Rowyn (rowyn) wrote,


What does it mean to forgive?

I was reading one of these little health pamphlets from my insurance company ("stay healthy, you'll save us money!") and one of their bits of advice was "Forgive people".

Now, in general, I see this as good advice, for reasons you're all doubtless familiar with.

But in some cases, it strikes me that I'm not sure what it means to 'forgive'. A few thought experiments.

Imagine you've got a good friend. You share some interests with this person, you've had a lot of good conversations with him, you get along well.

And then one day, you find out that he's done something awful. Not illegal, but clearly wrong. Maybe he slept with your wife. Maybe he's been spreading nasty lies about your work habits. Maybe he's been making sport in other circles by re-telling secrets that you told him in confidence.

Whatever it is, you confront him with it, and he shrugs at you. "Yeah, I did that. I do that kind of thing all the time. It's just fun, y'know?" He doesn't apologize. He doesn't even feign contrition. As far as he's concerned, he's done nothing wrong.

Maybe he doesn't care that he hurt you. Or maybe he cares that he hurt you -- "Hey, man, I didn't realize she was your wife at the time" -- but only because he likes you. He'd still cheerfully do the same wrong thing to a stranger. No particular reason, no special excuse: just he can and he will.

What does it mean to forgive someone like this -- someone who does not apologize and doesn't even think he's done something he needs to be forgiven for? His other good qualities haven't changed -- but could you still be friends with him? Should you?

Is it possible to forgive him while still refusing to have any contact with him, or does forgiveness require acceptance of the person, too? Can you say "I forgive you, but I won't give you the chance to do that again" or is that a contradiction? If it's not, what does "I forgive you" mean, anyway?
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