Can there be true forgiveness if there is no forgetting?

I have heard it said many times that we should forgive, yet not forget. I find that a contradiction in terms. How have we forgiven if we haven’t forgotten?

The subject of forgiveness has visited itself upon me in recent days, giving pause to ponder.

I have heard it said many times that we should forgive, yet not forget. I find that a contradiction in terms. How have we forgiven if we haven’t forgotten?

To say “I forgive you but I won’t forget what you’ve done” is not forgiveness at all. You cannot place a caveat on forgiveness. That is faux forgiveness.

patti dawn swansson
patti dawn swansson

Forgiveness is much like pregnancy and love. There can be no levels. No layers. You are either pregnant or you are not. You either love a person or you do not. You either forgive that person or you do not. There is only one way to be pregnant—wholly. There is only one way to love—wholly. There is only one way to forgive—wholly.

Partial pregnancy, partial love, partial forgiveness isn’t possible.

Thus, to apply an addendum such as “but I won’t forget” to a declaration of forgivness is a self lie. By telling one you forgive him but shall not forget his misdeed is to tell him you might use that misdeed as a trump card in any future disagreements.

It is as Henry Ward Beecher said: “I can forgive, but I cannot forget, is only another way of saying, I will not forgive. Forgiveness ought to be like a cancelled note—torn in two, and burned up, so that it never can be shown against one.”

Author F. Scott Fitzgerald put it this way: “Forgotten is forgiven.”

I believe, as Ghandi submitted, that forgiveness is the “attribute of the strong.” It’s sometimes very difficult to forgive. To truly forgive. Yet it requires considerably more inner strength to forget. And one can only do the former if they do the latter.

Consider your own lives. Have you forgiven? Probably. Have you forgotten at the same time? I suppose that depends on the gravity of the outrage. It is easier, for example, to forgive and forget mean-spirited gossip or tiny tiffs than it is rape, murder, kidnapping or 9/11. But, again, to forgive any of the above wholly you must forget wholly, and I’m not convinced a whole lot of people are capable of that.

I know I have great difficulty doing it, which is why I tend to cut people from my life. I don’t need their toxins. If they’ve brought a poisonous vibe into my world, they no longer exist in my world.

Consider the man formerly known as my father, for example. He was never a father. He was a tyrant. As an adult, I made a determined bid to understand him. To co-exist with him. To be his friend. No luck. That leopard wasn’t changing his bigoted, nasty spots. Adios. I did the same with my mother, a woman I love dearly to this day but cannot have in my life.

I harbour not one iota of bitterness toward either of them, but I cannot forgive them for what they did and/or said because I cannot forget what they did and/or said.

Similarly, there is a fellow with whom I once worked. I would very much like to cut from my life. Unfortunately, he remains very much in front of my face.

I once came quite close to filing a human rights complaint against this fellow vis-a-vis the workplace. Making crude jokes about my vagina, referring to me as “he” and ceaselessly spreading malicious gossip about me is inappropriate conduct anywhere, let alone your place of employment. Alas, he also still makes it his business to become involved in the business of others, which, of course, is none of his damned business. Especially if it’s my business.

So, how can I possibly forget his mistreatment when it is staring me in the face? By extension, therefore, I cannot forgive him.

There are others like him. One person attempted to have me fired. Another repeatedly refers to me as “he” or “him” or “his” and has addressed me as “Patrick.” Others thought those insults were giggle-worthy. Real knee-slappers. As much as I don’t wish to share oxygen with these people any more than I wish to have gonhorrea, I bear no grudge against them. They are to be pitied as much as vilified, and I’m not out to “get even” with them. But, since I can’t forget what they’ve done/said—and continue to do/say—I can’t possibly forgive. Who could?

Sorry, but there is no such animal as forgiveness if you don’t forget.

6 thoughts on “Can there be true forgiveness if there is no forgetting?”

  1. I have to disagree with you on this point. I too have written a blog about this very subject. Let me ask you this: If your child, say 12 years old, broke something that you valued, beyond repair; would you never be able to forgive them, just because you could never forget?

    I am hearing renentment in your writing, and resentment blocks us form the sunlight of the spirit. Maybe there is something that you are holding onto that you are unable to forgive yourself for, therefore, you are unable to forgive anyone else.

    I am speaking form experience and only wish to put another perspective on the topic.

    Blessings to you.


    1. If my 12-year-old child broke something that I valued, I could easily forgive her because I could easily forget. Nothing material is important to me. They’re just things. Trust me, my children broke all sorts of things in their youth and I cannot recall a single incident today. Obviously I’ve forgotten and forgiven.
      As for your perspective, it stems from your own life experiences, not mine. You can’t possibly put perspective on my life. You don’t know where I’ve come from, you don’t know where I’m at, and you don’t know where I hope to go. Only I, and those closest to me, are positioned to place perspective on my life.
      I must say that I always find it interesting, in a non-offended way, when complete strangers read something I’ve written and analyse me as if I’m on a psychiatrist’s couch. Based on approximately 700 words, you’ve labelled me resentful and suggest I’m clinging to something I’m unable to forgive myself for. Interesting.
      But I appreciate you taking the time to comment, even if it was more an analysis of me as a person than a comment on the actual article.
      Take care.


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