Archive for November, 2012

Inherent Worth

Inherent worth: the true thought that all persons have a built-in, never-needs-to-be-earned, quality of tremendous value. All people. Even those who are unjust to us. Even ourselves when we are feeling low.

I think that no war (or major conflict in home or neighborhood or community) could ever start if those with the ammunition to inflict harm saw the inherent worth of those on the other side. But, unfortunately, in our imperfect world, and in societies that do not cultivate a deliberate sense of inherent worth of all, cruelties can be perpetrated, even in the name of fairness or “my rights.” The philosopher Blaise Pascal said that if he could prescribe one thing for the human race it would silence—so that we could listen to what is truly important. I think if I were asked that question, I would stay with silence and try to sneak in a second “thing”: the deep understanding that each person, even those who are cruel to us, have immense inherent worth.

Dr. Bob

You guys seem to have a lot of knowledge about forgiveness. I am curious. How many hours a day do you spend on forgiveness and what do you read to attain this knowledge?

Yes, we spend about 12 hours a day thinking about the topic of forgiveness. We read classic works, such as Aristotle’s Nicomachean Ethics and Plato’s Republic. Currently we are reading the following book chapter and journal article to challenge us:

Murphy, G. (2005). Forgiveness, self-respect, and the value of resentment. In E.L. Worthington (Ed.), Handbook of Forgiveness. New York: Routledge (pp. 33-40).

McNulty, J.K. (2011). The dark side of forgiveness: The tendency to forgive predicts continued psychological and physical aggression in marriage. Personality and Social Psychology Bulletin, 37, 770-783.

We are also thinking about community-based forgiveness programs and we find this article helpful: Gibson, J. L. (2006). The contributions of truth to reconciliation. Journal of Conflict Resolution, 50, 409-432.

Our reading list is ever changing and expanding.

Added Note from the IFI Director: Dr. Forgiveness (aka Dr. Robert Enright) is the unquestioned pioneer in the scientific study of forgiveness. He has been called “the forgiveness trailblazer” by Time magazine and is often introduced as “the father of forgiveness research” because of his 25-year academic commitment to researching and implementing forgiveness programs.

Dr. Enright is the author or editor of five books, and over 100 publications centered on social development and the psychology of forgiveness. He published the first social scientific journal article on person-to-person forgiveness and the first cross-cultural studies of interpersonal forgiveness. He also pioneered forgiveness therapy and developed an early intervention to promote forgiveness–the 20-step “Process Model of Forgiving.” The Enright Forgiveness Inventory, now used by researchers around the world, is an objective measure of the degree to which one person forgives another who has hurt him or her deeply and unfairly.

Returning Exiles Show Capacity for Forgiveness in Myanmar

Los Angeles Times, Yangon, Myanmar – Maung Thura, a comedian known as Zarganar, spent 11 years in prison including five in solitary confinement for his open criticism of the repression he witnessed in Myanmar while the country was under military rule. Released in 2011 after the military junta was dissolved, Zarganar now expresses forgiveness rather than rancor for his former captors.

“This is not a time for revenge,” he said. “Otherwise, it becomes a circular motion that never ends.”

According to a variety of sources, Zarganar’s willingness to forgive–seemingly incomprehensible to many outsiders–is shared by thousands of dissidents and student leaders released from prisons or invited back to Myanmar, also known as Burma, after years in exile.

This flexibility on both sides offers hope the country can move more quickly toward national reconciliation, avoiding a settling of scores and crippling divisions seen in other countries struggling to emerge from decades of totalitarian rule.

Read more about the role of forgiveness in Myanmar in the Los Angeles Times article “In Myanmar, returning exiles show capacity for forgiveness.”

One of my close relatives has a really bad habit. He says to me, “Please forgive me for this….” and then he proceeds to criticize me. How can a person forgive someone who pre-meditates meanness and then goes right ahead with it? I am finding it hard to forgive this kind of thing.

I understand your frustration. The relative obviously knows this will hurt you, but then goes ahead anyway. It further is obvious that there is an intent to hurt, otherwise he or she would not ask you beforehand to forgive. Forgiveness is more difficult when we know that the other intended wrong. Yet, that is why we have this virtue: to offer goodness to others even in the face of injustice. Yours is a case of unambiguous injustice. Forgiveness would be a good idea under this circumstance, knowing it may take longer because of the intent to hurt. At the same time, please consider exercising the virtue of justice by talking with the relative about this pattern of asking for forgiveness before delivering a criticism. If he or she knows it is unjust, then restraining from delivering the criticism is in order.

Helpful Forgiveness Hint

As you consider forgiving another, it is important to first review what it is you are and are not doing. You will not be waiting for an apology from the other. Your forgiveness is not dependent on anyone else’s attitudes or pronouncements. You are free to forgive when you are ready. You may or may not be reconciling with the person. That depends on how the other is now responding to you. You will not be putting justice aside, but instead allowing yourself to have the mercy of forgiveness and the fairness of justice.

You will be offering goodness toward someone who has hurt you, but forgiveness will not make you a weak person through your effort. Mercy comes from a position of strength, not weakness.

Dr. Bob