Public apologies come easier these days. Forgiveness doesn't.
Public figures from Arnold Schwarzenegger to LeBron James to Newt Gingrich to Oprah are apologizing. So many mea culpas create an opportunity to better define forgiveness.
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This week Queen Elizabeth II, in the first visit by a British monarch to Ireland since its independence, made symbolic gestures acknowledging past British oppression and violence against the Irish. She laid a wreath and bowed her head at Dublin’s Garden of Remembrance, a memorial to those who lost their lives opposing British rule. Actions may speak louder than an apology in this case, as most Irish seem in a mood to forgive.Skip to next paragraph
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Even the talk-show queen of evoking apologies from guests, Oprah Winfrey, said this week she was sorry to James Frey, author of “A Million Little Pieces.” Oprah said she should not have lashed out at him for fabricating parts of his memoir. He thanked and hugged her.
For many, forgiveness is even more difficult than apologizing. It is different from mercy or pardon, and it certainly isn’t condoning. So much depends on the genuine contrition of the victimizer, the consequences suffered, the degree of restitution, and the self-reform to prevent a reccurrence.
For some, no correcting action by a perpetrator is needed in order to offer forgiveness. In their view, unconditional forgiving is seen as a way for one to let go of anger, guilt, or a desire for revenge – or to acknowledge that everyone is equally susceptible to making mistakes or that the perpetrator may simply be a victim of mental illness, bad parenting, or societal neglect.
For others, it requires both sides to have the courage to give up something and then to act on behalf of each other in a new relationship. In such cases of moral reciprocity, to forgive is to “give as before” the wrongdoing. That requires a reform of thinking and spiritual maturity. In postapartheid South Africa, for example, the Truth and Reconciliation Commission asked for an admission of guilt from the country’s former oppressors in order for forgiveness to be granted.
This new era of easy apologies from public figures has yet to usher in an era of easy forgiveness. Why? Definitions of forgiveness differ widely, especially in cases of someone being maimed, raped, or killed.
Judging whether someone has truly repented and reformed is difficult to perceive, as any parole board knows. And time and restitution may not always heal wounds to the point where forgiveness is possible.
So all these public apologies are welcome. Telling the truth is winning half the battle. Apologies create more opportunities for everyone to work on better defining forgiveness.