Forgiving Grave Wrongs

In Christopher Allers & Marieke Smit (eds.), Forgiveness In Perspective. Rodopi Press (2010)
Abstract
We introduce what we call the Emergent Model of forgiving, which is a process-based relational model conceptualizing forgiving as moral and normative repair in the wake of grave wrongs. In cases of grave wrongs, which shatter the victim’s life, the Classical Model of transactional forgiveness falls short of illuminating how genuine forgiveness can be achieved. In a climate of persistent threat and distrust, expressions of remorse, rituals and gestures of apology, and acts of reparation are unable to secure the moral confidence and trust required for moral repair, much less for forgiveness. Without the rudiments of a shared moral world — a world in which, at the very least, the survivor’s violation can be collectively recognized as a violation, and her moral status and authority collectively acknowledged and respected — expressions of remorse, gestures and rituals of apology, or promises of compensation have no authority as meaningful communicative acts with reparative significance. Accordingly, we argue that repair in the wake of traumatic violence involves ‘world-building,’ which supports the ability of survivors to move from despair to hope, from radical and disabling distrust to trust and engagement, and thus from impotence to effective agency. Our Emergent Model treats forgiveness as a slowly developing outcome of a series of changes in a person’s relationship to the trauma and its aftermath, in which moral agency is regained. We argue that forgiveness after grave wrongs and world-shattering harm, when it occurs, emerges from other phenomena, such as cohabitation within a community, gestures of reconciliation, working on shared projects, the developing of trust. On this view, forgiveness is an emergent phenomenon; it entails taking and exercising normative power—coming to claim one’s own moral authority in relation to oneself, one’s assailant, and one’s community. The processes that ultimately constitute forgiving are part and parcel of normative repair more broadly construed.
Keywords Forgiveness  Apology  Genocide  Reconciliation  Moral repair  Mutual recognition  Trauma  Trust  World-building  Rwanda
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