While watching a college basketball game today, I saw this statement in the scrolling news ticker at the bottom of the television screen: "From our conversations, he understands that forgiveness must be earned, and he is willing to work for it."
Uh...what? Forgiveness has to be earned? Since when?
Let me tell you the backstory. Gregg McDermott, head coach of the men's basketball team at Creighton University, recently stuck his foot in his mouth, big time. In delivering a post-game speech to his team in which he was trying to emphasize the importance of team unity, he used a racially insensitive analogy that was completely inappropriate. He recognized his mistake and quickly apologized. Last week the university suspended him indefinitely while they investigated the incident. Today, Creighton athletic director, Bruce Rasmussen, issued the following statement:
"Through his immediate apology, ownership of his actions, difficult dialogue with his team, and more, Coach McDermott has demonstrated a commitment to grow. I believe his apology, his commitment to grow from this, to learn, and to regain the trust of his student-athletes and others impacted by his words. From our conversations, he understands that forgiveness must be earned, and he is willing to work for it. His actions during his career reveal an individual committed to his team and his community. As such, coach Greg McDermott has been reinstated for all team activities, including this week's Big East tournament."
Perhaps it was just an awkwardly worded press release, or maybe Bruce Rasmussen was simply trying to emphasize the importance of Coach McDermott working to regain the trust of those around him (which was explicitly mentioned), but the truth is this: Forgiveness can't be earned; it can only be given. (click to tweet)
Forgiveness is not something under the control of the person who committed a breach of trust. Forgiveness rests solely with the person offended. The offended party has the choice to offer forgiveness or withhold it. What McDermott does, or doesn't do, has no impact on whether his players, assistant coaches, university administrators, fans, or anyone else chooses to forgive him. There's no way he can earn it. Don't confuse forgiveness with making amends. Making amends is the responsibility of the party who committed the offense. Forgiveness is the responsibility of the offended.
If forgiveness had to be earned, it would also mean that forgiveness was conditional and could only be granted upon meeting certain criteria. How would that work? If Coach McDermott doesn't say anything stupid for six months, does he earn 25% forgiveness? Maybe six months is worth 50% forgiveness? Or maybe it's only worth 15% forgiveness if the offended party is still holding a grudge? Forgiveness is either given or it's not. Forgiveness is not a weapon to be wielded to manipulate, coerce, or control someone into doing what you want them to do.
There are many misconceptions about forgiveness, like it’s a display of weakness, it lets the offending party off the hook, or opens the door to people taking advantage of you. Those are misconceptions for a reason: they’re wrong. I've written in-depth about the role of forgiveness in restoring trust. It's the most powerful tool at your disposal to move beyond the pain and suffering of broken trust. Forgiveness is a soothing balm to the wounds of broken trust. It works best when applied liberally and frequently.
What are your thoughts about the role forgiveness plays in restoring trust? Do you believe forgiveness is earned or given? Please leave a comment and share your perspectives.