Articles and Opinion
WHAT IS FORGIVENESS?
Jose Antonio Cangco
Forgiveness, or the act of forgiving which is defined as giving up the claim to requital or feelings of resentment, comes from the Old English word forgifan (for + to give). From its simple etymology, it should be very easy to grasp the meaning of the word. It can be interpreted too as to give of oneself because when we forgive, we are giving up the opportunity to claim retribution. It is a simple two-syllable word but very powerful, and unfortunately, a much abused concept.
For many people forgiving is easy but some of us may find it difficult to offer a welcome hand, demanding justice, compensation or a simple apology in return for a transgression that has been done. We may find this second group of people as unholy and un-Christian but they may have a point. They want to teach the transgressor a lesson to prevent him from committing a similar mistake with other persons, thus avoiding a similar or worse situation. This group looks at the transgressor as a rusty and unyielding wheel which must be oiled.
That is why we have rules enacted and laws to follow. They are the leaders and keepers of society: government officials, educators, parents, and anyone with seniority or authority. In school we elect class presidents and other officers; we choose the sergeants at arms. From young boys and girls they will turn out someday to be responsible, hard working and law-abiding citizens of the country. Being elders, we should teach our youth and children that we should readily forgive our enemies, but better still for our children to know the three elements if one day they should find themselves in the unfortunate position of having to ask and seek forgiveness from someone.
There are three elements needed when we try to seek forgiveness for something which we have done. Being humans, we are weak and frail and likely to fall on the path of righteousness again and again. It is the teaching of the Church to ask strength from Jesus Christ that we may be forgiven and have the strength to rise again. By looking deeply inside us, we will find that humans have incredible strength unknown to them. Only the very weak will say "I have failed because I am frail and have been made this way" without attempting to look at his own weaknesses and strengths first.
When we commit the same mistake repeatedly, it becomes a vice. Like a fire that starts from a small source, we should be on guard before small infractions worsen and affect our family, friends and neighbors. For example, a boy who is a liar should be corrected and made not to tell lies again. We should forgive him because he is a boy but as parents or as an adult authority, it is our duty to correct him, too. Growing up, he will have then been guided to avoid forming destructive vices.
The first element when we are seeking forgiveness is to correct or undo the sin we have committed. Saying "sorry" or doing penance is not enough when it is left uncorrected. Feelings of regret should be translated into positive action, likewise a penance undertaken is not solely to cleanse one's conscience but more to right the wrong that has been committed. When we try to correct a wrong, there is the risk of being discovered; but another scenario is things may get worse if we leave it as it is. An example is a simple case of theft wherein a child steals money from his father. This act of theft can easily be corrected by the child's returning the amount that was stolen. But in a case such as a man beating his wife or his children it can never quite be corrected and righted. It is not enough that the man regrets his actions no matter how sincere he is. The harm has already been done. The man cannot hug his wife and says that it's over because deeply his spirit has changed, nor can he buy toys to amuse his children and make them forget what they had suffered. His actions will show more than his rhetoric.
People are very forgiving; even if the evil done is still looking at them straight in the eye, they would prefer to forget. But would it not be better if it was corrected first before we try to forget it? The wife- or child beater can get treatment and rehabilitation for his violent and harmful behavior as a corrective measure. This would mean a lot more to his family than any apology. This is the sign of the reasonable person.
The second element that is needed when we are seeking forgiveness is the readiness and willingness to accept any punitive action or penalty for the wrong which we have committed. This is the sign of maturity. Because he regrets the evil he has done, then he should also be aware of the consequences and to accept these without extreme resistance and forceful denial. He should not bring false witnesses to swear by his innocence. And, according to the Buddhist religion where there is a venerable respect for life, he should bow humbly and submit himself to justice.
The third element needed to complete the act of seeking forgiveness is to do a positive action in addition to the two elements. This may be considered extra. It is not important that it is related to the offense, in fact, being an "extra act to give merit to the offended party" it is never intended as penance. After the wrong which had been committed has been righted and the penalty has been accepted and fulfilled, the wise man will offer to do this extra deed.
True, we are mere mortals but we can try to strive upwards to the path of development. Unlike in our daily struggles and competitions in life, the path upwards is always wide open, there is plenty of room at the top and its never lonely up there.