Gift and forgiveness


In the EOC, we have spoken many times about giving, about the culture of giving, of gift. In this brief text, Luigino Bruni widens the link that exists between "gift" and "for-giveness".

Gift and forgiveness

By Luigino Bruni

Alba_del_perdonoForgiveness is one of the most profound and universal human experiences. Nevertheless, I believe that we still give too little time to reflect on the nature of this fundamental experience, even though authors like Jankelevitch have dedicated memorable pages on the topic.

A starting point in a discussion about forgiveness is that there is a very profound relationship between gift and forgiveness, and this exists in many languages. In English, for example, the tension between forgive and forget is very beautiful, and this gives us a clue to the true nature of forgiveness. It´s not an act that one carries out in order to unburden himself, to not suffer anymore, to forget. It´s not taking ("getting") but giving. This forgiveness - forgiving to forget - is very common, powerful and important, but it is insufficient for good communal living.

Then, there is a second type of forgiveness, which is expressed with the words, "I truly forgive you, but this is the last time". This type of forgiveness already contains that touch of gratuitousness (to truly forgive), which is very common in friendships, and in particular in couples, where there is direct "I-you" reciprocity. This is also an important type of forgiveness, but it still doesn’t exhaust the experience of forgiveness.

If, in fact, gift and forgiveness go hand-in-hand (one does not exist without the other), then we can sum-up a third dimension of the simply human - and maybe more than human, as Derrida says - experience of forgiveness: "I forgive you and continue to believe in my relationship with you in all of its fragility". In other words, it’s as if we´re talking not to the other, but to ourselves: "I forgive you, ready to forgive you tomorrow if you still hurt me".

This is truly "for-giveness". And this forgiveness has an extraordinary characteristic. Different than the other prior two types of forgiveness (we can associate the first with eros and the second with phila), this third type of forgiveness (requiring the strength of agape) cures the fragility of the other. The other can find that he no longer makes that mistake precisely because our gift has healed him inside. It is a therapeutic forgiveness.

The lack of "this" forgiveness is often what leads to the end of couples, of communities, of important friendships - where we leave one another because of not being able to truly "for-give", to lay our bet on, to risk again in that relationship. And instead, it´s the presence of this forgiveness that makes people capable of going beyond life´s big trials.

But where can you learn this forgiveness? Where are the schools? Who are the teachers?

In short, all three types of forgiveness are useful in life, because each one fulfills a different function during life’s various phases. However, the third "for-giveness", that of agape, is the most precious, because it is rare and non-spontaneous. Instead, when communal life is wagered only according to the records of the other two types of forgiveness, life will lack joy. And it is joy which is the great sign that accompanies "that" type of for-giveness - of who receives it and who gives it.

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