Archive for August, 2020

The Common Good of Communities and the Need for Forgiveness: A View from Classical Greek Philosophy

A community is a single, whole entity, with a common purpose, made up of persons, each of whom is a single, whole entity (Maritain, 1994).  A community is not simply the sum total of the individuals in the community (a nominalist view).  Think of a symphonic community of musicians. There is a harmony of persons performing different activities and with different talents in the orchestra.  The group transcends any given part of the group (Wild, 1948).  A symphony orchestra is more than the violin section only.  Communities differ in their norms, beliefs, and actions (what Aristotle calls accidents).

Aristotelian realist philosophy states that communities have a common good (Aristotle, 1999/340 B.C.).  A common good is defined by Plato (2015/330 B.C.) in The Republic as persons growing in the Cardinal Virtues of justice, courage, wisdom, and temperance with these emphasized within the group. These four virtues, in Plato’s view, are not generated by opinion or feelings, but they naturally apply to all persons and all communities. These are understood by reason and chosen by the free will of each person.  In other words, the Cardinal Virtues are not forced upon us.

Let us, then, define these Cardinal Virtues: 1) Justice is offering one’s best to others and the community.  Kreeft (1992, p. 60) describes Platonic justice through the poetic image of music: one strives to be in harmony with others as all cooperate and play a beautiful societal tune. This is the central virtue according to Plato in The Republic.
2) Courage
is going ahead despite fear so that one can do one’s best even when it is difficult to do so.  3) Wisdom is knowing the right response at the right time without having a rule-book nearby.  4) Temperance is balance, avoiding too much or too little in all we do, including practicing the virtues, in pleasure seeking, and work.  In Book IV of his Republic, Plato (2015/330 B.C.) defends the view that all four of these Cardinal Virtues, together, help to mature individuals and to have a well-functioning community in which the greater good then benefits all. 

 As Wild (1948, p. 185) clarifies, the goal of the common good is human perfection for all in the community.  The common good of the community, which includes the good of each person, is considered higher than the individual good.  In other words, individuals can be in service to one another for the good of the other person and the good of the group. 

Now, and importantly for how forgiveness fits into the common good of the community, when people are treated unjustly by others, anger can ensue, which can develop into irritability (Stringaris, Vidal-Ribas, Brotman, & Leibenluft, 2017) and even to hatred.  Forgiving those who are unjust, then, can first reduce the anger, which in turn can reduce the desire for excessive recompense (in the case of justice), and the desire for reckless bravado (in the case of courage).  Without hatred, temperance can be restored, and the clear, rational thinking of wisdom can once again be present. If the common good is to be just, to work in harmony with others, then forgiveness can keep justice in balance, by first reducing toxic anger, and thus preserving the central Cardinal Virtue (justice) in communities. If this is true, then forgiveness needs to play a central part in the common good of communities.

If this is true, then forgiveness needs to be fostered in individuals, families, schools, workplaces, and places of worship……now.

Robert


  • Aristotle. (1999/340 B.C.). Nicomachean ethics. Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press.
  • Kreeft, P. (1992). Back to virtue. San Francisco: Ignatius Press.
  • Maritan, J. (1994). The person and the common good. South Bend, IN: University of Notre Dame Press.
  • Plato, translated by B. Jowett (2015/approximately 330 BC). The complete works of Plato/ the republic. Hastings, East Sussex, United Kingdom: Delphi Classics.
  • Stringaris, A., Vidal-Ribas, P., Brotman, M.A., & Leibenluft, E. (2017). Practitioner review: Definition, recognition, and treatment challenges of irritability in young people. Journal of Child Psychology, 59, 721-739.
  • Wild, J. (1948). Introduction to realistic philosophy. New York: Harper & Row.
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South African Study: Individuals with Higher Intelligence are Better at Self-Forgiveness

Potchefstroom, South Africa – A just-released scientific study from a theology professor at one of South Africa’s largest universities has determined that individuals with higher emotional intelligence are more effective at self-forgiveness because they can better address “the emotional and spiritual challenges linked to the process of self-pardon.” 

The study was published on May 25, 2020, in In die Skriflig/In Luce Verbi, the acclaimed official journal of the Reformed Theological Society. Although the study immediately generated some controversial backlash, its author says his findings should come as no surprise.

“Research has also shown how important emotional intelligence is for the success of a marriage, relationship(s), self-discipline, physical wellbeing, social popularity and the workplace,” according to researcher Wentzel Coetzer. “The literature is quite conclusive.”

A theology professor at North-West University in Potchefstroom (68,000+ students), about 35 miles south of Johannesburg, professor Coetzer focused his study on analyzing what he calls “the four prominent pastoral-psychological models identified in the forgiveness literature.”

The first of those four models was developed by psychologist Dr. Robert Enright (The Enright Forgiveness Process Model) while the second of the four models was developed jointly by Dr. Enright and psychiatrist Dr. Richard Fitzgibbons (Forgiveness Therapy). Professor Coetzer also outlines his belief that self-forgiveness has been more or less neglected by forgiveness researchers and is “even occasionally described as the ‘ stepchild ‘ of research on forgiveness.” 

Despite that, professor Coetzer outlines that one of the earliest psychological definitions of self-pardon was that of Enright (1996).” In fact, it was just one of Dr. Enright’s early contributions to the History of Forgiveness Therapy. The co-founder of the International Forgiveness Institute, who was labeled “the forgiveness trailblazer” by Time magazine, Dr. Enright’s definition of self-forgiveness hasn’t changed since he developed it nearly 25 years ago:


“Self-forgiveness may be defined as a willingness to abandon self-resentment in the face of one’s own acknowledged objective wrong, while fostering compassion, generosity, and love toward oneself.”
Dr. Robert Enright


Citing Dr. Enright’s definition and subsequent research, professor Coetzer uses his study to emphasize that self-forgiveness must not be “a self-serving mechanism to simply avoid the pains associated with owning up to ones offenses.” Rather, he says, authentic self-forgiveness must include:

  • accepting full ownership of one’s transgressions;
  • accepting responsibility rather than casting it unto others;
  • acknowledging guilt or shame;
  • refusing to consider yourself as a victim; and,
  • attempting to repair the damage.

Professor Coetzer  also emphasizes that the bitterness towards ourselves due to offenses and failures can be just as damaging and debilitating as not forgiving others. That can lead, he says, to emotional problems such as depression, anxiety, distrust, negative self-esteem, social withdrawal and neurotic characteristics. Accordingly, he concludes, these actions should be dealt with by “canceling the debt.”

Self-forgiveness, as outlined in this study (and as detailed in Dr. Enright’s seven self-help forgiveness books), is a rational decision affirming your intention to treat yourself as a valuable person. This implies, among other things, that you are no longer vindictive toward yourself and you are no longer going to try to punish yourself for failures of the past. On the contrary, you will consider yourself worthy.


Learn more about Self-Forgiveness from Dr. Robert Enright:

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Beirut Explosion Levels Forgiveness Structure

Beirut, Lebanon – A massive explosion in Beirut’s port on Tuesday killed at least 135 people, injured more than 5,000, and displaced some 300,000 others from their homes. At least 100 people remain missing following the explosion that damaged more than 50% of the city. Debris from damaged buildings litters the streets of Beirut following the Tuesday explosion that has been called “one of the world’s largest non-nuclear detonations.” Beirut is home to 2 million people. (Ramy Taleb photo)

According to the Lebanese government, the source of the explosion was 2,750 tons of ammonium nitrate, an explosive chemical often used as fertilizer and sometimes in bombs, which had been stored in a port warehouse after being confiscated from an abandoned Russian-owned ship in 2014. Unconfirmed reports also indicate that the warehouses were storing more than 200 surface-to-air missiles.

Once known for its dynamic food, music and culture, Lebanon is now in the midst of an economic crisis with rolling blackouts, a shortage of food, rising COVID-19 rates, and a monthly inflation rate of 56%. (Ramy Taleb photo)

The blast destroyed or damaged most structures over an area of about 160 acres (larger than the entire Disneyland Park in Anaheim, CA) including a building that served as a headquarters and operations base for Forgiveness Education projects in Lebanon. The Foundation for Forgiveness and Reconciliation in Lebanon (FFRL), a Beirut non-profit organization, was using the building as the center for its “Play for Peace” program.

Play for Peace is part of FFRL’s Forgiveness and Peace Curriculum that is designed to build bridges between participants from diverse backgrounds–Lebanese, Palestinian, Syrian, Muslim, Christian and others–through football (better known elsewhere as soccer, the world’s most popular sport). The program operates in partnership with Al Shabab Al Arabi Club Beirut, a 40-year-old Lebanese football club. Watch a 3:36 Play for Peace video. 

“Yesterday we were in Bourj Hammoud checking on our Play for Peace families who live there,” says Ramy Taleb, founder and director of FFRL. “Most of their houses are gone or broken, just like our building.  These families are now in desperate need of support for medical and general humanitarian assistance.

Bourj Hammoud is a municipality about a kilometer east of Beirut’s port area (where the explosion occurred) and one of the most densely populated districts in the Middle East that includes large numbers of refugees.  According to Mercy Corps (a global team of humanitarians working in Beirut), refugees now account for about 30% of Lebanon’s population.

“Today we went back to Bourj Hammoud with our youth group from Saida (a city in southern Lebanon also known as Sidon). We listened, we wept, we began to clean up so families can somehow rebuild,” Taleb said. “Many of these families were in need of assistance even before the explosion. Lebanon has always been a country of great resilience, but when is enough, enough?”

Ramy and Roula Taleb operate the Foundation for Forgiveness and Reconciliation in Lebanon. With their two children, the couple live south of Lebanon’s capital of Beirut.

Taleb’s frustration reflects the complexity of the situation in Beirut. While searchers are still pulling bodies from the rubble, the explosion destroyed the country’s main grain silos, spilling and contaminating 15,000 tons of their contents. That, together with the COVID-19 pandemic, is pushing Lebanon toward a major food shortage.

“We desperately need help,” Taleb says. “Our families need help. Our children need help. We always appreciate any support that we can get and now is when we need it most just to survive.”


Please support the people in Lebanon who survived the horrific explosion. Watch a 56-second video of the destruction in Bourj Hammoud as described by Ramy Taleb then click the picture above to let those in Lebanon know they are in your heart.


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Tribute to a Freedom Fighter – Zindzi Mandela

 South African Broadcasting Centre, Johannesburg, SA, – Zindziswa Mandela, an internationally-known South African freedom fighter, speaker, writer and diplomat who made forgiveness a hallmark of her life, passed away on July 13 after being diagnosed with COVID-19 in a Johannesburg hospital. She was 59-years-old.

“Zindzi” to all who knew her, was the youngest daughter of global peace and forgiveness icons Nelson Mandela  and Winnie Madikizela-Mandela. She had served as her country’s first Ambassador to Denmark  (2015-2020) and had recently been named Ambassador to Liberia. Also known as Zindzi Mandela-Hlongwane (her first husband was Zwelibanzi Hlongwane), she is survived by her four children and her second husband Molapo Motlhajwa.

Born two days before Christmas in 1960, Zindzi was 18 months old when her father was arrested and charged with sabotage and treason. For 20 years, he had directed peaceful, nonviolent acts of defiance against the South African government and its racist policies.  Zindzi was only 3 years old when Nelson was found guilty and sentenced to life in prison where he eventually spent 27 years–much of it at hard labor.

Zindzi Mandela was a freedom-fighting activist in her own right who also adopted her father’s vision of forgiveness and peace.

At age 12, Zindzi wrote to the United Nations, urging it to intervene to protect her mother (also an anti-apartheid activist) who was sent to prison for 12-15 months at a time, mostly in solitary confinement and often tortured. In 1976, Zindzi accompanied Winnie when she was banished by the apartheid government to Brandfort, the site of a former concentration camp built by the British during the Second Boer War.

Zindzi and her mother were unceremoniously dumped at house 802 in Brandfort which had no running water, no electricity, no floors and no ceilings. Neither of them could speak the local Sotho language. A few years later the house was firebombed.

Zindzi rose to international prominence in 1985 when the white minority government offered to release Nelson Mandela from prison if he denounced the violence perpetrated by his movement, the African National Congress, against apartheid–the brutal system of racial discrimination that was being enforced in South Africa. Zindzi was the one who read her father’s letter rejecting the offer at a packed Soweto football stadium that was broadcast around the world.

Five years later, Nelson was released from prison and famously decided to forgive his captors and oppressors while moving forward in the spirit of reconciliation, in order to achieve a “rainbow nation at peace with itself and the world.”

Zindzi with her father Nelson Mandela, South Africa’s first Black president.

Largely through his own negotiations, Zindi’s father persuaded white South Africans to share power with the black majority–an almost unbelievable transformation of the apartheid state into a colorblind democracy that soon after elected him to be its first Black president. He is often called “the father of South Africa” and in 1993 he received a Nobel Peace Prize.

In 1994, Nelson published his autobiography, Long Walk to Freedom: The Autobiography of Nelson Mandela, much of which he had secretly written while in prison. The book inspired the 2013 movie Mandela: Long Walk to Freedomthat tells the complicated and not always uplifting story of the man who went from prisoner to president. Multi-disciplinary African artist Lindiwe Matshikiza portrayed the adult Zindzi in the movie while African child-actress Refilwe Charles played a younger Zindzi. Watch the 2 min. 31 sec. trailer.

After viewing the movie, Zindzi said it “reasonably portrayed” her father’s shift from embracing violence to his post-prison insistence on forgiveness, reconciliation and peace. At the same time, she added, that shift created a good deal of friction between the two before she, too, embraced “the forgiving life.”  

Another popular movie about the Mandela family was Invictus, a 2009 biographical sports drama directed by Clint Eastwood and starring Morgan Freeman (as Nelson Mandela), Matt Damon (the country’s rugby team captain) and Bonnie Henna (the South African television personality who played Zindzi). The story is based on the John Carlin book Playing the Enemy: Nelson Mandela and the Game That Made a Nation about the events in South Africa before and during the 1995 Rugby World Cup.

The tagline for the movie Invictus was: “His people needed a leader. He gave them a champion.” The movie received positive critical reviews and earned Academy Award nominations for Freeman (Best Actor) and Damon (Best Supporting Actor) at that year’s Oscars. According to TSFX, an Australian educational resource center, Invictus “demonstrates the power forgiveness has to not only unite conflicting teams but to reconcile citizens of nations as well.”

Throughout her adult life, Zindzi had embarked on various humanitarian activities as well as participated in local politics while embracing and reinforcing the legacy her father lived. When Nelson Mandela died in 2013, Zindzi spoke at his funeral saying that she and her father repeatedly talked about how they wanted the world to embrace one thing–FORGIVENESS.

Along with her many other accomplishments, Zindzi is the author of Black As I Am, a collection of poems she wrote when she was 16, and a childrens’ book Grandad Mandela authored jointly by Zindzi and Nelson Mandela’s great-grandchildren. That books is included in the Bookroo: Children’s Book Experts list of the best 38 books about forgiveness.

Due to coronavirus lockdown requirements, only a handful of people were able to attend Zindzi’s funeral. South Africa, with 58 million people, is the African country hardest hit by coronavirus with more than 320,000 diagnosed cases and more than 4,600 deaths. Government projections estimate that the death toll could rise to 50,000 by the end of the year.


Learn more about forgiveness as practiced by Zindzi and Nelson Mandela:

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CORONA VIRUS MUSIC VIDEO

CORONA VIRUS MUSIC VIDEO

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