Researching Forgiveness


My comments on people’s blogs have the size of an article at times so I’m posting one here. This one is related to Justin Caouette‘s blog on Forgiveness: How does it work? (Unfortunately  there isn’t a proper way to link followup comments connecting multiple blogs.)

i had given serious consideration to the notion of forgiveness during my days spent in researching trust and trust in automation. have you ever tried forgiving a computer? lol

my view is that forgiveness is yet another term that has cultural and linguistic underpinnings. it is defined once a person’s sense of wrong doing and failure to meet expectations is sufficiently regularized.

forgiveness is also bundled with a notion of vectorization. there is a person that is to be forgiven and actions that symbolize forgiveness are ultimately directed from the person that is being forgiving.

the one being forgiving seems to have an “authority” to forgive. a gesture of forgiveness can be initiated by this person even if the one being forgiven is completely oblivious. somehow, a person feels that they have been wronged, dismisses that feeling and provides a notice to the person who has wronged them of this dismissal. all this can happen while the other person has been completely unaware of any wrong doing by anyone or even the existence of this person who is extending forgiveness.

the other vector is when the exchange of these symbols or gestures is initiated by the person seeking forgiveness who is compelled by their convictions, a sense of remorse and a sense of guilt for harming the person they are seeking forgiveness from. the harm can even be in the form of not meeting the expectations of the person whose forgiveness is sought. again, there is a possibility that the one being asked for forgiveness doesn’t share the sentiment that anything wrong was done by anyone.

so in both cases forgiveness can be entirely unilateral rather than bilateral.

there clearly exists a power differential in any scenario concerning forgiveness where the one seeking forgiveness is accepting of their subservient position through obsequious mannerism.

i suspect this is the biggest hurdle for any person while seeking forgiveness, to demote their sense of ego and promote their sense of guilt and at the same time successfully demonstrate this change in common vernacular.

according to me the strongest gesture of subservience is groveling in my culture (asian subcontinent). i think that there is a strategic intent with such largely dramatic gestures that elicit an emotional response from the one who is to forgive and the general public that can influence this person. i think there is typically an intent to create a public sentiment that ascribes cruelty and unfairness to the person who does not forgive a groveling person.

this is where the act of forgiveness is no more an issue between two parties and becomes a public issue. much like the case of those who end up in a court of justice and the society at large has to forgive or condem them. people who have no information about the situation between the person seeking forgiveness and the one that has to forgive can become very heavily involved. i think this is because they feel it is their duty to solve crises around them and a situation that involves the concept of forgiveness must be a crisis. it could also be that these people aren’t mere bystandards and their social environment is indeed disturbed by someone’s qualm to an extent that they decide to intervene. but i really never got the concept of a criminal’s debt to society unless they committed mass murder or stole from the public.

however take for instance those who who have an elevated sense of religiosity and ask forgiveness on behalf of a wrongdoer from a deity. the person the harm is done to isn’t seen as the one who has authority to forgive. there is also a notion in various religious philosophies that all of humanity is born with sin and is in a perpetual state where it must seek forgiveness from a deity. i feel i understand such sentiments and the notion that there is such a thing called “ultimate judgement” which is only carried out by divinity. i harbor a whole bunch of these sentiments myself but i think this type of forgiveness is different than the one we encounter in social domain. i actually have no idea how to research the concept of forgiveness when it comes to notions like “mortal sin” so i am mostly concerned with social and linguistic paradigms of forgiveness.

my recent research interest has been in neuroticism (attitudes and personalities) and i think persons who would rate high on being neurotic would also have a high count of daily incidents that involve constructs like forgiveness. i think i can come up with a simple survey based research methodology to investigate this. i also suspect that there could be neurological reasons for harboring sense of guilt, grudge, hate, “being dirty”, etc.

revisiting the incident that makes the person feel wronged (seeking to forgive) or makes the person feel guilty (seeking forgiveness) triggers the release of chemicals like seratonin and dopamine in the brain that are typically addictive. these neurological processes in the midbrain and cerebellum override rational decision making that mostly occurs in the prefrontal and frontal cortex. therefore the act of forgiving or seeking forgiveness might be less deliberate than previously thought.

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