Consider atrocities that have occurred in Rwanda, Israel, Northern Ireland, and Palestine. Think about the people on both sides of the experience—living victims and perpetrators. Now, reflect on the following questions:
- What does it take to truly forgive someone after he or she has committed a terrible wrong?
- Is it possible to forgive an entire group of people (e.g., a race, a country, those who practice a particular religion)? Is it easier to forgive an individual perpetrator or a group of perpetrators?
- On the other hand, what does it take to ask for forgiveness? For a perpetrator who has been forgiven, is it of greater benefit if he or she first acknowledged the full extent of the wrongdoing and asked for forgiveness?
The science of positive psychology, which encapsulates the upsurge in scientific findings on forgiveness, informs us of the physical and psychological benefits of forgiving others. However, there are many dynamics yet to be thoroughly examined by positive psychology. In their review of the documentary film Beyond Right and Wrong: Stories of Justice and Forgiveness, Frank Farley and Mona Sarshar examine the challenges of reconciliation and some of the benefits for those who display this character strength in action. They point out that despite an increase in research, there remain few studies on the benefits to perpetrators who have been forgiven. In addition, they emphasize the importance of altruism, generosity, and other "heroic" character strengths to counteract such horrors.
Indeed, if we all deployed our character strengths in ways to benefit others, we would not be having this conversation. What thoughts, opinions, and comments does this idea elicit in you?
By Frank Farley and Mona Sarshar
PsycCRITIQUES, 2014 Vol 59(8)