I’m Still Buying the Forgiveness Trend, To a Point

Amy Ippoliti has written a great article[1] on why blind forgiveness may not be a good choice for our future. As part of her argument (much of which I agree with) she notes that if we forgive too early, how will the offender learn not to do it again?

“If we pardon someone too soon (“idiot compassion“), what is to stop him or her from repeating their misdeed and hurting another?

What assurance do we have that a person won’t replicate the same harmful behavior (which is typically the case unless significant action toward changing has occurred)?

Should we give him or her reprieve even when there has been no sign of accountability on their part? Do we just pardon when there has been no remorse or expression of regret, no making amends? Should we shrug our shoulders, let it go and mind our own business, even when we know it is possible for this person to cause more harm?

What if they do it again and hurt someone else because they never had someone set a clear boundary and tell them no?”

Learning theory suggests that withholding trust, albeit guarded trust, isn’t necessarily the most efficacious way for people to learn. It’s a form of punishment called negative punishment (taking away of something the person desires). Although she indicated that trust should not be given, she then comes back to center a bit and notes that we should keep a small part of our conscious anger to help us remember the infraction and use it to help make informed decisions about future choices regarding this person.

“This is when having that small grain of “anger sand” could come in handy—it helps us remember that this person may not be trusted yet.

I’m going to say it: forgiveness must be earned.”

That I can agree with. Forgiveness must be earned. But unless you forgive and trust, how can the person have an opportunity to earn it back? Some forgiveness and trust must exist, first. Positive reinforcement has proven to be much for successful in teaching people what is acceptable behavior and to alter behavior, and with much less negative impact.

I think that “anger sand” should temper our choices, but we should still give forgiveness whenever possible. When history informs us that an issue may arise, we should use that knowledge to manage the extent to which our trust can be taken advantage. Only with offering forgiveness and trust will we be able to move forward together, but not at the knowing expense of ourselves.


How do you feel about this? How do you handle this? What seems to have worked for you? What hasn’t worked so well? How can you improve so that the people around you can improve?

1. Ippoliti, Amy, Why I’m Not Buying the Whole Forgiveness Trend in Yoga & Spirituality, http://www.elephantjournal.com/2013/05/why-im-not-buying-the-whole-forgiveness-trend-in-yoga-spirituality/