Cheap Forgiveness vs. Real Forgiveness

I’ve been exploring new resources on goodness, and just discovered an amazing film called Forgiveness: A Time to Love and a Time to Hate, which was broadcast by PBS in April. I’ve only had time to watch one 23-minute clip from the from the film, but that one clip stunned me.

Called the Language of Anger, the clip tells the story of author Terri Jentz, who suffered a horrific assault when she was 19, and then spent the rest of her life dealing with it. Her journey provides perspective on good, evil, justice and forgiveness, whether or not some acts should be deemed unforgivable, and whether forgiveness can be given too easily.

I can’t find a direct link to the clip, but you can go to the film’s homepage, scroll down and click on the first clip on the left, which is headlined, “Language of Anger.” I don’t want to say too much about this clip until you’ve seen it, but I’d love to discuss the clip once you have.

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3 Responses to Cheap Forgiveness vs. Real Forgiveness

  1. Jill says:

    Diane, I came back to your website today after feeling that I have lost faith in humanity on the heels of the Penn State scandals. Child abuse is one thing I cannot understand and especially sexual abuse of children. It didn’t help that I also saw where an elderly teacher was fired after masturbating in class and had been doing it for a while! I came back to your website to find goodness and watched the video clip above, which seem to echo some of the PSU abuse with a community being tight-lipped about the perp and wouldn’t come forward to name him.

    Terri Jentz’s viewpoint was interesting. Trying to forgive in order to move on was not working for her and needed to feel the anger and follow it before she could transcend. “Recognition of the others’ humanity is what forgiveness is about” stuck with me as the community provided the forgiveness in place of the monster.

    Thank you for sharing. I needed a glimpse of good.

  2. dianesilver says:

    And thank you for sharing, Jill. I needed a reminder of why I do this blog. Sometimes I forget that we all need to see some goodness at times, probably at many times, and your comment really helped make my day.

    I relate to Terri Jentz’s journey because my own experience has been that forgiveness given too easily doesn’t work. If you forgive without first feeling whatever you have to feel, whether that’s pain, anguish, fury or all of those emotions, you’re doing nothing more than lying to yourself. What I like so much about this documentary is that the filmmaker is consciously trying to show the complexity of forgiveness. I suspect that understanding this complexity is the only way we can heal as individuals and communities.

  3. She is clearly a very strong woman and an articulate one, too. How she, or anyone else who has undergone such trauma, managed to rebuild her life is a wonder to me. And the fact that she told her story in an objective way was more impressive than if she had gone in for ‘sympathy-milking’.

    However, I simply don’t get the bit about evil as distinct from other kinds of cruel behaviour, or how the existence of evil allows (or disallows? Now I can’t remember) the act of forgiveness. Yes, there are differing degrees of awful things that are done to people but when does bad behaviour step over into evil? I simply don’t get the idea that, say, the holocaust is proof of the existence of evil. It’s proof of a lot of things, but evil? I’m assuming she meant it in some kind of biblical sense, something wholly different from other transgressions.

    There are some pretty horrible people out there and all of them (Sam Harris would argue) are screwed up for one reason of another that we don’t see, and I am pretty sure that many of these people enjoy bullying, torturing and killing people. However, to my mind, this is just the extreme end of all acts of nastiness and not really different in kind from stealing, bullying or mocking, though very different in degree.

    After such an awful experience it will seem churlish to moan about the style in which some people talk, but I have to since for me it was one of the most salient points of the video. Have you ever noticed that it is really only North Americans who talk about themselves in such a self-dramatizing way? I think this is a genuine case of life imitating art, or rather TV. I first saw people talking strangely in American movies and assumed that they were bad actors or were suffering from a poor script writer. But then I met some Americans and Canadians and some of them actually talk like that in real life!

    Most of my time I live in Japan and it is noticeable that the Japanese are not as self-obsessed as Westerners and don’t take it for granted that they rest of the world will find them as fascinating as they do themselves, or will their mothers. Yet there is a certain kind of American and Canadian that just exudes self-absorption. I should know, I work with them all the time and the difference between them and the Japanese – with the Europeans somewhere in between – is striking. The director and the woman who underwent this awful ordeal both have that unfortunate way of talking. The lady who was attacked perhaps has a good reason for being rather caught up with herself and her story but I don’t know what excuse the director would have.

    Sorry, that might sound petty after such a harrowing tale but it turned a documentary that I might have wanted to see to the end into one that I was hoping would finish.

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