What Is Forgiveness?

To answer this question, a good resource is the article “The New Science of Forgiveness” on University of California at Berkeley’s Greater Good blog. It may naturally be followed by, What is unforgiveness? As we continue to go deeper into this emotional state in our meditation practice, it can be very helpful to have some understanding and begin to think about it at a personal level. Fortunately, scientists and the research world take these areas now much more seriously than they did it in the past. This gives us multiple perspectives. Is the scientific understanding different from our personal, cultural, national, and religious understanding of forgiveness?

We may have some intuitive idea of what is forgiveness, but as scientists need to define and measure, it appears that there are some differences on what forgiveness means even to the academic world.

The author of the article Everett L. Worthington, Jr., and his colleagues Michael McCullough and Kenneth Rachal have this to say about forgiveness in close relationships:

The forgiving person becomes less motivated to retaliate against someone who offended him or her and less motivated to remain estranged from that person. Instead, he or she becomes motivated by feelings of goodwill, despite the offender’s hurtful actions.

In a close relationship, we hope, forgiveness will not only move us past negative emotions, but move us toward a net positive feeling. It does not mean forgetting or pardoning an offense.

Not surprisingly, the three researchers say that “Unforgiveness, by contrast, seems to be a negative emotional state where an offended person maintains feelings of resentment, hostility, anger, and hatred toward the person who offended him.”

The research done suggests unforgiveness can take its toll on physical, mental. relational, and even spiritual health. By contrast, forgiveness can benefit people’s health.


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