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[The following is from written responses to a group after some
weekly discussions that included the topics of guilt and forgiveness, including
the potential difference between feeling guilty and being guilty, which are not necessarily the
same things, and the difference between forgiving someone and just ignoring what they did.]
The first is fairly easy (though it may be more a case of "excusing" rather than "forgiving"; I am not sure): One ought to forgive (or excuse) someone else when they do something wrong that is perfectly easy to "understand" their doing and which most people or all people in their position would probably have done too. If you put a glass of milk next to the plate of a three year old, on the side that he eats from, the odds are very good, he will spill the glass of milk. If he is sorry or upset about spilling the milk, you should immediately forgive him and explain about where the glass should have been in the first place -- out of the way of his elbow while he was eating. The adult case I like to point to in this regard is the one where a motorist, making a left turn from your right, inadvertently pulls out in front of you to cross your lane, after stopping and looking right at you while obviously not seeing you. Usually s/he pulls out nonchalantly right in front of you with you driving right at his door -- then perhaps suddenly sees you and drops his mouth open with his eyes bugged out in terror because he realizes he has dangerously really screwed up. Or he may not ever see you -- the last person that did this to me was a cop; and he never even realized he nearly just got himself killed. This is different from the case of someone who intentionally tries to cut you off or cuts in front of you; and it is usually obvious which case is which. I immediately forgive anyone who pulls the inadvertent stunt because I understand it is just some sort of human error, not some selfish or malicious character flaw. I don't even get mad; but often find it even amusing -- as long as no one gets hurt.
Now, not every wrong is one out of "human nature" that deserves immediate forgiveness; and, of course, one cannot continuously make the same mistake and point to human nature. Humans are supposed to learn from their mistakes, not keep repeating them with absolutely no attempt to improve.
The second kind of case of forgiveness is, I think, the more interesting and more of what we have been discussing; the case where someone has done something wrong and where he ought to have known better and has no excuse (such as insanity or brain tumor or threat to a loved one, etc.) or justification of any sort for his action. I think in such a case, the following 4 R's are required for him to deserve forgiveness; and if these 4 R's are met, he deserves to be forgiven:
1) Regret or remorse-- genuinely understanding what he did was wrong and being sorry that it happened. ("Genuinely" precludes remorse or regret just toward getting caught, and it precludes feigned remorse just to get off from punishment; genuine remorse may be difficult to distinguish from talented pretending, but the point here is to at least know what is necessary, even if one might not be able to decide whether it is occurring.)
2) Repentance -- apologizing to the person wronged.