’t want an apology, I want you to be sorry.”  There is no exact formula for forgiveness, but as the cartoon caption reminds us, there’s a world of difference between  hollow words and remorse. The key ingredients for forgiveness have been posited by clergy and philosophers alike.  More recently psychologists have codified the process of injury to forgiveness. I love Janis Abrahms Spring‘s distinction between “cheap” forgiveness that always smacks of moral superiority  and hard-earned forgiveness that occurs in dialogue between the injured and injurer. Leslie Greenberg manualizes forgiveness in a 9-step process. I’ve written about how to recover from Enduring Injustices…

Being Fair in Love and Marriage

–“the can this marriage be saved, and should it?” injuries that are wide and long and deep. But each approach, from religion to philosophy to psychology share these components:

The injurer has to truly “get” what it was like to be the other. The injurer has to acknowledge the harmful and idiosyncratic, and sometimes irretrievable consequences the other has suffered. The injurer has to relate empathically over time, as he or she takes steps to rebuild trust. The injured party also has to want to receive from their spouse (or parent, or even child), and to want to let go of hurt and anger. This requires identifying what they need to rebuild trust. And then, we must all accept our humanity, that there is no process, no Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind that allows us to erase memory. We also must accept that we won’t forget. But we can forgive–ourselves and each other for what was done to us, by us, and what we didn’t know.

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