Forgive or punish: what is the right thing to do?

Many times in our lives we find ourselves in a situation where a behavior of someone else fills us with bitter sentiments like anger, insult, sense of injustice. betrayal, etc. Although the variety of such situations is really big, at the end of the day the feelings that they provoke are rather limited. As human beings (which under a rather simplistic view we are the most advanced animal from all the creatures of nature) we usually have two options; either strike back to the one that is responsible for all these feelings with some form of punishment or forgive this behavior and let it go. What is the right thing to do? Welcome to one of the toughest questions in the whole history of mankind!

A basic assumption and therefore criterion as to what reaction to choose is that we have feelings for the person that hurt us. If no feelings are involved then there should not be any lasting bitter sentiments to begin with, so the situation is rather simple. But if we feel something for the other part then things can get complicated. The complexity is related to the intense of our feelings and the type of relationship we have with our “target”. (e.g. family, spouse, friend, etc).

Then we should examine whether this behavior was done on purpose or it was just a mere human fault. If it was due to a “hot head” moment, if it was because of lack of crucial information, if it was because of miscalculated thoughts etc then the person could deserve a chance to be forgiven.

Last we should estimate and judge the importance of this person in our life. Do we really want him/her as part of our network? Do we mind if we loose him/her? Is there enough trust left between us or can it be repaired? If the answer to all the above questions is negative then the punishment scenario gains ground again.

It really adds up to how our decision makes us feel. Since we posses the gift of judgment we have to see how either reaction (punishment or forgiveness) will make us feel in the long term and not in the short term. The above questions can only act as draft guidelines to assist our thinking process. After all each situation is unique, and we are solely responsible for our decisions.