The offense-apology-forgiveness cycle is a draining, regimented ritual for public figures. Just in the past few weeks, Benedict Cumberbatch made an ill-conceived comment about race, referring to black actors as “colored”; apologized; and was (mostly) forgiven. Then there’s Brian Williams, and others with such charged pasts that new offenses and new apologies hardly seem to move the dial at all, like when Kanye West “upstaged” Beck at the Grammys. Below, our best grab bag of insights from social science about forgiveness theater.
1.The scientific literature on forgiveness only dates back to 1989, amazingly.
But some researchers suggest we’re seeing more examples of public figures seeking forgiveness lately because we’re becoming more aware of the importance of seeking reconciliation.
7. There are different kinds of forgiveness.
Decisional forgiveness is largely external; it’s a change in the way you behave toward someone who’s wronged you, even though you may still feel negatively toward the person. Emotional forgiveness, on the other hand, is an internal change in the way you feel toward this person — resentment giving way to positive emotions like empathy, sympathy, compassion, and even love. That’s the real kind of forgiveness; the other one is the much more common playacting variety.
10. Carrying a grudge literally weighs you down.
Researchers at Erasmus University asked people to write about a time when they either gave or withheld forgiveness. They then asked their human guinea pigs to jump as high as they could, five times, without bending their knees. Those who had been thinking about a time when they’d forgiven jumped highest, about 11.8 inches on average; those who had written about their grudges, on the other hand, jumped 8.5 inches — a huge difference, and a startling illustration of how forgiveness can actually unburden you.