Tuesday, May 05, 2009

More on "The Punishment Game"

Remember my post on playing the punishment game? I read an article yesterday that I thought complemented my point very nicely.

In "Louis Vuitton does not spell forgiveness," Debra D. Bass explores how men -- particularly abusive men -- manipulate women by buying them gifts. I obviously wasn't talking about abusive men, but just the general belief in our society and human nature that gifts (tangible or by doing favors/chores) can/should buy forgiveness (or at least softness that leads to easier forgiveness). And Ms. Bass makes this same point -- that a gift is no substitute for true reconciliation.

Here's the opening few paragraphs of her article.
married friend once joked that if her husband weren't such a screw up, she wouldn't have any nice jewelry. She's told this joke many times in response to a compliment about something she was wearing, and it never fails to elicit laughs.

Socially, we are taught that gifts are selfless, thoughtful and virtuous expressions of love, friendship or respect. We are also taught that a gift is a "get out of trouble" card. And the more expensive or rare or sentimental the gift, the more forgiveness it can barter.

People who screw up are taught that gifts can be traded or at least leveraged for forgiveness.

How many women might instinctively soften after a quarrel if their husband or boyfriend brought home a shiny necklace or stylish watch the next day? How many would take the gift without an explicit admission of guilt? And would that be wrong?

The tricky part of this equation is that gifts can be really nice to get. A gift is a tangible object that says, "I was thinking about you." But it doesn't mean "I acknowledge, understand and take responsibility for what I've done."

(by the way, as far as I know, this article wasn't written by a Christian, just an observer of human nature)

Hopefully not too many people who read my blog are in abusive relationships, but I'll say again what I said before about subscribing to this false view of "reconciliation:"

The scary thing is the same question I asked someone in a mediation a few weeks ago -- "How much is enough?" At some point, he's not going to be able to do enough for me to forgive him. We've got to find another way to be restored to each other.

Also scary is how remarkably similar this "theology" is to our natural tendency to believe that we need to work our way back into God's favor. Does God insist that we pay penance before being restored to him? No! And since God does not treat us in this way, we have no right to treat our spouses in this way.

Avoiding "the punishment game" in this way is a great way to live out our identity as forgiven people.

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