David Brooks, for those of you who do not partake of the Eastern Establishment Media Elite, is a columnist for the New York Times. He’s also a self-identified conservative with whom I disagree more often than not, but a pretty smart guy nevertheless. Lately his writing has taken on existential bent. The very latest has to do with forgiveness and he writes about a point of view that says something along the lines of acts of forgiveness may give rise to bad acts by the forgivee.
Anyone who’s read of the stuff I’ve posted on FB and elsewhere knows where I stand generally on forgiveness. My point of view on Michael Vick comes to mind. As to whether my forgiving someone may mean that they’re likely to do more bad stuff; well, that’s not my problem.
Withholding forgiveness because it may lead the forgivee to do other bad things is very similar to not giving a street person a few bucks when they ask because “they’ll just use it to buy drugs or booze.” The fact that I might have used those bucks for the same thing doesn’t seem to be responsive. The important thing, it seems to me, is that forgiving someone (or giving them a buck or two or, doing both if you’re in that kind of mood) is really more about what it means to and for me. I think I’m not supposed to carry around the weight of resentment for an offense; it’s simply not good for me and my mental and spiritual health. Forgiving is my letting go of the offense.
I don’t have to forget the offense, but I shouldn’t be harboring resentment about it.
The fact is, if someone offends me in some way it may or may not matter to them one way or another so forgiving is not for their benefit (it may benefit them if they owe you money, for example, and you forgive that). Giving money to someone on the street is not for their benefit, no matter how much drugs and alcohol they buy. I think it’s about my willingness to let go and extend my best self to someone else without thinking about what I’m going to get out of it or whether they’ll offend again, or what they’re going to use that five bucks for.
It is, after all and as you all know, all about me. And you.