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In one of my coffee-shop conversation groups, we got into some repartee about coping with personal problems. One of us had major problems with their parents. Another had been financially robbed by a parent. Another had been abused emotionally by their spouse. And one had been abused by classmates in high school. We all had unresolved problems from our past that we hadn’t fully coped with, and so we wrangled with what we should do. It was a friendly and diverse discussion that was goal-oriented toward regaining our personal comfort.

Early on, after some sad complaints about unresolved historical issues, we transitioned into ways of coming to grips with our respective turbulent thoughts. But first, we needed to tumble through what we meant by a violation of social norms and that devolved for a while into various legal-like fussings going from various forms of homicide to jaywalking that created problems for other people. In this kind of conversation Michael Stone’s Scale of Evil came up to help clarify what is meant by the seriousness of personal problems. These go from one-time bad actions to chronic ones.

Forgive and forget was the solution we wrangled over, because we came around to the realization that excessive forgiving encourages repeated bad behavior, or at least permits it. After a while we agreed that forgiving wasn’t for the perpetrators; it was for the victim. Forgiving helped the victim relax their hostilities and thus to become more comfortable moving on with their normal lives. Some of us felt that our suspicion of the perpetrators was justified. Unless there was far more than an apology, something that gives a complete restitution of whatever loss was sustained, and a substantial payment for the physical pain and the mental suffering, there couldn’t be a true return to a trustworthy relationship between the people. Going to jail for a legal crime doesn’t compensate the person who was injured, and besides most of the problems that we were talking about were not legal, they were personal.

One of the group’s participants said that they didn’t have to forgive their violator because what happened to them was wrong! Another said they would be more careful in choosing who they would trust, but that you must go through your day trusting nearly everyone.

Lately, I haven’t been contributing much to these conversations and have become a quiet observer.