Universal Ethics > Wise Choices > Index > Forgiveness


In my ideal world people will forgive people who have truly repented of their offense.

A typical wish

This supports the Kindness ideal: I wish that others would always be kind to me. I value other people and animals who are kind to me and I have their best interests at heart.

But what if other people are not kind to you, and have caused you harm? This ideal does not obligate you to permit that! Indeed, according to the Defence and Courage ideal, you would stop others from causing harm to you or other people. That is why it is sometimes necessary to use disciplinary action against others, such as applying costly penalties, removing privledges or taking away their freedom.

Nevertheless, sometimes that disciplinary action becomes unnecessary. The person has realized their error and truly regret it. Or they have come to repent before the penalty has been fully applied. In that case, what benefit would it serve to continue with the disciplinary action? Most of us would prefer to use kindness in this situation, because that is what we want for ourselves too:

"If I have done something that has caused harm to someone unintentionally, and where I have reversed the damage to the best of my ability, I would wish to be forgiven. If have have done something harmful intentionally, where I have sincerely repented and made restitution insofar as I can, I would wish to be forgiven."

Making the Wish come true

Here's how to cast a vote for a world where people can be forgiven: "When a person has caused harm to me or someone I care about but regrets their action, and they demonstrate their regret by taking action to undo the harm insofar as possible, I will forgive them."

Sometimes even bullies and gang members can be converted to treat other people better; often bullies become gang members not because they really want to, but out of fear of what might happen to them if they were outside the gang.

To maximize the society's ability to prevent bullying and gang behavior, there needs to be a means of converting people who were wrong-doers so that they are peaceful members of society and allies of justice. Exiling them or locking them in cages may prevent them from harming others in your society, but those means are not sufficient to turn them into allies of justice. The best results are achieved when they are reformed.

Sometimes a person can realize their error and therefore they will make amends by reversing the harm they have done insofar as possible. When a person repents in this manner, and where others can be confident that the repentance is sincere, there is no benefit in continuing to punish them or withhold their freedom; instead the strength of the society and the happiness of people overall can be increased by forgiving them.

One cautionary note: If a person has committed a crime and you misjudge their repentence, there is a risk they might repeat the crime. The more severe the crime is, the greater the harm that may arise if the person is inappropriately forgiven. There is typically some uncertainty when judging the repentance of another person, which is why forgiveness is more readily given out for minor offences than for serious crimes.

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