What are we actually doing when we forgive people, whether that be in law, or in our personal or spiritual lives?

This question has literally kept me up at night.

I found this Atlantic article an insightful read, though I’m not sure it establishes a common understanding of what we mean when we say someone is “forgiven” (as opposed to saying someone is “excused” or “justified,” or otherwise shouldn’t be blamed for something bad they’ve done).

Lucy Allais provides the following definition of “forgiveness” in her essay, Wiping the Slate Clean: The Heart of Forgiveness (a great read for anyone who’s interested in this topic): “forgiveness constitutively involves the victim making some kind of separation between the wrongdoer and his wrong act in the way she feels about him, such that the wrong act does not play a role in the way the victim affectively sees the wrongdoer.” I think this definition works well for what the article is communicating to the reader.

With that definition in mind, this article explores the physical and psychological benefits of forgiveness, applying some unique scientific analysis to a topic that’s rather abstruse.

From the article:

“Talking about the “benefits of forgiveness” can feel slightly self-serving, like donating to charity only so you can tell people about it later. But one reason why people might avoid forgiving is that it feels like the offender gets away with something—especially if he or she never apologized. In that sense, at least, it’s worth considering what’s in it for the forgiver. And as it turns out, there’s a lot.”


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