Author Archive: directorifi

Forgiveness: The 2021 Holiday Miracle

With Thanksgiving now under our belt and Christmas already being unwrapped, readers of the New York Times are being encouraged to make forgiveness an ongoing part of their holiday tradition.

An article in the Nov. 24 edition features Dr. Robert Enright and explains why forgiveness could be anyone’s “2021 holiday miracle.” The article, “This Thanksgiving, Please Pass the Forgiveness, was written by four-time New York Times bestselling author Kelly Corrigan who is also host of the popular interview series Tell Me More on PBS.

 “Dr. Robert Enright, co-founder of the International Forgiveness Institute, which develops curriculums for schools, defines forgiveness as simply ‘choosing to be good to those who are not good to us,’” according to the article. “He does not recommend adjudicating the hurt. Better to skip the picking over, the enumerating, the case-making. Direct your energy to this transformative move: recognizing the inherent worth in the other.”

To support her forgiveness-for-the-holidays premise, Corrigan saysthere’s research showing a link between facing our own flaws and finding our way to forgive others.”

The research she sites is a 2013 study conducted by psychology professors at Sakarya University in Sakarya, Turkey, that liberally references the work of Dr. Enright and many of his forgiveness research associates including:

  • The Human Development Study Group (University of Wisconsin-Madison) formed by Dr. Enright in 1994.
  • Richard Fitzgibbons, a psychiatrist who co-authored Forgiveness Therapy with Dr. Enright.
  • Catherine Coyle, who with Dr. Enright focused on pregnancy and abortion.
  • Joanna North, a forgiveness pioneer and philosopher who co-authored                    Exploring Forgiveness with Dr. Enright.
  • Gayle Reed whose work with Dr. Enright focused on forgiveness with emotionally abused women.

According to Corrigan, the painful conflicts that pass between family members over a lifetime often become inflamed during the holidays—but they don’t have to. She ends her article this way:

“If you’re looking for a 2021 holiday miracle, here’s a big one: At every Thanksgiving table, there are people who have managed to look past all kinds of wrongs, people who engage in a voluntary amnesty that marries an acceptance of our own flawed ordinariness and the truth that every last one of us is more than our most unjust behaviors. At every table, people are breaking bread, raising a glass, letting go.”

With more than 5.65 million paid subscribers to its digital (online) edition, the New York Times is one of the most widely read newspapers in the world. It has been a fixture of American print news for more than 150 years and has won far more Pulitzer Prizes (130) than any other media company in U.S. history.

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How can we keep forgiveness initiatives going in schools and social groups, such as correctional institutions?

In my book, The Forgiving Life, I talk about the free will, the good will, and the strong will. Rarely is that third kind of will—the strong will—discussed in philosophy.  A key to planting forgiveness and reconciliation, after initial enthusiasm identifies these as vital to the human condition, is the strong will. This needs to be fostered. Otherwise, we have continual patterns of: 1) interest shown, 2) some initial activities to introduce the moral virtues into a school or social group, 3) only to be met, over time, with the fading of the initiative.  So, an important question is this: How can we foster the strong will so that the programs continue for a long time?
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I have calmed down a lot toward my ex-partner. Does this mean that I have forgiven him?

Forgiving is much more than just calming down.  This is the case because some people calm down because they have dismissed from their life the one who was unfair.  When a person calms down, there is not necessarily a sense of goodness toward the other, only an inner state that is no longer angry.  Forgiveness is an active virtue of trying to be good to those who were not good to the forgiver.  A calm inner world is not necessarily that.

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I just do not have the confidence to forgive one of my parents from issues of long ago. I keep telling myself that I will not be able to get it done. What can you suggest to me that might boost my confidence?

First, I suggest that you look back on your life to concrete examples of your forgiving others. Have you had at least one successful attempt in your past? If so, you have shown yourself that you can forgive.

Even if you have never forgiven someone, you can start now with someone who is easier to forgive than your father. Try to recall someone who has hurt you in the past, but who has not hurt you severely. Start the forgiveness process with him or her and keep at it until you have forgiven. Once you succeed with this person, then try another, again who has not hurt you gravely.

Once you have successfully practiced forgiveness on these two people, keep in mind the path that you walked and now apply it to your parent. The practice may give you the confidence you need.

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I am discouraged. As I look at societies in this early part of the 21st century, I see far too much mayhem, too much outrageous injustice.  Offenders rarely self-accuse; they rarely have a well-formed conscience and so they just do not learn that what they have done is dark and completely unacceptable.  Therefore, forgiveness is not just a choice, but an absolute necessity.  It is not the forgiveness itself that discourages me.  What discourages me is this:  the mayhem will continue and so the incessant need to forgive will continue.  What insights do you have for me?

I think your discouragement is in the strong likelihood that the mayhem, as you call it, will continue in societies.  Yet, let us engage in a thought experiment.  Let us suppose that there never was such a moral virtue as forgiveness.  The only moral virtues in this alternative universe are the quest for justice and the courage to carry this out.  What, then, would individuals and families and communities be like?  Would it not be the case that the vengeance, the hatred, and wars would be continuous?  Would it not be the case that such wars would grow more violent, even more unjust?  Would humanity ever discover love?

Now, compare the world I just created in this thought experiment with our current world.  Yes, the injustices continue. Yes, we can address many of these with justice, but at the same time, we can add love to our interactions, at least within our own communities, so that the enmity, the hatred, and the toxic anger within people can be lessened and not passed on to the children.  Our world has the potential for love, even though it is not always realized in actuality.  What a world it would be if there was not even the potential for love.  Forgiveness on its highest level is to exercise love.  So, I hope that you have more hope now because love is real and available to all who have the wisdom to choose it.

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