Day 23,669: My Darker Side

Forgiveness has been an ongoing topic in my Monday night digital discussion group for the last three weeks. I introduced it because I was mystified by it.  I, like many, was cross-eyed when Nadine Collier not only forgave Dylann Roof for the death of her mother Ethel Lance after the AME Church shooting in Charleston, but did it so quickly and effortlessly. And, that’s not the only instance of forgiveness that eludes my understanding.

Dictionary definitions didn’t help.  Synonyms were pardon, absolution, exoneration, clemency and mercy.  For various reasons, none held true to me. Finally, in desperation, I crafted my own definition.

I do not hold any malice against you, nor wish you any harm for what you have done.  I hold you accountable for your actions, but understand what led you to them.  This does not mean we have a continuing or future relationship, but I do not harbor any feelings of ill will towards you.

The last sentence involves trust. If you’re a loved one who is close to me, trust will allow us to have continuing relationship because I trust you didn’t do something out of malice. But, for strangers and others, it may be time for me to move on.

Tonight, while searching Wikipedia, a new definition appeared. Happily, like mine, it involves much more than one short word.

Forgiveness is the intentional and voluntary process by which a victim undergoes a change in feelings and attitude regarding an offense, lets go of negative emotions such as vengefulness, with an increased ability to wish the offender well.  Forgiveness is different from condoning (failing to see the action as wrong and in need of forgiveness), excusing (not holding the offender as responsible for the action), forgetting (removing awareness of the offense from consciousness), pardoning (granted for an acknowledged offense by a representative of society, such as a judge), and reconciliation (restoration of a relationship).

Now that’s a definition I can wrap my arms around!

The Monday night group also discussed if forgiveness was really a selfish act, because when all is said and done, it makes you feel better and allows you to move on.  It’s not extending a kindness to the perpetrator. Interesting.

I realize now that forgiveness is such a complex concept that it can’t be defined in one word. It needs a few sentences whether they be mine or the collective wisdom of Wikipedia.  Whoever said dictionary definitions have to short and sweet? With forgiveness, and likely so many other concepts, much more is warranted. It should make being forgiven for anything much sweeter, if for no other reason than  it takes and means so much more than any one word synonym can provide.