Griswold’s project is primarily an analysis of forgiveness from a purely secular standpoint. Though he acknowledges religious influence, he seeks to keep his terms precisely defined for a non-religious paradigm that not only is relevant to private and personal matters, but to public and political as well. The book is both stimulating and insightful in that it offers much wisdom in the way of how interpersonal relationships can be restored, and it offers a rigorous logical construction of the dynamics of apology in both public and private affairs. Essential to Griswold’s argument is that forgiveness is a virtue expressed within a moral community. Such a community is interdependent; it is not reducible to the individual and his or her behavior. The consequences of this mean that “the offender depends on the victim in order to be forgiven, and the victim depends on the offender in order to forgive” (pg. 49). With this supposition in mind, Griswold lays out six conditions for the wrongdoer to meet in order to obtain true contrition: 1) responsibility, the offender takes the moral blame for their actions; 2) repudiation, the offender disavows the wrongful deeds; 3) regret, the offender must show remorse for the aberrant actions; 4) reform, the offender must commit to being a different person and express that it is unacceptable to repeat the offense; 5) Reimagination, the offender shows an understanding of how the injured party feels; and 6) retelling, the offender is able to recount the events that lead the wrongdoer to do wrong without making excuse or minimizing the issues relevant to the wronged (pgs. 49-51). If these conditions are sufficiently met one may warrant forgiveness. In order to forgive the wronged must also meet certain conditions. She will not dismiss the wrongful acts as merely actions detached from the actor, because the acts and the agent are conceptually connected and cannot be separated. To so would fail to properly forgive the person who committed them. Secondly, forgiveness cannot be contingent upon the administration justice. The outcome of legal consequences differs from those of morality. An adulterer breaks no civil law by committing adultery, but he or she may not warrant forgiveness. Conversely, a thief may be sentenced to jail time and yet warrant forgiveness if the appropriate steps are taken to amend. Third, re-framing the offender, not by separating him from the offense, but by seeing him as a whole person in new light of his repentance revises judgment. Fourth, the wronged commits to forgiving the wrongdoer recognizing that it would be inappropriate to bring up the matter at a later time. Fifth, the wronged releases herself from the self-concept of victimhood and swears off moral superiority. Lastly, the wronged verbally grants forgiveness to the wrongdoer. Griswold goes on to examine other pertinent subjects that he would consider to be “imperfect” such as forgiveness from a third party, forgiving the dead, the unrepentant, and forgiveness of the self. In each of these cases he examines how forgiveness is a muddled subject that does not fit the paradigm as delineated. He acknowledges that in the world we live it is safe to assume that not all the conditions will obtain. The question is whether these forms of forgiveness are defeated by logical deficiency. In the cases where the wrongdoer is unavailable or unwilling to meet the conditions of repentance, the wronged may engage in meeting “baseline” conditions of “imperfect” forgiveness: 1) a willingness to lower resentment towards the wrongdoer, 2) a willingness to forgive if the wrongdoer were to meet the criteria of repentance, and 3) seeing the wrongdoer being humanly forgivable (pg. 115). In each case he sees the impurities of excuse, condonation, amnesia, or self-interested pardon that militates against the inherently relational and interdependent virtue of forgiveness. Forgiveness “for self” is an intelligible and sometimes necessary practice, but it is often subject to abuse, and creates problems with identity as it tries to reconcile the injured and injuring self into some sort of psychological harmony. The forgiveness of an unrepentant wrongdoer may lapse into the morally objectionable state of condonation where the wrongdoer is not held responsible for his actions. The classic example of spousal abuse is relevant here as the abused “forgives” her abuser though he has no intention of changing. However, on an intuitive level some of the claims seem incorrect. The supposition that forgiveness is interdependent upon both the wronged and wrongdoer seems to belie the very obvious imperative people sense that to release those who have offended us from contempt is a good thing. Contrary to it simply being an act done out of “insecurity” it is an act of virtue that tempers resentment bringing it down from loathing to distrust that puts the matter to rest in one’s consciousness. It does not condone the action, it holds the wrongdoer responsible. It recognizes the pain the wrongful action caused and feels its impact. It asserts that one will not be not be held hostage to another’s refusal to make amends, and it moves forward tolerating the wrongdoer’s right to make his or her own choices, though not recognizing them as trusted members of the moral community. Moreover, there is an impression of incongruity in trying to imagine a “paradigmatic” world where forgiveness perfectly obtains all twelve of its conditions. Such a world seems about as likely as one where a person would never need to forgive because they are impervious to harm. The fact of the matter is that we don’t live in such a world, and it would seem that true forgiveness is about as likely as being morally angelic. If forgiveness is a virtue it is so because it strives for the good in an imperfect world. If this is so, forgiveness should not be confused with reconciliation–a state of resolution–which is truly interdependent. Forgiveness, if a virtue, is one that imposes itself on the wronged, not the wrongdoer, and therefore is an individual virtue. Yet with these criticisms in mind, it would be a mistake to conclude that Griswold’s argument is invalid. Many things pass as forgiveness in our personal relationships that rarely if ever live up to the character forgiveness. We should be able to hope, however, that our efforts at reconciling, though imperfect, will eventually bring peace.
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