The philosophy of injury, apology, mending and forgiveness

published Jan 10, 2017, last modified Feb 10, 2022

Forgiveness isn't something you just give away. True forgiveness can only come after restitution for a wrongdoing.

I've known the truth that follows for many years. I've never quite put it together in words before today. Here it is. I hope this serves you in your future relationships.

Many people have an erroneous concept of forgiveness in their heads. You'll know them when you hear them say things like "oh, you'll never be happy if you don't forgive the people who hurt you". They truly don't understand what forgiveness is, and often confuse that concept with forgetting wrongs or putting wrongs behind.

Injury, apology, mending and forgiveness can only be understood as a process:

  • The injurer creates for himself a "debt" (from hereonafter debt) with the injuree. Before the injury, injurer and injuree were on equal terms, and no one owed the other. From the point of the injury onward, the injurer "owes" the injured person.
  • The apology is the act of the injurer of saying, in effect, "I acknowledge that I have a debt with you.  How can I get it resolved?"
  • Mending is the act of the injurer of righting wrongs, making amends and demonstrating that the injurer won't injure again.
  • Forgiveness is the act of the injuree of saying, in effect, "You owed me before, but you no longer owe me, as I forgive all debt from you to me".

Importantly, an apology is merely the first step towards resolving that debt. As you know, if you have a debt with someone who values themself, merely asking for that debt to be forgotten is (rightfully) going to take you nowhere. Furthermore, because people tend to repeat their past behavior, the injurer merely asking for an apology is no guarantee that the injurer won't repeat the same destructive behavior again in the future. So the injurer, in order to obtain forgiveness, must go beyond apologizing and into making amends with the injuree — to restore that which the injurer damaged, and to ensure that the behavior never repeats so that the injurer can regain their trustworthiness. What steps it takes to follow that part of the process are necessarily going to have to be dictated by the injuree — because only the injuree knows what the injurer must do, in order for the injuree to say "okay, the debt is finally repaid now" and "I am now convinced that you will not injure me again".

With this, we get to the concept of nonpology. Nonpology is a fake apology from injurers that either:

  • does not address the issue of that which is owed ("I'm sorry you feel that way")
  • neither consults with the injuree as to how to make amends, nor offers to start the process ("Can you please forgive me already? I haven't done anything to mend what I broke, but I want to be forgiven now!")

Similarly, we have the concept of nongiveness. Nongiveness is a ritual of self-deceit that some injurees engage in, which:

  • "hamsters away" (denies) the fact that the debt of injury hasn't been repaid
  • is done for the purpose of the injuree to soothe their wounded self, rather than out of a true process of repair
  • leaves the injury in place, unchallenged and ready to hurt again in the future, perhaps by other people

A quite interesting conclusion that one can derive from this framework is that forgiveness is not a concession that self-respecting injurees freely grant or give while skipping the mending step, because self-respecting injurees as a general rule do not tolerate people hurting them without them at least attempting to make up for their wrongs, and demonstrate they won't do them again.

Yet another conclusion is that both apology and forgiveness connected to a particular injury, when done right as explained above, will only ever need to happen once. You cannot truly forgive if you still think the other person owes you, but once that debt is cleared, the act of forgiveness both is natural and also must be final. And you also cannot keep apologizing for something you have properly apologized and made amends for, because once the forgiveness is granted, it is final.

The final conclusion? It's perfectly okay never to forgive someone who did something that is — according to the injuree — impossible to make amends for. You do not owe anyone forgiveness, especially to people who owe you so much for their wrongdoings they can't be forgiven. The way to deal with those people is not to fake-forgive them — it's far better for you to simply and unilaterally declare them in moral bankruptcy, and remove them from your life altogether.