Archive for April, 2021

Research Study in Spain Endorses Dr. Enright’s Anti-Bullying Forgiveness Program

A pioneering research study conducted with primary and secondary teachers and students in Spain has support for Dr. Robert Enright’s ideas on anti-bullying, which offers forgiveness education to those who do the bullying. His original Anti-Bullying Forgiveness Program is available on our website.

Two recommendations in the study in Spain are these:

1) That school administrators “incorporate education in forgiveness into bullying prevention programs;” and,

2) That “forgiveness-based education, as an empirically supported approach to reducing anger, may be one of the answers to peace within conflict zones and societies.”

The study, Evaluation of the effectiveness and satisfaction of the “Learning to Forgive” program for the prevention of bullying, was published this month in the Electronic Journal of Research in Educational Psychology. It was conducted by psychologists at the University of Murcia—one of the largest and oldest universities in Spain (established in 1272)—with technical and procedural guidance from Dr. Enright himself.

The “Learning to Forgive” program that was the focal point of the new study, was inspired by The Anti-Bullying Forgiveness Program developed by Dr. Enright in 2012 based on his now more than 35 years of research into forgiveness. Forgiveness education as a way of reducing excessive anger has been tested and used for more than 17 years in schools located in places such as Belfast, Northern Ireland, and more recently in Monrovia, Liberia (West Africa), Iran, and Pakistan.

The purpose of the antibullying forgiveness program is to help students, who bully others, to forgive those who have deeply hurt them. It is based on the understand that bullying behavior does not occur in a vacuum, but instead often results from a deep internal rage that is not originally targeted toward the victims of those who bully. In other words, those who bully oftentimes are displacing their built-up anger onto unsuspecting others.

To help those who bully to forgive is to reduce the excessive anger that can be a direct motivation for hurting others. In this way forgiveness can be a powerful approach to reducing repressed anger and eliminating bullying behavior.

“This program tries to change the typical understanding, often incomplete, that we usually have about forgiveness,” according to the study in Spain. “With a deeper understanding about what forgiveness is, then the students may show less resentment, fewer relationship breaks, and less unpleasant emotions over time. Teaching young people this more complete view of forgiveness might avoid, in the words of Enright himself, many sufferings in adulthood.”

Study participants consisted of 88 primary and secondary school teachers at 11 educational centers and 153 students at 4 educational centers. In Study 1 of the two-part research project, “statistically significant improvements were found in the forgiveness group regarding their knowledge of forgiveness and marginally significant in emotional forgiveness compared to the control group.”

In Study 2 participants noted “high satisfaction with the program and that it had helped them forgive in a remarkable way. In line with other studies, it is recommended to incorporate education in forgiveness into bullying prevention programs.”

According to the study authors, their research as well as other studies indicate that “forgiveness is a protective factor against emotional problems and prevents victims of harassment from now demonstrating bullying behavior toward others.” They also recommended adding in-depth modules for adults who could then provide in-home reinforcement in helping students achieve and maintain their forgiveness-related skills.

“The results of these two pioneering studies in Spain on the ‘Learning to Forgive’ Program inspired by the research of Robert Enright and his team show positive results, both in teachers and students,” the report concludes. “The promotion of interventions based on empathy, compassion, and forgiveness contribute to sowing the path of peaceful coexistence.”

Read the complete English translation of the Spanish bullying-prevention study.

Read the complete Spanish version of the study.

Learn more about The Enright Anti-Bullying Forgiveness Program:

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How are forgiveness, mercy, and love related?

All three are moral virtues.  Agape is the over-arching virtue out of which forgiveness emerges.  Mercy does not necessarily emerge out of agape because mercy does not always require serving others through one’s own pain, as occurs in agape.  The judge who shows mercy to a defendant by reducing a deserved sentence is not necessarily suffering in love for that defendant.  Thus, not all aspects of mercy flow from agape.  Forgiveness includes a number of virtues such as patience, kindness, and having mercy on others who behave badly.  So, forgiveness is a specific part of agape.  Forgiveness includes mercy, but mercy is not an over-arching virtue out of which forgiveness emerges.  That distinction belongs to agape.

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How is forgiveness related to love?

Forgiveness is being good to those who are not good to you.  Love, particularly the most difficult form of love, what the Greeks call agape, is to be good to those who are in need of your services, even when it is difficult to offer this love.  Forgiveness is one expression of agape.  Forgiveness is a specific form of agape in that forgiving takes place specifically in the context of another person being unjust, even cruel, to the forgiver.

There are other examples of agape that do not include forgiveness.  For example, a mother who is up all night with a sick child is showing agape because this is difficult and necessary and she does so out of goodness for her child.  Forgiveness can occur exclusively in the human heart as the forgiver sees the hurtful other as possessing inherent worth and commits to the betterment of the other.  In agape, there is the action within the human heart and mind, but in addition, there is the action of deliberately assisting people in need.

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How is forgiveness related to mercy?

Forgiveness is being good to those who are not good to you.  Mercy is refraining from punishing a person who deserves that punishment because of unjust behavior.  Both are moral virtues and so hold that in common.  When people forgive, they exercise mercy in that as they forgive they do not give an eye-for-an-eye to the one who hurt you.  Instead, the forgiver offers a hand up to the person to come and join you as a person of worth.  Mercy as part of forgiveness is a specific expression of mercy in that this mercy is occurring in the context of being treated unjustly by another or others.

There are other examples of mercy that do not include forgiveness.  For example, legal pardon is a form of mercy in that a judge may reduce a deserved sentence within a court of law.  The judge offering legal pardon never is the one who was treated unjustly by the defendant.  Forgiveness, as a personal decision, occurs within the human heart, not in a court of law.  Thus, forgiveness includes mercy, but mercy can occur in entirely different contexts than forgiveness.  Further, forgiveness does not involve only exercising the moral virtue of mercy.  Forgiveness also is an expression of love, particularly agape or the kind of love that is challenging and even costly to the forgiver.

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“Forgiveness Is the Release of Deep Anger:” Is This True?

I recently read an article in which the author started the essay by defining forgiving as the release of deep anger.

In fact, there is a consensus building that forgiveness amounts to getting rid of a negative emotion such as anger and resentment. I did a Google search using only the word “forgiveness.” On the first two pages, I found the following definitions of what the authors reported forgiveness to be:

Forgiveness (supposedly) is:

  • letting go of resentment and thoughts of revenge;
  • the release of resentment or anger;
  • a conscious and deliberate decision to release feelings of resentment or vengeance toward a person who acted unjustly;
  • letting go of anger;
  • letting go of negative feelings such as vengefulness.

I think you get the idea. The consensus is that forgiveness focuses on getting rid of persistent and deep anger. Synonyms for this are resentment and vengefulness. Readers not deeply familiar with the philosophy of forgiveness may simply accept this as true. Yet, this attempted and consensual definition cannot possibly be true for the following reasons:

  1.  A person can reduce resentment and still dismiss the other person as not worth one’s time;
  2.  Reducing resentment itself is not a moral virtue. This might happen because the “forgiver” wants to be happy and so there is no goodness toward the other, which is part of the definition   of a moral virtue;
  3.  There is no specific difference between forgiveness and tolerance. I can get rid of resentment by trying to tolerate the other. My putting up with the other as a person is not a moral virtue;
  4.  Forgiveness, if we take these definitions seriously, is devoid of love. It is not that one has to resist love. Yet, one can be completely unaware of love as the essence of forgiveness while  holding to the consensual definition. 
  5.  A central goal of forgiveness is lost. Off the radar by the consensual definition is the motivation to assist the other to grow as a person. After all, why even bother with the other if I can   finally rid myself of annoying resentment.  

The statement “forgiveness is ridding the self of resentment or vengefulness” is reductionistic and therefore potentially dangerous. It is dangerous in a philosophical and a psychological sense. The philosophical danger is in never going deeply enough to understand the beauty of forgiveness in its essence as a moral virtue of at least trying to offer love to those who did not love you. The psychological danger is that Forgiveness Therapy will be incomplete as the client keeps the focus on the self, trying to rid the self of negatives. Yet, the paradox of Forgiveness Therapy is the stepping outside of the self, to reach out to the other, and in this giving is psychological healing for the client. It is time to challenge the consensus.

Robert


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