It’s no news to anyone people hurt each other. They lie, cheat, steal, manipulate, deceive and even commit more serious offenses like crimes. Yet as common as injustices are, how to deal with them isn’t evident. Of course, if someone commits a serious crime there are fines and prison sentences. Full-blown crimes, however, are relatively rare. What aren’t rare are more minor, yet still highly immoral (and maybe borderline illegal) betrayals like bullying, incompetence, dishonesty, hypocrisy, and breaches of trust. Also not rare is the pain these injustices cause innocent victims. This pain is made all the worse when victims don’t know how to get over it and move on successfully. In other words, they don’t know how to forgive.
According to Merriam Webster, to forgive means to cease to feel resentment against an offender. Yet this alone isn’t enough to explain how to successfully do it. In response, people typically react in one of two ways. Some regard forgiveness as a complete absolution and treat the perpetrator as if he didn’t do anything wrong. Others go to the opposite extreme, holding grudges and plotting revenge.
Neither’s good. Letting vicious people off the hook only encourages them by telling them there won’t be any consequences for their viciousness. Meanwhile hanging on to resentment and planning revenge makes the perpetrator more significant in the victim’s life than he deserves to be, and even gives him control over his victim. Instead of the victim getting on with his life pursuing things that will make him happy, he upends his life pursuing something to make someone else unhappy. (Again, if the offense is serious this may need to be done, by filing a civil suit or pressing criminal charges.)
So, for minor matters, what’s the answer? Once your anger at the perpetrator subsides (which it should after a little while if the offense isn’t worthy of legal action), you treat him from that point on as if he cannot be trusted. Not fit to interact with other people, not to be befriended, married, raise children, get hired, be loaned money, given business or clients, inherit anything, benefitted, helped in emergencies, nothing.
When you regard someone as untrustworthy you need to banish him from your life as much as possible, having as little to do with him as you can. Over time you work toward cutting him off completely. And, if the issue arises, you tell other people what you know: that because he can’t be trusted, they shouldn’t trust him either.
Although it may not seem like it, deeming someone untrustworthy is actually a big deal. Ultimately the reason to interact with other people is to get values you can’t produce on your own, which can include virtually anything. Just about every material value we use is produced by a company employing more than one person. Want to have kids? It takes two to make them. In fact, modern civilization depends on our interactions with others in a division of labor where we produce values like goods and services and then trade value for value with them. Obviously our lives are tremendously better this way than they would be if we lived isolated from each other (or in very small tribes) in a subsistence fashion, like Tom Hanks in Cast Away.
However, getting the benefits of trading value for value with other people comes at a price: you have to be reliable. Want to get and keep a great job? Your boss has to be able to depend on you to be productive enough to make the company money. Want your clients happy long-term? They have to be able to trust you to consistently produce value for them. Want your wife to stay with you? She has to trust you when you say you love her. If you’re not reliable you won’t be trusted to deliver the goods, so to speak, and people justifiably won’t waste their time with you. And you won’t get the benefits from living, and trading, with other people.
Not only does regarding a perpetrator as untrustworthy punish him; it leaves the victim unperturbed for the most part. While the perp has a sullied reputation, he doesn’t live rent free in his victim’s head or dictate the course of his life. Unlike when holding a grudge, the victim can disregard him (as he deserves). Basically, in the victim’s mind he keeps a list like one a company whose job it is to rate people’s performance (like Consumers Union or the Better Business Bureau) would have. In your head there are people you know, some of whom you can trust, some of whom you can’t. And you don’t get any more bent out of shape over someone you can’t trust than the BBB gets over a business it has to give a D or F rating. As The Who sang in “We’re Not Gonna Take It”: “We forsake you/Gonna rape you/Let’s forget you better still”. And in the movie and novel The Fountainhead, the evil columnist Ellsworth Toohey gloated to the brilliant architect Howard Roark that he destroyed his career in New York City. He then asked him what he thought of him. “But I don’t think of you,” Roark replied.
An important warning: the empire can strike back. When you say to someone that someone else is untrustworthy, if the person about whom you said it finds out he can sue you for defamation. Defamation means derogatory and false statements about someone by someone else. Normally the person about whom the statement was made has to show he was injured or damaged to some degree by the statement. However, for comments about someone’s professional competence or sexual promiscuity, or alleging he has a dangerous disease or is a criminal, injury doesn’t have to be shown (because it’s presumed). Also, defamation is hard to defend against because the person making the statement has the burden of proving it’s true, rather than the person about whom it was made having the burden of proving it isn’t. This means the person accused of making the statement needs to present sufficient evidence showing it’s true. Not many people will sue for defamation though some certainly will, particularly if the comment can cause significant financial losses.
So how do you protect yourself against defamation? If you’re being sued, contact a reputable lawyer. If you haven’t been sued but need to tell people something highly derogatory about someone else, it’s probably wise to contact a lawyer about the situation as well and follow his or her advice going forward. Having said that, here are some good guidelines that can keep you out of trouble. Again, they’re not to replace professional legal advice.
First, avoid saying derogatory things about other people if you don’t have to. If the situation is such that you can’t avoid it, only say factually correct things. Eric Clapton once sang: “…make sure your story’s right/every little single word is true”. If you’re not sure about something, you can speculate a little but don’t BS. Second, be careful whom you talk to. If you find out an employee of yours has been making trouble in your office, for example, don’t blab it publicly or to his family or anyone else who might be on his side rather than yours. Stick to people you can trust.
Third, document as much of the controversy as possible. This is how, if you’re sued, you prove what you’re alleging. I once had a journal editor lift verbatim language from a writing I sent him and put it into another author’s article without a citation to my work. I told this to a major donor of his, he got into trouble over it, and threatened to sue me. But he backed off when he saw I had copies of the verbatim language from my writing and the other author’s article; proof I sent my writing to him, showing he had access to it; and an email from the other author, saying the editor helped him with that language.
Also beware of the person who apologizes profusely to get your trust back only to smack you again. For restoring trust, the rule is: show me, don’t tell me. A perpetrator can’t just say he’s trustworthy; he has to show it over time demonstrating he’s of good character. And, he has to do it to everybody, not only past victims. That way he shows he’s really turning over a new leaf rather than just trying to manipulate anyone who’s angry at him.
So that’s forgiveness. After shaking off the pain of a betrayal, remember: some people can be trusted, some can’t. Keep track of who’s who, put the desire for revenge behind you, and get on with your life.

Author's Bio: 

Gray Seele is a philosopher and attorney. He is the author of “YOU CAN THINK and be (Really!) Happy”, the first complete statement of the human thinking process ever. His website is