Do you forgive but never forget, or forget but never forgive? Remember that question from silly surveys we’d fill out in junior high when we didn’t feel like doing our homework? Well, this question just came up in an email exchange with a friend of mine, and it actually holds much relevance to an important ethical issue i’ve been grappling with.
But before i get to my personal story, let’s look at what Charles L. Griswold, author of Forgiveness: A Philosophical Exploration and recent contributor to The Stone, had to say about forgiveness.
First of all, Griswold introduces the idea of forgiveness as something that stems from religion, and coming from a non-religious background, i have difficulty understanding that perspective. For instance, what does forgiveness have to do with revenge? I was quite surprised to see revenge and vengeance included in the discussion, because those are completely separate issues for me when it comes to forgiveness. Maybe it’s just because i’m not a vengeful person (i honestly can’t think of a single instance when i got revenge on anyone), but when i think about forgiveness, i think only about what you might think about what someone did to you, not what you might do afterwards.
However, if giving up revenge and resentment were sufficient to yield forgiveness, then one could forgive simply by forgetting, or through counseling, or by taking the latest version of the nepenthe pill. But none of those really seems to qualify as forgiveness properly speaking, however valuable they may be in their own right as a means of getting over anger. The reason is that forgiveness is neither just a therapeutic technique nor simply self-regarding in its motivation; it is fundamentally a moral relation between self and other.