Are We Suffering a Deficit of Forgiveness?

Let the Earth Be Severe, Heaven Is ForgivingWe have been living in an age of outrage for a while now. Blame it on politicians, social media, cancel culture, or whatever you like. But that impulse to assign the blame for it might be an indicator that we are suffering from a deficit of forgiveness. Writing in the New York Times, Timothy Keller says we should pay attention to this deficit:

“A society that has lost the ability to extend and receive forgiveness risks being crushed by the weight of recriminations and score settling.

“We should forgive because it is profoundly practical. To fail to forgive is to undermine the health and coherence of one’s body, one’s relationships and the entire human community.

“Another reason to forgive is simple fairness. We owe it to others to forgive because we all need forgiveness ourselves.”

Settling Scores with Ourselves

In the decades we’ve been working on the challenges of obesity and health, blame is a thread that has run through thousands of conversations with people who are living with the condition. Countless people have told us variations on this theme:  “I could not begin to take care of myself until I forgave myself for my condition.”

This is a near perfect articulation of self-stigma and the need for self-compassion.

Interestingly enough, it seems that self-compassion may help people forgive others who have harmed them. Yuki Miyagawa and Junichi Taniguchi recently studied this link and found that  persons with more self-compassion were better able to forgive transgressions from others because they were less likely to ruminate on them.

Essential for Well-Being

Earlier this year, Feng Gao, Yuanwei Li, and Xuejun Bai published a meta-analysis on the relationship between forgiveness and subjective well-being. They found substantial benefits associated with forgiveness: higher subjective well-being, greater life satisfaction, more positive emotions, and fewer negative emotions.

So you can pick your reason for taking the challenge to correct this deficit of forgiveness. Maybe you want the personal benefit of a better life. Or maybe you want to be part of making a community that’s better for all of us. Either way, it works all the way around.

Click here for Keller’s essay in the Times. For the study by Miyagawa and Taniguchi, click here, and then here for the Gao study of forgiveness and well-being. For further reflections on our struggles with forgiveness, click here.

Let the Earth Be Severe, Heaven Is Forgiving; illustration by Byam Shaw / WikiArt

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December 4, 2022

One Response to “Are We Suffering a Deficit of Forgiveness?”

  1. December 07, 2022 at 9:59 am, Katie Y said:

    Thank you for this article. I especially appreciated Keller’s thoughts on forgiveness. The points in your article encourage my compassion for my patients struggling with obesity.