Peace in Ukraine and in Other Conflict Zones? Yes, and Forgiveness Education Is an Answer.
Dr. Robert Enright, a professor of clinical psychology at the University of Wisconsin-Madison, has been studying the virtue of forgiveness for more than three decades. During that time, dozens of countries have been decimated by domestic infighting or by brutal war brought on by outside political entities. Millions of deaths have resulted.
Yet all the pain and suffering of those conflicts could have been avoided if forgiveness had been understood and employed as one of the options on the peace-keeping and peace-making table, according to Dr. Enright. And while no one can turn back the clock to erase our human frailties, he adds, future geo-political animosity can be curbed and peace achieved through forgiveness and forgiveness education.
“Forgiveness is the Rodney Dangerfield of therapy and politics in that too often it gets no respect,” says Dr. Enright. “This occurs, in my experience, because forgiveness is woefully misunderstood and then angrily dismissed. Such misunderstanding is tragic because it shuts down what may be the most powerful cure for the effects that emerge and remain after injustice rears its unwelcome head in relationships, families, communities, and nations.”
Dr. Enright, founder of the International Forgiveness Institute, is considered “the forgiveness trailblazer” (Time magazine – 1995) and “the father of forgiveness research” (Christian Science Monitor – 2002) He developed a 20-Step Process Model of Forgiveness (1993) and demonstrated its effectiveness in projects around the world. Seven years ago, he and psychiatrist Dr. Richard Fitzgibbons developed an empirically-based treatment manual, Forgiveness Therapy, that helped make forgiveness therapy a gold-standard therapeutic treatment like psychoanalysis and cognitive behavioral therapy.
After 35+ years of studying the moral virtue of forgiveness, he says he is convinced that forgiveness is the missing piece to the peace puzzle. He recently outlined his formula for peace in Ukraine and other world locations in three essays that were published this month in Psychology Today, the professional publication that has honored him with a dedicated column for his work:
Summary: A key issue for peace in Eastern Europe is to recognize not just political boundaries, but more importantly, the genuine personhood in people within and across those boundaries—a personhood that is so precious that it transcends nationalism. That can be accomplished through forgiveness education being deliberately incorporated into the schools and houses of worship throughout the region, a process Dr. Enright already has helped establish in more than 30 countries around the world. While forgiveness interventions have been shown in empirically-verified research to lower anger and enhance empathy, this process has yet to be tried in post war, post-accord societies, on a large scale with both children and adults, anywhere on the planet throughout all human history.
2. Why Do People Fear the Cure for the Disease of Resentment? (March 19, 2022)
Summary: Resentment is the deep anger that can be harbored within a person for decades with serious consequences for psychological and physical health. Research by Dr. Enright and others has shown that forgiveness is an empirically verified treatment that reduces that resentment, but which is often misunderstood and therefore rejected. Properly recognized and acknowledged, forgiveness should take its rightful place of front-and-center where there are severe injustices to be healed.
3. Understanding the Role of Forgiveness in Political Conflict (March 20, 2022)
Summary: Forgiveness education never begins during the heat of a political/military conflict but it must be included, instead of being ignored, as a crucial post-conflict building block. Reconstruction following war must focus on rehabilitating the heart, not just the infrastructure. By helping individuals reduce their anger and hatred, they will be more likely to be more open to traditional rehabilitation measures and can be set free from unhealthy resentment that will tamper any ongoing peace efforts. Importantly, people need to be drawn to forgiveness, not forced into it—as emphasized by the title of Dr. Enright’s first self-help book Forgiveness Is a Choice.
“Peace out there in the world is possible only when we have peace inside of us,” Dr. Enright concludes. “Mahatma Gandhi has said that if true peace is ever to be achieved in this world, if we are to make war against war, then we must begin with the children. It is time for forgiveness education to go viral and become ubiquitous.”
To read the complete version of each of Dr. Enright’s posts in Psychology Today, click on its title above.