In general the subject of forgiveness is a difficult one. This is true because the wrongs that have to be forgiven is rather massive in many cases, because the wounds still hurt, and because there are disputes as to what forgiveness really means. The discussion here will view forgiveness as being a letting go of resentment and hostility toward someone, and a clearing of accounts with a given person, but without a full restoration of a state of friendliness and goodwill that may have existed before the offense. I consider it a ground zero state upon which a new relationship can be built. Starting with a working definition will make the subject much easier to deal with, so that confusion and equivocation can be avoided and we can be clear exactly what we are talking about.
It is easier to forgive someone for being wrong than for being right. This is true for a variety of reasons, most of them connected to our own pride. When we examine the subject of forgiving the offenses of other people, it does not take a great deal of thought to recognize that forgiving others places us in the position of being rulers granting unmerited pardons to repentant sinners. That is a powerful place to be, and it is no wonder that corrupt rulers all over the world like to place themselves in the position of pardoning offenses as often as possible, especially as it places them in the position of a benefactor showing that the offenses of others were of no importance or no lasting harm . To forgive someone is to say that one is strong enough to let the offense go, to not hold it against someone else, and it is a projection of strength and confidence in one’s dealings with others who have been humble enough to admit fault openly. Forgiving someone for confessed offenses provide a payoff to our pride, and if we are in positions of authority, it may even serve to provide legitimacy to our claims of power and character by showing a pageantry of confession and pardon, whatever the state of our own feelings in the matter.
Forgiving someone for being right has no such psychic or political payoff. Instead, one has to admit to oneself that someone else was right, especially if they have been right with what seemed like a malicious gleam in their eyes. The offense of a bad attitude, especially when that bad attitude is combined with sharp insight and awareness, is a vastly more difficult offense to forgive than a wrong that has committed against us. Why is this? An offense that is committed against us is most often done out of carelessness or weakness, and even where it can be a serious matter, our ability to forgive someone for such matters proves our strength, and thus it rewards our own sense of dignity and honor, or pride. Forgiving someone for being right, which often means that we have imputed a bad attitude towards others (whether it existed or not in their own intentions, an offense that is felt must be forgiven for people to begin again with a clean slate), requires a sense of humility on our parts, as the offense and the forgiveness are threats to our own pride. Few people are able to repent for being prickly enough for taking offense at unpleasant truths, or being strong enough not to be threatened by the lack of respect or deference of other people that we think they ought to give us with. This is why attitude proves to be such a difficulty in our relationships with others, and not necessarily the attitude that exists, but the attitude we impute.
In many ways forgiveness is not about other people at all. Forgiveness is about our own feelings and our own state of mind. There is nothing someone can do to earn forgiveness, nor anything we can do to earn forgiveness for others. If someone is going to hold on to old resentments and hurts, and that temptation exists for all of us, nothing anyone does can repay (in our minds) the seriousness of the wrongs that others have committed. Even the attempt to restore a relationship or repay what is a felt debt can strike the party who feels themselves wronged as being mercenarial or insincere, and thus of no benefit whatsoever in restoring a troubled relationship. I have had much cause to reflect on this problem in the course of my own life, whether through experience or observing others close to me. We are in control of what we forgive, what we let pass without comment, or what which we respond fiercely. We choose whether we prefer humiliating charades of pardon that bolster our own pride and ego, or if we prefer sincere forgiveness without a great deal of ceremony and fuss, in the knowledge that we could all stand to be treated with the same generosity of spirit ourselves.
And what makes forgiveness easier is putting it in a larger context. Part of that context is to reflect on the quantity of wrongs that we need to be forgiven of by others, wrongs that we are naturally inclined to shrink into insignificance because of the carelessness and lack of intentionality behind many of the offenses that we give. Part of that context is to recognize that a great deal of the offenses we feel is as a result of being easy to offend. Those of us who are more prickly and defensive tend to find it easier to add to our store of resentments and subtract from our limited store of goodwill. It is easy to dwell on the (often legitimate) reasons why we are so prickly and not to recognize that other people have legitimate sensitivities. Even more galling, even when we may recognize that others are sensitive, and may even recognize the areas and legitimacy of their sensitivity, we simply may not be equipped to respond in a productive and sufficiently thoughtful way to those sensitivities as a result of our own. As it is written, “Woe to this world because of offenses! For offenses must come, but woe to that man by whom the offense comes!”