© (2009) by Vicki Polin, MA, LCPC
Considering it is the month of Elul (a time for self-examination, meditation and prayer), many of Jews around the world are emotionally and spiritually preparing for the High Holidays.
I was recently discussing the term "forgiveness" with a group of people on Facebook. One of the individuals in the conversation suggested "forgiveness, helps us to heal our past," another suggested that, "forgiveness, means being able to get on with your life". A third person suggested,"forgiveness does not change the past". Forgiveness is about the present moment. It transforms us in the moment so we can go forward doing teshuvah and Tikkun Olam.
After advocating for survivors of sex crimes for so many years, I don't believe one needs to "Forgive" to heal. I also personally do not believe the term "forgiveness" means giving up our hope for a better past. I think acceptance is a much better word for that.
I also disagree with the notion that the only way to "get on" with your life is to forgive, again I think the word acceptance for what happened is really the key.
I think Saint Francis of Assisi said it best. Please note he does not use the word forgiveness in the serenity prayer: "Lord grant me the serenity to accept the things I cannot change, the courage to change the things I can, and the wisdom to know the difference."
There are times in which one can forgive someone, there's other times when I think acceptance of what happened is all one needs to strive for or accept into their life's reality.
The question I pose was -- Do you forgive someone who has committed a heinous crime against you? I personally believe it depends on the situation. If someone was a drunk driver and killed a friend or relative, are you required to forgive them? What if someone came into a bank and murdered someone dear to you? Or if you were are a survivor of a sex crime, do you have to forgive your offender or should you be told the only way to heal is to forgive? I personally don't think believe it is true or necessarily to heal and know many survivors who have healed without forgiveness.
What if a murderer or a rapist asks for forgiveness, then are we required to give it? I just have a difficult time with blanket statements. They can harm those who need to feel empowered. I think it's a good spiritual exercise for people to have choice on the matter of forgiveness. I also think the only spiritual being who can give absolution is G-d.
I'm not trying to be nick picky, the problem is that the language we use can hurt those who need to be protected, honored and respected, especially when they choose not to forgive.