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.
Tony Hicks was a 14-year-old eighth grade gang member who tried to rob a pizza delivery driver in 1995. That driver, 20-year-old San Diego State University (California) student Tariq Khamisa refused to hand over the pizza so Hicks, at the urging of older gang members, pointed a 9mm handgun at Khamisa and fired—killing him instantly.
Hicks spent the next 24 years in prison for his crime but is now a free man thanks largely to the forgiveness of Khamisa’s father, Azim Khamisa, who says he saw victims on both ends of the gun. In a remarkable story of restorative justice, compassion, and forgiveness, Azim and his daughter Tasreen spoke on behalf of Hicks during his 2018 parole hearing that resulted in his release.
That amazing testimony came about after Azim Khamisa reached out in an act of extraordinary grace and forgiveness to console Hicks’ guardian and grandfather, Ples Felix. When the two men visited a penitent Hicks in prison—a meeting during which Khamisa hugged and forgave Hicks—all three agreed to work together to promote the goals of the Tariq Khamisa Foundation (TKF) that Azim founded shortly after his son’s death.
The mission of the Foundation is to create safer schools and communities by “educating and inspiring children in the restorative principles of accountability, compassion, forgiveness, and peacemaking.” Its Core Values include Integrity, Compassionate Confrontation, and Forgiveness.
“At TKF, we see forgiveness as a process, starting with the acknowledgement that we have been harmed,” says Khamisa. “Through this pain, we tap into the power of forgiveness, the release of resentment. Ultimately, we reach out with love and compassion to the offender.”
TKF services and programs include:
- Peacemaker Assembly – Powerful, interactive school presentations about the consequences of violence and the importance of accountability;
- Restorative Workshops – A 10-session educational series that teaches children how they can manage emotions while practicing compassion and forgiveness;
- Peace Educator Mentoring – One-on-one student mentoring for a school’s most vulnerable students;
- Training Institute – Parent workshops, peace clubs, and others .
According to the TKF website, the organization has delivered more than 500 school presentations, has partnered with more than 300 schools, and is annually reaching more than 10,000 students. Its mentoring program has served more than 2,500 students resulting in a 72% decrease in truancy and a 67% decrease in school disciplinary problems where the program has been implemented.
“Forgiveness brings more balance, peace, compassion and harmony into your life.
As you move beyond the negative experiences of your past you will begin to open up and
create more room to receive more love, joy, happiness, contentment and peace.”
Forgiveness is an important part of all TKF services, according to Tasreen Khamisa who is now the executive director of TKF. She says that while she has forgiven her little brother’s killer, forgiveness did not come either quickly or easily for her.
Although Tasreen’s father, Azim, met and forgave Tony Hicks in 1999, Tasreen was not ready to do so until 2015 — 20 years after her brother’s slaying—when she agreed to meet Hicks at Centinela State Prison (near San Diego). Since that initial meeting, she says, she has forgiven Hicks and has come to see him as a brother.
“I was not there when my father was. And I think that’s OK. Forgiveness is a personal journey,” Tasreen said of her 20-year journey that ended with forgiveness. “I will always love Tariq but I can simultaneously love Tony.”
While Azim Khamisa continues his work with TKF, he has written a book Azim’s Bardo – A Father’s Journey from Murder to Forgiveness. (Editor’s Note: “Bardo” is a Tibetan Buddhist concept Azim came upon shortly after the murder. It is a gap between the end of one life state and the onset of another.) Khamisa has also developed an educational audiovisual program called “Forgiveness – The Crown Jewel of Personal Freedom” in which he writes:
“The forgiveness choice I made in the aftermath of my son’s tragic death has healed me, my family and loved ones. As a result of this work – I enjoy an abundance of personal freedom and am able to contain much joy and compassion in my life. My stress level has almost disappeared. I am confident that this work – followed diligently – can create the same results for you. My best wishes to each of you – who have chosen to courageously embark on this journey and I offer my sincere prayers that the Universe grants you the blessing of forgiveness as it did me!”
Khamisa has also ushered in an extensive “Resources” section on the TKF website that includes links to several of Dr. Robert Enright’s articles promoted through the Great Good Science Center including his step-by-step strategy called “Introducing Kids to Forgiveness” and “How We Think About Forgiveness at Different Ages.”
Newly free from prison, a man who killed at age 14 atones for his past and looks to his future – The San Diego Union-Tribune
Why We Need Forgiveness Education – Psychology Today
Forgiveness Education as a Path to Peace – Corrymeela Magazine (Northern Ireland)
While Russia’s invasion of Ukraine is invoking unwelcome recollections of previous territorial wars, an international multidisciplinary team of researchers that has been meeting since 2014 is discovering what makes some societies more peaceful than others. One of the crucial elements for promoting peace and nonviolence, they say, is an individual’s capacity for forgiveness—a concept International Forgiveness Institute co-founder Dr. Robert Enright has been espousing for decades.
“We launched our first peace initiative in 2002 when we began teaching forgiveness education in Belfast, Northern Ireland,” Dr. Enright recalls. “I was convinced back then, and I believe even more so now, that forgiveness is the missing piece to the peace puzzle. These study results are nothing new.”
During his 35+ years of studying the virtue of forgiveness, Dr. Enright has repeatedly demonstrated that as people forgive, they become less angry, less depressed, less anxious, and more hopeful of their future. In other words, people become more peaceful within themselves, making the possibility of peace with others more likely. He outlined his grass-roots approach in this 2010 article: Forgiveness Education as a Path to Peace. Read Dr. Enright’s latest blog for Psychology Today, Forgiveness as a Missing Piece to Peace Between Ukraine and Russia.
The study results about crucial elements for peace come from a team of experts that is part of the Advanced Consortium on Cooperation, Conflict, and Complexity (AC4), a multidisciplinary research institute based at Columbia University in New York City. AC4 is a unit of the university’s Earth Institute which is made up of scholars spread across 35 research centers and programs encompassing more than 850 scientists, students, postdoctoral fellows and staff.
The group’s mission is to employ models and methods from complexity science (a branch of applied mathematics) to study the dynamics of peaceful societies with the goal of “revolutionizing peace and conflict resolution.” AC4 research has identified and studied more than 80 internally peaceful societies around the globe and identified their common characteristics including:
- abundant forgiveness reservoirs that help mitigate anger, fear, and negativity; and,
- higher levels of capacity for forgiveness that can lead to the endorsement of peace beliefs.
Working together with organizations like the United Nations (UN), the International Peace Institute, and The World Bank, AC4 is exploring various models (i.e., the role of forgiveness, victim memory, and reconciliation) in the actual peace process in countries like Colombia, Israel-Palestine, and Afghanistan. In the process, they are generating and promoting new practical, transdisciplinary, evidence-based approaches to peace.
Like AC4, the International Forgiveness Institute (IFI) has also collaborated with peace-seeking organizations going as far back as 1999 when Roy Lloyd, IFI Board President, was part of a delegation led by the Rev. Jesse Jackson that traveled to Belgrade, Yugoslavia (now Serbia). That delegation not only gained the release of three American soldiers captured during the Kosovo Conflict but also urged Yugoslavian President Slobodan Milosevic to accept a UN offer to establish a foreign peacekeeping force in Kosovo.
In 2014, Dr. Enright laid the foundation for “Forgiveness as a Peace Tool” at a 2-day work session hosted by the United Nations Population Fund (UNFPA) in New York City. Dr. Enright, a University of Wisconsin educational psychology professor, was named to serve on a UN international “Expert Group” that was established to begin developing intervention models aimed at ending gender-based violence around the world. Three weeks later, delegates at the United Nations Peace Conference in Geneva, Switzerland, resolved that “justice and forgiveness” are essential tools in peacebuilding.
“Peace is not a goal to be reached but a way of life to be lived.”
Archbishop Desmond Tutu
Nobel Peace Prize-winning South African Anglican cleric;
25+ years Honorary Board Member – IFI
More recently, Dr. Enright last fall negotiated the establishment of the International Forgiveness Institute’s newest partner, IFI-Pakistan. That Branch Office is housed at the Government College University Lahore (GCU-Lahore, Pakistan) and is the first of its kind in Pakistan and in Southern Asia. The unit will function in collaboration with the IFI with the mission of developing and disseminating forgiveness interventions and methodologies throughout the country.
“Because only a few psychologists have expertise in this field in Pakistan, we can now offer an accredited course teaching forgiveness psychology,” said GCU Vice Chancellor Dr. Asghar Zaidi, in announcing the partnership. “Forgiveness liberates us from anger, resentment, bitterness, and destructive behavioral patterns that are prevalent in our society.”
Dr. Enright has been working since 2016 with Dr. Iffat Batool, a GCU psychology professor, who has tirelessly pursued creation of the unit. Pakistan was one of the seven countries that conducted research and validation on Dr. Enright’s new research tool, the Enright Forgiveness Inventory-30 and several of Dr. Enright’s research tools have already been translated into Urdu, one of the two official languages of Pakistan (along with English). A request is also pending to get the publisher’s approval to translate Dr. Enright’s book 8 Keys to Forgiveness into Urdu for use with GCU’s “Forgiveness Psychology and Practice” course.
Dr. Enright is also working closely with the National Director of the Liberia Forgiveness Education Program (that the IFI established 10 years ago after the country’s civil war finally concluded) to implement forgiveness interventions that could help with reconciliation efforts between the various factions: Can Group Forgiveness in Liberia Lead to Peace? His peace efforts in other parts of the world are outlined on the IFI website at Peace Education Goals.
- Interactive Sustainable Peace Casual Loop Diagram (AC4 Sustainable Peace Project)
- How to Live in Peace? Mapping the Science of Sustaining Peace (American Psychologist)
- The Sustainable Peace Mapping Initiative (Columbia University)
- Contribute to the realization of sustainable peace. Support the IFI with a charitable gift.
Misconceptions and distortions are nothing new to most professionals—particularly to the professionals who employ forgiveness interventions and forgiveness therapy. Since the first empirically based study on person-to-person forgiveness was published in the social sciences (Enright et al., 1989), there has been vigorous debate on exactly what forgiveness is and is not.
That debate has generally been positive and helpful in the overall evolution of forgiveness from a simple concept (and primarily a religious credo) to a vitally important mental health approach for many people who have been victimized. At the same time, there still are a few in the mental health professions who are criticizing forgiveness with some good points but also with some errors.
Those who dispense misinformation about forgiveness prevent many individuals from
choosing forgiveness when they could truly benefit from deep emotional recovery.
Dr. Robert Enright
Dr. Enright, co-founder of the International Forgiveness Institute (IFI) and the man labeled “the forgiveness trailblazer” by Time magazine, has been using scientific research methods to study forgiveness for more than 35 years. Whenever he learns about an inaccurate or erroneous premise that is being circulated, he tries to address it head-on. That’s exactly what he did just this week by factually countering an essay published on Feb. 20 in Psychology Today.
The essay, “Why Forgiveness Isn’t Required in Trauma Recovery,” was written by a Chicago psychotherapist who is also a speaker and author. While acknowledging that “I’ve witnessed the benefits of forgiveness for many of my clients,” the author’s main contention is that “forgiveness is potentially problematic when incorporated into trauma treatment.”
While Dr. Enright says he has heard all those erroneous assertions before, he quickly drafted his own essay providing fact-based and true-to-life counter arguments for each of the claims. His goal in doing so, he says, was not to heavily criticize, but instead “to protect the integrity of a genuine process of forgiveness, free of confusions of what forgiveness is and is not.”
Dr. Enright’s critique of the original essay was published on Feb. 26 by Psychology Today. While the publication gave his clarifying discourse the same title as the original Feb. 20 article, it added a significant subtitle, “Why Forgiveness Isn’t Required in Trauma Recovery: Published misconceptions of forgiveness may discourage people from trying it.”
The blog essay by “the father of forgiveness research” (the title bestowed on Dr. Enright by The Christian Science Monitor) provides 5 succinct and factual responses to the original article’s 5 contentions. It also clarifies two points on which he agrees with the article: 1) “forgiveness after unjust behaviors is not necessarily for everyone;” and, 2) “as a moral virtue, forgiveness never ever should be forced onto anyone.”
Dr. Enright is no stranger to Psychology Today. In fact, in the past 5 years he has penned nearly 100 blog essays as part of his own dedicated column for the publication’s website called “The Forgiving Life.” Those blog posts have been accessed online more than a million times–an average of 548 times per day since he began writing them.
According to Dr. Enright, he will continue his efforts to provide information to Psychology Today readers and he will continue to clarify points when there appear to be misunderstandings about forgiveness and forgiveness therapy so that both therapists and clients can make informed decisions.
- Read the original article: “Why Forgiveness Isn’t Required in Trauma Recovery”
- Read Dr. Enright’s critique of that article: “Published Misconceptions of Forgiveness May Discourage People from Trying It”
- View Dr. Enright’s “Top Ten Psychology Today Blogs”
- Access all of Dr. Enright’s “Psychology Today Blogs“
When Russian President Vladimir Putin met with French President Emmanuel Macron at the Kremlin earlier this month, Mr. Putin recited a crude Russian joke about Sleeping Beauty. Comparing the fairy tale princess to Ukraine, he said, “Whether you like it or not my beauty, you will need to put up with all I do to you.”
When he later was told about the malicious remark, Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky responded to Mr. Putin by saying, “Ukraine is indeed a beauty but she’s not yours.” (Source: Time Magazine)
As the Russian invasion of Ukraine continues, people around the world are seeking ways to help those in Ukraine being impacted by the destruction and those fleeing the country to try to stay alive. An article in yesterday’s online Time Magazine provides some real possibilities.
The article is titled “Here’s What You Can Do to Help People in Ukraine Right Now.” It outlines simple steps anyone can take to help, provides links to several international aid organizations, and lists half a dozen Ukrainian and US nonprofits that are providing humanitarian aid to Ukraine.
Forgiveness as a Missing Piece to Peace Between Ukraine and Russia, (Dr. Enright’s latest blog in Psychology Today)
Another list of Ukraine aid organizations (PBS radio station KQED, California)
Photographs of Ukraine Under Attack (Time Magazine)