Let me start off by acknowledging that some of our readers have thought more deeply about forgiveness than I have. And everyone who wants to should join in and comment.
The first form of forgiveness seems principally or even entirely internal to the victim. It may result in beneficent action toward a transgressor, but the transformation need only be in the victim.
The second comes from an article asking about victims of sexual assault and forgiveness of the transgressors. What is given is the first step of three in a standard conception of forgiveness from Judaism. Here the change starts with a change in the transgressor.
(1) Forgiveness is the intentional and voluntary process by which a victim undergoes a change in feelings and attitude regarding an offense, lets go of negative emotions such as vengefulness, with an increased ability to wish the offender well. Wikipedia
(2) From the NY Times:
Judaism offers a prescription for restorative rather than punitive justice that I think can provide a template for all of us — not just Jews — in determining what it should take to readmit transgressors into public life.
In Judaism, a religion that prizes deeds over faith, atonement is not an easy process. And why should it be? It is designed to effect nothing less than personal transformation. This is why the Hebrew word for “atonement” is “teshuva,” or return — as in a return to your higher self, a return to your essential goodness, a return to recognizing your own dignity and the dignity of others.
The repentance process begins with an “accounting of the soul” (heshbon ha’nefesh), an examination of how one has failed or fallen short. God can forgive sins against God, but notably, sins between people can be forgiven only by the aggrieved.
I’m concerned about the first. I think there are a number of negative feelings one can have toward or about others: envy, jealousy, anger or even hatred. Taking oneself through the transformation of (1) may make one a better person to be around, but if it involves letting the transgressor off the hook, it may be less than a good thing. It does not seem right to let racists off the hook, for example.
I remained puzzled by exhortations to foregive. Perhaps by self-transformation the transgressor can re-earn the right to one’s regard. But in other cases? What do you think?