Why Forgiveness is for Wimps

It is quite difficult to “forgive” those who wrong us when the offenders believe they are right and you are the one who should be seeking forgiveness. Often, telling someone “I forgive you” will be taken as an insult, similar to how Christians insultingly offer to pray for alleged sinners.

Forgiveness is often parroted not as the road to being a metaphorical doormat, but as something that relieves you of emotional stress. This is senseless. Consider how this would work in the business world. Would it relieve a business of stress to delete all Accounts Receivable from their QuickBooks database? Would a chain of stores operate more smoothly if they “forgave” thieving employees rather than firing and prosecuting them? Hell no.

Typical definitions of forgiveness easily resemble enabling behaviors; for example: forgiving a cheating partner in a closed relationship, only to have that partner go on to cheat again. Forgiveness cheerleaders ameliorate this deficiency by advocating coupling forgiveness with cutting ties. Why not just cut ties without forgiving? Maintaining a “shit list” is a widely used practice in business, perhaps because it works. Amazon, Groupon, Chase Bank, Staples, eBay, and PayPal don’t go in for any of this “forgiveness” baloney. They cut ties and maintain massive, comprehensive blacklists of customers to make sure their enemies, short of obtaining new identities, are excluded for life.

For corporations, there is no crippling emotional cost associated with customer blacklists. Why can’t we apply the same strategy to our personal relationships? If a friend backstabs you, don’t forgive and forget. Employ sanctions. If possible, remove this person and his or her associates from your circle. Quite often, even a repent backstabber is not worth trusting. It would be far easier and less costly to find someone new. There are plenty of fish in the sea. Employers know this, which is why a criminal record can remain the scarlet letter it is. As long as there are plenty of qualified job-seekers without criminal records, why take a chance “forgiving” a convict?

Here is some classic forgiveness drivel from 2011, by Judith Orloff, M.D., writing for Psychology Today:

What I’m suggesting is a version of “turn the other check” yet still doing everything to preserve what’s important to you. The hard part, though, is watching someone “get away with something” when there’s nothing you can do about it. Yes, your wife left you for the yoga instructor. Yes, your colleague sold you out. With situations like this in my life, I take solace in the notion of karma, that sooner or later, what goes around comes around. Also know that the best revenge is your success, happiness, and the triumph of not giving vindictive people any dominion over your peace of mind.

Here, we see another example that Psychology Today is in the same class as Cosmopolitan and Gawker. Orloff, and alleged M.D., appeals to karma to provide justice. Forgiveness does not and cannot provide justice. There is no evidence that “what goes around comes around” is a legitimate belief. Yes, criminals tend to continue committing crimes, increasing their chances of eventually facing punishment. However, much of what forgiveness advocates urge us to forgive is relational aggression. Failure to keep one’s word. Spreading lies and rumors. These actions may not be isolated incidents—if someone has wronged you, they have probably wronged many others and will continue to do so without repercussions, unless someone takes a stand, refusing to forgive. Depending on the situation, institutional channels may be used against the wrongdoer, perhaps getting the person fired even for unrelated but nefarious doings. When dealing with businesses, complaining to attorneys general, complaining to Better Business Bureaus, and publicizing transgressions on personal blogs and consumer websites is a great approach.

Of course, one should deploy time and energy pragmatically, for the greatest benefit. Some transgressions are not worth the effort of retaliation. However, maintaining and referring to an Excel or Google Docs spreadsheet may ensure these transgressions are not forgiven or forgotten. If you are unable to maintain a shit list without sacrificing your “peace of mind,” you probably have bigger psychological problems to deal with! In fact, a shit list can give you the peace of mind that you won’t accidentally do business with someone who wronged you before. Apps such as Google Docs or Evernote can help you take this shit list with you on your phone, wherever you go.

The idea that the best revenge is living a successful, happy life is a half-truth at best. In truth, the best revenge is living a successful, happy life while destroying your opposition with a minimum of effort. If obliteration is too costly, responsibly using legitimate channels to rebuke and hamper your enemies is a close second.

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