Men and Forgiveness

Every so often in my practice as a lawyer, I meet people (sometimes they are clients, and sometimes they are the opposing party) who simply can't let go of a perceived wrongdoing. In my experience, this is never healthy--I have seen lives ruined with an obsession about vengeance. Forgiveness is never easy, but I have no doubt that the willingness to forgive is essential to a healthy life.

I was therefore intrigued by a recent scientific study that showed that men are less willing to forgive than women:

Forgiveness can be a powerful means to healing, but it does not come naturally for both sexes. Men have a harder time forgiving than women do, according to Case Western Reserve University psychologist Julie Juola Exline. But that can change if men develop empathy toward an offender by seeing they may also be capable of similar actions. Then the gender gap closes, and men become less vengeful.

In seven forgiveness-related studies Exline conducted between 1998 through 2005 with more than 1,400 college students, gender differences between men and women consistently emerged. When asked to recall offenses they had committed personally, men became less vengeful toward people who had offended them. Women reflecting on personal offenses, and beginning at a lower baseline for vengeance, exhibited no differences in levels of unforgiving. When women had to recall a similar offense in relation to the other's offense, women felt guilty and tended to magnify the other's offense.

"The gender difference is not anything that we predicted. We actually got aggravated, because we kept getting it over and over again in our studies," said Exline. "We kept trying to explain it away, but it kept repeating in the experiments."

The John Templeton Foundation-supported studies used hypothetical situations, actual recalled offenses, individual and group situations and surveys to study the ability to forgive.

Read it all here.

Aside from the gender difference, what I find most fascinating is that a reminder of our own wrongdoings leads to am empathy towards an offender, and this then leads to forgiveness. Doesn't this sound vaguely familiar?


Peter Carey said…
Chuck, thanks for this post, forgiveness continues to be a key part of my own Faith - with all its challenge and possibility for new life.


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