Be The Bigger Person

Empower through confrontation.

Paulina E. Perez | Reworked on 05/29/2023

5/22/202310 min read

Professor Helmrich at UCI opened up an interesting topic of what it means to grant forgiveness. He said that victims of being wronged owe it to oppressors to “have it out”. This perspective of what it means to forgive does not agree with avoiding confrontation and being the bigger person by moving on. I aim to offer a different perspective of what it means to be the bigger person. In this perspective Being the Bigger Person means being mindful about how you confront those who hurt you and how you grant forgiveness.

Why does a victim owe anything at all?

By not acknowledging that someone has caused harm to you or your community, you exclude that person as an equal moral other. Pamela Hieronymi argues that the oppressor has a right to be treated as someone who can make mistakes that can be corrected. She takes this stance further by saying that the victim causes harm when they do not confront the oppressor. Her take on forgiveness is that a person must not mistakenly forgive someone without confronting them and allowing them to correct their wrong.

The challenge that Pamela proposes is that if you have good reason to resent a person, then you should have good reason to forgive. She says genuine forgiveness should cause a change in view, i.e. overcoming resentment. The change in view must come from a place of understanding.

The offender must admit to causing harm that can not be undone.

The offended, who owes forgiveness, must live with the injury without resentment.

What is resentment?

Resentment is a protest, standing in the unacceptability of a wrong. In resentment the victim protests the wrongfulness of the offender's lack of consideration.

Overcoming resentment involves doing the work it takes to work through pain. If resentment is a protest, feeling unwanted empathy and generosity is to cross the picket line. Pamela advocates for protest as the rational, appropriate and responsible response to wrong.

To let wrongful action go unsettled is to give a free pass, not to forgive. Pamela takes it further by saying that forgiveness requires not just any kind of overcoming of resentment. An account of forgiveness can not just be a magic pill taken that suddenly cures resentment. Forgiveness must involve a revision in judgment that in turn overcomes resentment.

Resolving resentment involves the wrongdoer retracting the message that resentment protests. Basically, the wrongdoer has to acknowledge that what they did is not okay.

The point in prefacing forgiveness in this way is so that you don't go on making excuses for people. This view is meant to hold people accountable for causing harm. The reality of it is that people do wrong all the time in a non detrimental way. It misses the point that by nature we are flawed human beings and must not be punished for our humanity. It's nonetheless true that leaving a wrong in place without redress does no good.

How does embracing the fullness of your pain mean moving on, forgiving?

How does a person live with being mistreated without resentment?

The question is: What Justifies forgiveness?

Pamela poses that genuine forgiveness must allow the forgiver to embrace three judgments:

  1. I was wronged. The act in question was wrong; it was a serious offense worthy of moral attention.

  2. I deserve not to be wronged. The wrongdoer is a legitimate member of the moral community who can make mistakes that must be corrected.

  3. The offender is someone who I can demand better of. The wrongdoer is a member of the community who is entitled to be treated as a wrongdoer.

When we acknowledge these three judgments, we resent the wrongdoer for treating us as unworthy. When the forgiver does not recognize they are entitled to these three judgments they compromise forgiveness by absolving the wrongdoer from fault. A person who prematurely forgives without confrontation sends the message to the wrongdoer that, “it’s okay to treat me like shit”.

Forgiveness should not be compromised from admitting you are a victim of being wronged, you deserve not to be wronged, and members of your community have the right to be held accountable. Forgiveness that does not admit to these three judgments, Pamela tells us, makes a threatening claim. In order for forgiveness to take place, you must admit resentment towards a person for causing you harm by confronting the situation head-on. It requires getting real with yourself and acknowledging that you have been hurt and you deserve to not be hurt.

Forgiveness is a social exchange.

It's important to understand the ways in which our identities and the meanings of our actions are social. Our Identities only uphold as far as they are perceived by others. For example, you can't just proclaim being 6 foot tall, you must be recognized as a person taller than 5 '11. Better yet, you can't be a pro skateboarder if you're not recognized at some competitive level.

Our actions only uphold as far as they are limited or accepted by others. If the person offended trusts an apology to be sincere, then they have the power to accept the change in heart and unite with the offender. By accepting the apology, the offender does an act of restoration. The togetherness of requesting and granting forgiveness “does” something, It leaves resentment in the past. Forgiveness happens after we can identify the person with the matter of fact that they caused harm.

There is no undoing the wrong, the wrong doesn't just go away after granting forgiveness, it persists in space.

But, resentment is dissolved by agreeing to forgive.

So, granting forgiveness means that the offended agrees to manage the persisting damage in her own life without further protest (resentment) or demand for retribution.

Pamela Hieronymi puts it beautifully:

“You must allow me to creatively incorporate the scars that bare your fingerprints into the permanent fabric of my life, and trust that I can do so.”

Forgiveness doesn't need to mean letting go of your pain. It could mean turning it into a beautiful life. Incorporating the wholeness of your pain is artistic and it's a quality not all people could admit to understanding. Not living with your pain shy's away from the whole you. Embracing your scars and letting go of resentment is vulnerable, but its empowering.

When accepting an apology, you grant the threat relief and abandon protest without having to abandon that the harm was wrong. The wrongdoer is also relieved from the expectation of having to make any further reparations after being forgiven but should be expected not to do the wrong again.

An articulate account of forgiveness must bring about a change in view where the offender can acknowledge that they caused a harm, people deserve not to be harmed, and they are responsible for doing better. Forgiveness should be grounded on a judgment that unresolved harm makes a threatening claim.

What is sufficient reason to forgive?

Uncompromised forgiveness at its basis requires confrontation. What I mean by confrontation is that you must be the bigger person and accept those things that have caused you harm. In accepting them you acknowledge that you do not like nor deserve to be treated in such a way. Whether you literally or figuratively confront your offender it matters that you get real with yourself. Pamela encourages readers to go to the lengths needed to meet confrontation on your terms so that pain can be processed and not just embraced. The point is, confronting things that have hurt you should be done in hopes that you never allow that kind of pain back into your life again.

Possible objections.

One might think of this strict view of forgiveness and think that there are cases in which it is better to move on, forget, and forgive even when an apology isn't offered. Pamela says that it is wrong to forget and forgive because it compromises forgiveness. When pain is not acknowledged as having been harmful, you carry a further burden of your pain going unnoticed and invalidated.

Forgetting and forgiving is not actual forgiveness, it is compromised forgiveness. It holds the forgiver back from accepting that they've been hurt. Their worth remains unrestored and the wrongdoer receives the message that they can get away with causing damage.

We could imagine the damage this could do to a person. A dismissing response demonstrates carelessness and only causes more resentment which later will result in internalized anger. Pamela would respond that we are in our rights and in fact it is our responsibility to remain in protest and not to forgive and forget.

We can think of how long term resentment might cause more damage than demand for any good. But how do you get over pain and move on? You must choose to confront resentment to resolve it.

As a person who has been wronged, you have the right to resent those who hurt you, but latching onto resentment does no good. A wise person told me, the best way to rid yourself of resentment is by putting it in words and sending it off through text or email. Confronting someone in this way is not only a morally sound thing to do, it's also the legally safest option. But anyway, it is important not to dismiss your pain out of empathy or lack of bother. You must confront it or it will literally kill you.

If sending a message is not an option, sit and process the debts people owe you. Anger, sadness, resentment are likely to come up. Write it down, throw the paper away, delete the note. Acknowledge that you no longer welcome nor will you accept such behaviors into your life.

By holding people accountable you empower yourself and you empower others. You don't just let things that hurt you slide. You embrace that you deserve better and you hold people accountable to treating you better. Offering an apology requires that you as a wrongdoer admit to your flaws. On the receiving end of an apology, you assume responsibility to your community by judging whether an apology is sincere.

I'm sorry for what we (the world) did when we were stupider.

Someone who is close enough to hurt you is inevitably part of your community. As a member of your community, a person who causes harm is entitled to be treated as a wrongdoer when they are wrong. The wrongdoer should’ve known better because they make up your community.

Confrontation is weird because it requires that the victim admit they were wronged and in doing so they are subordinating themselves. But its also like a big fuck you to the oppressor. Confrontation says to the wrongdoer “you’re morally stupid and that's worse than being ugly”.

I've understood spiritual or WOKE communities claim that to be WOKE is letting go, forgiving and being the bigger person. I'm not allergic to this view entirely but I take issue with taking hits and not throwing back any punches. *I only mean this as an analogy, in no way does confrontation call for violence.

Confronting a situation is not an attack, it is correction. If we do not confront, we do not correct. My issue with the constant spiritual advice roaming the internet is that it does not reflect a practice of collective, corrective, action. If you work for yourself and never put yourself out into a community will you ever make anything out of your work? NO.

UC Irvines rave community Froggy friend
UC Irvines rave community Froggy friend

UC Irvines rave community froggy friend.

Confrontational people are morally intelligent.

Confrontational people acknowledge that even those who have wronged them are equal interactive members of their community. When we come to a moral opinion it's because we recognize something that we didn't realize before. It's not that our morality changes by seeing a wrongdoer as our equal. It's that we realize our cultural practices don't acknowledge that it takes someone being your equal for them to get close enough to hurt you.

Being the bigger person means that you are empowered by equality, not forgiving or forgetting. It takes having difficult conversations and embracing difference to defend and strengthen your thoughts and opinions. Standing up for yourself shows how you value yourself and others. How you treat others and how you want to be treated.

Doing the work involves correcting others and being corrected. If you've been wronged, it does not make you a victim. Likely, if you have wronged, it does not make you a bad person. It gives you the opportunity to do better by facing action head-on.

The method to the madness of confrontation.

In the past decade, with the rise of cancel culture, confrontation can seem like a personal attack. Challenging people's opinions should aim to unite people in all ways.

If you want to spread awareness about the modern slavery that is fast fashion and you confront someone by attacking their personal style, you become the oppressor, not the corrector of wrongdoing. While it may be true that the look and feel of fast fashion is atrocious, you force a person into survival mode by attacking them personally. Being an advocate requires putting your feelings aside for the sake of correcting injustice.

Confronting someone with the cold hard facts does the work that name calling can not. When Pamela Hieronymi talks about forgiveness requiring confrontation and the opportunity to correct wrongdoing, she's inviting people to empower each other by collective, corrective, action.

The Chancellor of a university is not beyond the scope of confrontation. Your parents are not excluded from moral obligation, they deserve to be acknowledged as equals who are inevitably misunderstood and are doing the best they can. Your friends don't get a free pass either. Acknowledge wrongdoings by having difficult conversations in collective contemplation.

UC AFCME 3299 workers fights protest flier May 17, 2023
UC AFCME 3299 workers fights protest flier May 17, 2023

UC AFCME 3299 workers rights protest flier May 17, 2023

Call for action.

UC workers across all of California were on strike Wednesday May 17 from 10am-1pm demanding $25. Making this the second round of worker rights related protests this 2022-2023 academic school year. This time around the AFSCME- 3299 (Labor workers union for all UC workers including students) is demanding the university end poverty wages.

Learning that the workers who kept the dorms clean, made and served my food in the dining hall were being paid under $25/hr made me sick. I have come in contact with the work of these union workers more times than I have ever seen or heard from the chancellor of our school. These people run the place and by not supporting their strike we send the message that we are entitled to their work. We send the message that these workers do not deserve to live a worry free life as we do when we are spoon-fed clean spaces and cooked-meals.

Apart from being educated on these issues, what's next? Should the students forgive for the sake of studying at a premier institution? No. When we chant on the picket line “IF WE DON'T GET IT, SHUT IT DOWN” that's what we mean. As students we are not entitled to the work of the union laborers and neither are the chancellors who seemingly run an educational business and call it a university.

When the university chooses to do nothing in spite of these protests, they act entitled to the forgiveness of the workers. When the University chooses to do nothing they tell us they are not equals of our community. This screams that the chancellor is okay with being excluded from moral obligation and is okay with subordinating its workers and students.

If you are a UC student, please show up for the people who support you. Follow @afcme_3299, @uawuci, and @usasuci on Instagram to stay in the know on movements happening on campus. Make noise, write letters, and let the chancellor know we will not be silenced.