Monday, July 16, 2007

misunderstood concepts in forgiveness

In my daily life of talking about forgiveness and trying to live forgiveness, I run into some misconceptions. Once I had a friend get angry with me, when I talked about forgiveness with regard to a wrong done to her. She thought I was saying that what her offender had done to her was negligible or insignificant. True forgiveness does not make this claim. Another time I was preparing to travel to a distant city with a companion. My primary purpose in going was to absolve someone of the things she had done to me—to forgive her and declare her forgiven. It was such a messy situation and involved deception and numerous people, that everyone knew the story of the offense done to me. Yet even though, I had prepared myself to not bring one iota of accusation against her or her family, my companion’s father still referred to my mission as the trip where Abby’s gonna go make some heads roll. In a worldly way of thinking, I would have been entirely justified and also had the capacity to seek my revenge. But I keep correcting people’s language when they refer to this story and the time when I went to confront my friend. “No,” I say, “I went to forgive my friend and her family.” Forgiveness is not confrontation.

Yet, both of these misunderstandings occur because worldly patterns which influence us give no space for redemptive patterns of response. I was once asked, what does one do when threatened given the fight or flight response schema. I would claim there is room under the fight category for using the adrenaline of the moment to actively resist/diffuse the threat in a redemptive way. But one has to choose into the redemptive gospel first before one can respond against the brainwashed patterns we’ve been taught from the culture.

Forgiveness is not the same as confrontation or a truth seeking session. Confrontation is when there is a forceful presentation of an agenda on some other person(s). In the arena of interpersonal wrongdoings, confrontation often takes the form of one person telling another, what he/she has done wrong. The recipient can accept, reject or amend the agenda. Truth seeking sessions are times of honesty and openness when those who involved in a “situation” gather to discover the truth about their “situation.” Confrontation and truth seeking session both precede forgiveness. Additionally, confrontation sessions tend to evoke resistance, so I don't generally advise them. Instead, I prefer truth seeking sessions. They involve questions as opposed to accusations. Although questions, open-ended or not, can be interpreted from a hostile slant or even placed in hostility.

Forgiveness is not negating/making of no consequence, a wrong that has occurred. The wrong has occurred. Individuals have been affected. Nothing will change that fact. Yet it is the human response to that offending act which render the act counter-consequential or as a generative furtherance of evil. Forgiveness writes the travesty into the script and rises above the effects by actively evoking the Spirit of Christ to transform the story into his grand redemptive narrative. Anger, revenge and acts of self-defamation transform the travesty into many more travesties like a viruses host cell, which has been taken captive generating more an more evils toward the infection of many more.

The consequences of true forgiveness is the unloading of burdens, the disassociation of one’s identity from the hurts, fears and guilts associate with/attached to an action done against you, which served to damage you relationally, emotionally or physically. Forgiveness (the noun) is a miracle (the noun). Forgiving (the verb) is the active participation in extending forgiveness (the noun) toward the healing of the other and the self toward their original created order. This is a miracle.

That forgiveness is possible is a miracle. When one extends forgiveness one extends power toward actualizing a miracle.

Somebody please give me a rule of thumb to go by on the use of affect and effect.


Anonymous said...

The sad thing is that many people have their identity rooted in the wrongs that have been done to them (or their ancestors). They are afraid to let go, to participate in forgiveness, because if they do they feel they will loose their sense of self.

My understanding is that affect means to influence while effect is used when a result has been achieved. This understanding, however, has only begun to affect my own usage but will soon, I hope, work its full effect.

Heather W. Reichgott said...

Estimada Espíritu Paz--
Thanks for good thought provoking musings on this blog.
Do you think forgiveness does involve an element of confrontation after all? Not the kind of confrontation that says "You're a jerk, look what you did" but the kind that says "Time to face up to what happened, we need to look at it together for there to be forgiveness." After all, there's a reason you didn't just remain at home and let the painful event fade quietly into the past.

Affect and effect: Usually, affect is a verb, and effect is a noun. (Br. Dan's last sentence is right-on.) "Sugar affects my mood," but "Sugar has an annoying effect on my mood." Confusingly there is also a rare usage of effect as a verb, which means specifically "to cause a change": "Sugar effects a profound drop in my mood." But you wouldn't say "Sugar effects my mood" because that would mean "Sugar makes me have a mood (and I wouldn't have one at all otherwise.)" clear as mud?

(a calvinist who appreciates your intelligence)

Anonymous said...

To add to Heather's verb/noun distinction for 'affect' and 'effect':
- There's a passive/active distinction: I am never effected (by... what?), by I am often affected (by lots of things).
- There's a personal/impersonal distinction: That which I affect is a person, that which I effect is a thing.
- And there's an emotional/non-emotional distinction: when a speech affects a crowd, people cry/laugh/whatever; when a change is effected (put into effect), it's possible for there to be no emotional reaction at all.

The words derived from each capture some of these flavors as well (affectionate vs. effective, etc.).

Hope this helps!

espíritu paz said...

Wow. Thanks everyone those are some really good guides on effective usage of affect and effect. Here I thought I was just rambling to myself. So perhaps if I remember that at the morgue you refer to a deceased person's "personal effects" I can maybe cement a distinction into my brain, with the whole personal impersonal, emotional unemotional distinction.

I once was talking and praying with someone who had a hard time letting go of the lifetime of pain she had endured. And I quote her, "I don't know who I am without the pain." Sometime I also have to be watchful of relationships that develop during boughts of dryness or pain. I might forever be caught in the pain to keep the relationship.
The element of confrontation in forgiveness is always present. I agree Heather. I've recently been discovering the power of and freedom from heavy handed confrontation. And sometimes the effect of that sort of confrontation causes the individual to dig in his/her heels and refuse to face the reality. It's the difference between a counselor asking his client who knows his client is having an affair, "are you having an affair" getting a "no" then asking again, "would you like to reconsider your answer." (Hopefully with compassion in his eyes) If you were conservative Mennonite you would say with fire in your eyes, "You are lying." and perhaps you would make some reference to the damnation that follows adulterers and fabricators. When in reality it's more effective to birth repentance by giving an enticing taste of freedom by becoming free myself in front of the eyes of the one who did me wrong, or to speak gently and with compassion to someone who is already burning up with guilt on the inside. The confrontation is already there. But then there are those folks who wipe out nations and somehow it isn't wrong to them. Direct statements of confrontation might be necessary.

Good thoughts though.