Our Forgiveness Blog

An Example of Finding Meaning in Deep Suffering: In Honor of Eva Mozes Kor 

Consider one person’s meaning in a dramatic case of grave suffering. Eva Mozes Kor was one of the Jewish twins on whom Josef Mengele did his evil experiments in the Auschwitz concentration camp during World War II. In the film Forgiving Dr. Mengele, Mrs. Kor tells her story of survival and ultimate forgiveness of this notorious doctor, also known as the “Angel of Death.”

In describing her imprisonment as a child at Auschwitz, she said, “It is a place that I lived between life and death.” Soon after her imprisonment in the concentration camp, young Eva was injected with a lethal drug, so powerful that Mengele pronounced, after examining her, that she had only 2 weeks to live. “I refused to die,” was her response.

Her meaning in what she was suffering in the immediate short run was to prove Mengele wrong and thus to do anything that she possibly could to survive. Her second meaning in her suffering was to survive for the sake of her twin sister, Miriam. She knew that if she, Eva, died, Mengele immediately would kill Miriam with an injection to the heart and then do a comparative autopsy on the two sisters. “I spoiled the experiment,” was her understated conclusion. A third meaning in her suffering, a longer but still short-term goal, was to endure it so that she could be reunited with Miriam. A long-term goal from her suffering ultimately was to forgive this man who had no concern whatsoever for her life or the lives of those he condemned to the gas chamber. She willed her own survival against great odds, and she made it.

In this case, fiendish power met a fierce will to survive. Upon forgiving Mengele, she saw great meaning in what she had suffered. She has addressed many student groups, showing them a better way than carrying resentment through life. She opened a holocaust museum in a small town in the United States. And she realizes that her suffering and subsequent forgiveness both have a meaning in challenging others to consider forgiving people for whatever injustices they are enduring.

Her ultimate message is that forgiveness is stronger than Nazi power. And it has helped her to thrive.

Robert

» Excerpt from Chapter 5 of the book, 8 Keys to Forgiveness, R. Enright. Norton publishers.


Read more about Eva Mozes Kor and her forgiveness work with Dr. Robert Enright:

The Dark Side of Saying that Self-Forgiveness Has a Dark Side

A recent study by Peetz, Davydenko, and Wohl (2021) concludes that there is a “dark side” to self-forgiveness.  They, in fact, use this term three different times in the journal article.  The point of this blog is to challenge their view and to show that the statement is an over-reaction to their data.

Here is what they did in the study: They asked people who were entering a grocery store to fill out a self-forgiveness scale specifically regarding over-spending in the past and a scale that assesses beliefs about whether people can change their abilities or not.  For the latter variable, the researchers were interested, for example, in whether participants believed they could or could not change their spending habits if they overspent.

Can you forgive yourself for overspending then change your habits, or do you live on what the authors of a recent study called the “dark side” of self-forgiveness?

Those who believe that people, including themselves, can change unwanted habits are called incrementalists.  This issue of incrementalism is important in this research because the authors were hypothesizing that if people think that they cannot change their behavior of over-spending (they are not incrementalists), then they likely will be more cautious in how they spend relative to the incrementalists who might take the cavalier attitude that “I can always change bad behavior.”

So, the expectation in the research was this: Those who over-spent in the past and who now have forgiven themselves, and who think they can change, will have problematic spending on this new shopping venture.  This is what the authors called—three times—the “dark side” of self-forgiveness.

So, then, what did they find?  In Study 1, with over 100 participants, the statistical results were not significant.  The findings approached significance in that those who forgave themselves and who are incrementalists (believing that they can change and so over-spending should not be that big of a deal) tended to spend more, but again it was not statistically significant.

In Study 2, they did a larger study with over 200 participants and found the exact same thing.  There was no statistical significance for self-forgivers, who are incrementalists, to over-spend.

Upon their third try, they looked at spending relative to what was the pre-determined budget prior to shopping.  Here they did find that those who self-forgave for over-spending in the past and who were incrementalists (thinking they could change and so the over-spending probably is not a big deal) did spend more than those who kept themselves in check because they were not incrementalists (in other words, they did not trust themselves to change spending habits as much as people with the incremental beliefs that they could change).

Yet, here is the bottom-line critique of this work: The authors never assessed: 1) whether or not the participants who spent more than they had planned had way-overdone the spending; 2) whether or not the spending was harmful to their budget or to the family’s budget; and 3) whether or not any true economic injustice was done by the purchase.

Statistical failures on two out of three attempts didn’t sway the authors from proclaiming success.

The average reported total amount spent by participants in Study 2 was $74.06.  For the majority of people, this hardly would destroy the family finances.  In other words, was this kind of spending harmful?  Self-forgiveness takes place in the context of harm, of unjust treatment, often toward others, and is seen by the self-forgiver as unjust.  Was this kind of spending in this study unjust?  The authors did not ask the participants if they thought this was the case.

So, in the final analysis, we see that in one of three statistical tries, participants, who formerly have self-forgiven for over-spending and who think they can change their behavior, spend perhaps a little more than those who think they cannot change.  How big is this difference and how serious is it for the family?  Given the statistical failure in two out of three tries and given the small sum spent on the average ($74.06), it seems to me that calling this a “dark side” of self-forgiveness is not warranted, at least for now.  Do you see how there is a “dark side” to exaggerating conclusions about the dark side of forgiveness?

Robert

Peetz, J., Davydenko, M., & Wohl, M. J. A. (2021). The cost of self-forgiveness: Incremental theorists 
spend more money after forgiving the self for past overspending. Personality and Individual Differences, 179, 110902.

Checking in Again on Your Unfolding Love Story

For over 10 years on this site, we have posted a reflection in which we encourage readers to grow in love as their legacy of the present year. We have said this across the years:

“Give love away as your legacy of 2022.

How can you start? I recommend starting by looking backward at one incident of 2021. Please think of one incident with one person in which you were loved unconditionally, perhaps even surprised by a partner or a parent or a caring colleague. Think of your reaction when you felt love coming from the other and you felt love in your heart and the other saw it in your eyes. What was said? How were you affirmed for who you are, not necessarily for something you did? What was the other’s heart like, and yours?”

It is now about four months later. Can you list some specific, concrete ways in which you have chosen love over indifference? Love over annoyance? If so, what are those specifics and how are they loving? We ask because we have only about eight months left to 2022. Have you engaged in about a third of all the loving responses that you will leave in this world this year?

If you have not yet deliberately left love (or enough love) in the world this year, there is time. . . . . and the clock is ticking.

Robert

The Will to Power, the Will to Meaning, and the Will to Love

Editor’s Note: This blog essay is reposted from its original March 17, 2014, posting because the message is as meaningful today as it was then.
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Viktor Frankl, a psychoanalytic psychologist, imprisoned in concentration camps during World War II, had a direct response to Nietzsche by saying that the primary human force is the Will to Meaning, a will to make sense out of life and particularly out of suffering.  Finding meaning, not a specific meaning common to all people, but finding a meaning itself has the survival value.  As people think of life as meaningless, then they die.  Yet, this contentless Will to Meaning has a contradiction in it.  It cannot be opposing Nietzsche’s Will to Power if, in finding meaning, one person’s meaning for life is to gain more influence over another.  In other words, Frankl’s deliberately contentless theme of the Will to Meaning must accommodate the content in some people’s minds that the Will to Power is their own personal meaning to life.  It is the way the world works, at least as some people try to make meaning out of a cruel world.  Yet, Frankl’s view, I think, is a developmentally more sophisticated worldview because it makes room for much more than the brutish vying for dominance and control in the world.

Jesus Christ, in contrast to Nietzsche and Frankl, has a different worldview.  It is the Will to Love.  Others, of course, have said this, too, but we must be scholarly here and give credit to the originalJesus - forgiven 2 proclamations.  This Will to Love consciously repudiates the need to dominate, to seek power.  Even if Nietzsche is correct that the Will to Power typifies the untrained, under-developed will of humanity, Christ’s challenge is to overcome that.  Nietzsche, in other words, takes what is and mistakenly presumes that this is what ought to be.  Frankl, in contrast, takes what is (we are presuming for now that the Will to Power is a natural tendency in humans) and is showing us that we can fill in the blank with other, perhaps better content when we ask, “What is the meaning of life and suffering for me?”  Christ, in contrast to Frankl, and in common with Nietzsche, commits to one particular content—in this case, love—as the central Will for humanity.

It seems to me that we have a developmental progression here in terms of a greater fulfillment of humanity, the fulfillment of who we are as persons.  We start in the mire of a Will to Power and can do great damage if we stay there, and if the world stays there.  The Will to Meaning is a transition in that it takes us out of the inevitability of seeking power.  The Will to Love, which honors the life of all, is the highest of these world views.  Why?  Because it is the only one of the three that is intimately concerned about all life.  If humanity will survive, our questing after the Will to Power is a dangerous path because in its conscious, extreme form, it destroys others so that one’s own domain can expand.

To those like Nietzsche who think that love and the equality of persons is a weakened view of humanity, my response is this:  How are you distorting the moral virtue of love?  How are you misunderstanding it?  To love is to help with the survival of all others, not to destroy for one’s own survival, dominance, and control.  In the seeking of others’ betterment, one finds vitality and joy and gives the freedom to others to do the same. The Will to Love is the only assurance of survival and the thriving of all, including the self.

Which of these world views will you bring to others today?

Robert

When It Is Hard to Forgive: Countering Power with Self-Worth

First you need to change your view of who you are as a person if you have been stuck in unforgiveness and are discouraged. The power perspective will tell you that you are less than you should be if your loved ones reject you. Do not listen to the voice of power. It is all too easy to condemn yourself when others first condemn you. Try to counter that power perspective starting now. Who are you as a person? You are someone who has inherent worth even when you struggle in life. You are someone who is special, unique, and irreplaceable even if you have unhealthy anger in your heart. You are not a failure at forgiveness.

Remember that forgiveness is a process that takes time and patience and determination. Try not to be harsh on yourself if you are struggling with this process. How you are doing in this process today is not an indication of where you will be in this process 1 month from now. Who are you?

Excerpt from R. Enright (2015). 8 Keys to Forgiveness.  New York: Norton

The Missing Piece to the Peace Puzzle

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