The tendency to express forgiveness may lead offenders to feel free to offend again by removing unwanted consequences for their behavior (e.g., anger, criticism, rejection, loneliness) that would otherwise discourage reoffending.
Consistent with this possibility, the current longitudinal study of newlywed couples revealed a positive association between spouses’ reports of their tendencies to express forgiveness to their partners and those partners’ reports of psychological and physical aggression.
Specifically, although spouses who reported being relatively more forgiving experienced psychological and physical aggression that remained stable over the first 4 years of marriage, spouses who reported being relatively less forgiving experienced declines in both forms of aggression over time.
I’m going to guess that the study of forgiveness and the study of justice are going to merge even further in the near future. Forgiveness does great things at the individual and social levels. Forgiveness helps people stay happier, sleep better and live longer. And it can set the stage for reconciliation and the resolution of conflict between individuals or social groups.
Some research is starting to find that forgiveness is easiest to achieve when it’s paired with justice. It’s easier to forgive (surprise, surprise) when the score has been settled. And safer, too — we don’t worry about being doormats or showing transgressors that they can offend with impunity.
So what’s wrong with the punish-then-forgive approach? Well, for starters, both parties in a transgression tend to see it differently. The response that is perfectly proportionate for one party may be seen as a vengeful escalation by the other. Conflict spirals of retaliation and counter-retaliation can ensue. And any feelings of obligation or indebtedness that might stem from the forgiveness can be wiped out by the punishment.
The coolest new research on forgiveness, in my opinion, is work that blends forgiveness with restorative justice. While justice can increase forgiveness, the form of justice doesn’t need to be punitive and retributive. Restorative approaches to justice are the best of both worlds: They respond to the victim’s need for acknowledgement of harm, they promote conciliatory behaviours by the transgressor, and they focus on restoring the shared norms and values needed to keep similar transgressions from occurring again. All the forgiveness, none of the doormat-ness.
In this month’s Scientific American, Daniel Willingham describes a friend who clings ferociously to the discredited belief that vaccines cause autism. The puzzle?
"My friend insists that he trusts scientists. In this respect, he is like most Americans. In a 2008 survey by the National Science Foundation, more respondents expressed “a great deal” of confidence in science leaders than in leaders of any other institution except the military. On public policy issues, Americans believe that science leaders are more knowledgeable and impartial than leaders in other sectors of society, such as business or government. Why do people say that they trust scientists in general but part company with them on specific issues?"
Of course, in this specific instance, it could simply be our well-documented willingness to seek information that confirms our beliefs and hold fast to those beliefs in the face of discrediting information. But I think Daniel has a point: People’s expressed trust in scientists doesn’t really mesh with the trust revealed by their behaviour.
So, why do people say they trust scientists but fail to trust scientific findings? I have three thoughts:
They have low trust in the funders and gatekeepers of scientific research: Government, industry, and the press. They think that the ‘real’ findings are out there, but are being hidden or repressed by scientists’ various nefarious masters.
They are bad at distinguishing good science from junk science. Both quacks and legitimate scientists hold PhDs. The distinctions that help us make sense of which to trust are either non-obvious to laypeople and/or depend on trust in the other institutions mentioned above.
It’s hard to know what the scientific consensus is on an issue from press coverage alone. What’s the best-supported position on any given issue? You’d have a hard time gleaning it on just about any topic from press coverage. Press coverage doesn’t meta-analyze — it often provides a he-said/she-said account with equal time allotted to talking heads from two sides of an issue.
Steve Saideman's suggested answer is perfect in that it offers both snark and parsimony:
In the Ottawa Citizen, Will Wilkinson of the Cato Institute assures us that record-low voter turnout is nothing to worry about. In fact, he argues, it’s a sign of social cohesion:
Contrary to the folklore of democratic health, low turnout can signal social solidarity, reflect real civic virtue, and even make democracy work better.
We humans are adversarial beings, easily riled by us-versus-them conflict. (Even Canadians!) Democratic politics is a wonderful way to peacefully channel social antagonism into ritual symbolic warfare…
Lower levels of turnout may suggest that voters actually trust each other more — that fewer feel an urgent need to vote defensively, to guard against competing interests or ideologies. Is it really all that bad if a broad swath of voters, relatively happy with the status quo, sit it out from a decided lack of pique?
Of course, there’s something to this argument in certain cases. Have a look at some instances of very high voter turnout — the 1973 Northern Ireland Assembly elections, for example. Intergroup conflict and siege mentalities can certainly drive people to the ballot box. And in the US, there’s some evidence that in some races, voter turnout is being driven by mobilizing polarized bases.
But is low turnout necessarily an indicator of high trust in one another?
What this shows is that there is a significant link between generalized trust (people’s overall trust in one another) and political engagement (voting).
The overall story here is that when civic engagement is high (when people socialize with neighbours, read local news, and discuss local issues with their neighbours and community leaders), it builds a sense that those around us are generally trustworthy. And when we see our fellow citizens as trustworthy, we tend to do the civic-minded thing and show up to the ballot box.
So, despite Wilkinson’s optimism, I don’t buy the idea that low turnout signals is a signal of a shiny, happy, trusting polity.