On Forgiving (?)

The Trouble with Blame — Sharon Lamb | Harvard University Press

Because of the scripted nature of apologies, they can also serve to manipulate the wounded to turn the tables. The scriptedness of the apology/forgiveness interaction is not only about social expectations but about power relations. When the victim is wounded (and her wounds are documented, believed, acknowledged, and validated) she is in a powerful position vis a vis the offender. Her wounds not only mark her as a victim but also give her a certain power because of the associations with the position of victimhood–in particular the innocence but also the protection one affords and special considerations.

Victimhood affords one a sort of instant purity and sympathy, if not martyrdom.  And all too often the public has trouble with victims when they do not live up to this idealized standard. The victim-offender dyad is set as a dichotomy–that one is evil, the other pure in exaggerated form. So when a perpetrator apologizes and does an excellent sincere j0b at such, our natural expectations are to expect and require forgiveness from a victim. Apologies can thus be power plays used to pull at victims’ notions of themselves as good. To maintain their role in the dichotomy as the “good one” the victim will need to apologize, or to prove in some way that their wounds are just too immense and they have suffered too long. Rarely is anger considered an appropriate response to a sincere apology….

The power relations between the offended and the offender are always important to keep in mind, for an apology offered by an offender who ultimately has power over the injured party brings with it even more pressure for forgiveness.

The demands on individual victims to forgive are bound up with traditional notions of what it means to be a “good girl” or “good woman”  it is entirely possible to have compassion for an offender, even your own offender if you have been abused, and not be willing to forgive. Whatever happened to the older psychoanalytic notions of  ambivalence?  While it may be difficult to live with ambivalent feelings, this is the human condition.


About Nan Mykel

I used to think I would be a child prodigy, but then I got old. Formerly I had fantasies of rubbing elbows with cultural and academic leaders but that did not come to pass because I did not become a cultural or academic leader or any other kind of leader, for that matter. I am not even an "Alpha Dog," a term learned from a friend who had to become "Alpha Dog" in order to influence her own pet. (When gazes lock, she never looks away.) For years I expected to become a published author, but in passing I could not avoid the fact that I had little to contribute to the world's bulging dumpsters. I'm embarrassed to report that I also considered my primary process artistic productions powerful, rather than mildly neurotic. Which is not to say that I disrespect myself, only that I am beginning to doubt my potential for making a mark on the world. If I focus on strict self discipline I may be able to keep my garbage removed on a weekly basis, to keep the kitty box changed, the clothes cleaned, the dog watered, fed and walked, but that just catches me up to the starting mark again. When writing I physically grapple with words, wrestling them from their indifference into attempted chunks of awareness. I sit heavily on my chair; I breathe in artificially cooled air; my ear drums note the tap tap of the keyboard and the steady uninterrupted sound of the air conditioner, What is that sound? The roar of the ocean from 30 yards away...Inside, my thoughts are are balls in an electronic game machine, bouncing hither and yon from lever to lever. I am a little grim and intent until I recall a dream related by a black man in the prison where I once worked. He said that when he was a small boy, back home, he dreamed he was standing on his front porch pissing, and that he suddenly found himself pissing stars...
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