IFI News

Forgiveness Perfect Gift for the Holidays

If you want your holidays to be happier, Dr. Robert Enright suggests giving the gift of forgiveness. While it is helpful any time of the year, it can be especially welcome during the holidays.

Dr. Robert Enright

“All the past pains can come tumbling down during the holidays,” Enright says.

“It’s not just a time for being with family but for reflecting back. It can be very painful.”

Enright, a professor of educational psychology at the University of Wisconsin-Madison, pioneered the scientific study of forgiveness–a field that now claims more than 1,000 researchers worldwide. He has spent more than 25 years researching the power of forgiveness and letting go of anger.

Enright’s research has shown that practicing forgiveness can reduce depression and anxiety and has also helped cardiac patients have better functioning hearts.

“Simply put, forgiveness is good for you,” Enright says.

This excerpt is from a UW-Madison News story on the university’s website. Read the full article: “Forgiveness perfect gift for the holidays.” The article outlines the four steps in what Dr. Enright calls “the journey of forgiveness” which he detailed in the self-help book, “Forgiveness is a Choice: A Step-by-Step Process for Resolving Anger and Restoring Hope.”  In another of the five books he has written, “The Forgiving Life: A Pathway to Overcoming Resentment and Creating a Legacy of Love,” Dr. Enright’s guidance does more than prepare you for a single act of forgiveness–it explains how you can live the forgiving life.

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Nelson Mandela and the Power of Forgiveness

The Center for Multicultural Education at the University of Northern Iowa (Cedar Falls, Iowa), hosted a “Nelson Mandela Tribute” on Dec. 9. One of the speakers at the Tribute was Suzanne Freedman, Ph.D., Professor of Educational Psychology and Foundations at UNI. Here is an excerpt from her presentation:

Nelson Mandela was not full of rage and violence when released from prison after 27 years. He developed a vision while in prison, a vision that we are all in this together and that violence is not the solution.  He showed the people in his country and the world that revenge is not the answer to years of injustice and mistreatment.  He showed generosity and mercy when he could have shown revenge and bitterness. He decided not to avenge himself on those who treated him with such cruelty. mandela2

He transformed in prison and realized the humanity in all people, even those he fought against. He stood against apartheid and managed to change a nation without violence and hatred. His actions demonstrated great strength and courage as well as moral principles. He was able to sit down with his enemies and plan a better future for South Africa. He is said to have saved South Africa from civil war and lead a nation to democracy. 

Nelson Mandela’s actions showed his people that forgiveness was possible and as a result, gave the people in South Africa hope for a better future.

Read Dr. Freedman’s full presentation Nelson Mandela and the Power of Forgiveness. Dr. Freedman is a Contributing Writer and Researcher for the International Forgiveness Institute.

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“Professor Enright, can you help me save my country?”

University of Wisconsin-Madison, Dept. of Educational Psychology – It’s not a question university professors typically get asked during office hours: “Can you help me save my country?”

Of course, Robert Enright isn’t exactly typical, himself.

It’s closing in on three decades now that the UW–Madison professor of educational psychology has been pioneering the study of forgiveness by researching how people forgive and examining the benefits this action can have on emotional health.

Over the years, Enright has tested his program on a range of groups — including incest survivors, adult children of alcoholics, and children in classrooms in Milwaukee and Belfast, Northern Ireland — helping them work through the process of how to forgive. And the results have consistently shown improvement in themes such as anger, anxiety, depression and self-esteem.

Aware of Enright’s work, Josiah Cheapoo dropped in on the professor last year during office hours. Rev. Cheapoo, a Madison resident who fled his native homeland of Liberia amid the African nation’s bloody tribal wars a decade ago, sat down and looked Enright in the eye.

“I asked him to help me bring freedom to my country,” says Rev. Cheapoo, who runs Grace Network International, a small non-profit based in Madison. “I asked him to reunite the people to become one so we can rebuild the country and have a lasting peace. I asked him to help save my country.”

Thanks to that conversation, a forgiveness education initiative is launching in Monrovia, Liberia, which still is emerging from horrendous civil war conflicts in which it is estimated more than 200,000 people were killed between 1989 and 2003. The highest levels of the Liberian government and education systems have agreed to Rev. Cheapoo’s pitch for making forgiveness education for children part of the reconstruction effort, with the hopes of breaking the cycle of violence.

“I believe we have the knowledge, curricula and experience to help the Liberian people learn about forgiveness and to help put a stop to further unrest,” says Enright.

Read more: Could power of forgiveness hold key to snapping cycle of violence in Liberia?

Help spread forgiveness education, reconciliation and peace throughout Liberia, West Africa. Click the “Donate” button below to become a hero to the children of Liberia.

 

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Enright’s Forgiveness Intervention: “The Results Were Glowing”

Here is a brief excerpt from yet another article that features the forgiveness research and philosophy of Dr. Robert Enright, founder of the International Forgiveness Institute. “The Power of Forgiveness” was written by Steven Pomeroy, assistant editor for Real Clear Science, a science news aggregator. This article appeared on August 27, 2013 on BIG THINK–a New York City-based website that bills itself as “a knowledge forum.” The website was voted Time Magazine’s #1 Website for News and Info in 2011.

For most Americans, the Amish way of forgiveness is difficult to comprehend. It’s sourced deeply within their way of life, which is grounded in compassionate, unyielding faith.

“Rather than using religion to bless and legitimize revenge, the Amish believe that God smiles on acts of grace that open doors for reconciliation,” Donald B. Kraybill, a distinguished professor at Elizabethtown College explained in 2007.

But forgiveness is not only grounded in faith, but also in science. In 1996, University of Wisconsin educational psychologist Dr. Robert Enright developed a process model of forgiveness. It can be broken down into four phases: uncovering anger, deciding to forgive, working on forgiveness, and discovery and release from emotional pain.

robert-enright 3Dr. Enright tried out his forgiveness training on 12 female incest survivors. Six of the women served as an experimental group, and immediately received Enright’s intervention, which was delivered in a set number of sessions spread over 14 months. The remaining women — serving as controls — were wait-listed and received the intervention only when their counterparts finished.

The results were glowing. Members of the experimental group became significantly more hopeful, and their levels of anxiety and depression decreased dramatically. Fifteen years later, the benefits remained.

A popular view in American society is that forgiveness is weakness. But the conducted science clearly contradicts that pervasive view. Forgiveness makes you stronger.

“[Forgiveness] does not make you weak,” Dr. Enright affirmed to OnWisconsin. “The love you cultivate and develop in your heart is stronger than any injustices anyone can ever throw against you. And once you live that, you realize how very, very strong you can be, because that’s a buffer against all of the poison that unfortunately visits us just by being alive.”

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Shunning the Impulse to Seek Revenge

Here is a brief excerpt from an article “Mother forgives drunk driver after crash killed her son” that appeared in the July 28, 2013, edition of timesfreepress.com, the online version of the Chattanooga (TN) Times Free Press. Written by Joan Garrett McClane.

Forgiveness may be trumpeted in church and on counselors’ couches but it’s not a cultural virtue. We live in a world of open grudges. We live in an angry world made more so by screaming television housewives and George Zimmerman verdicts.

Biologically, according to Fred Luskin, author of the Stanford Forgiveness Project, we are negatively biased. The human brain naturally focuses on the darkness. And when we are hurt emotionally or physically, our bodies, our brains go on guard. Our nervous system reacts. Trauma teaches lessons that are hard to forget.

Robert Enright, a forgiveness researcher at the University of Wisconsin-Madison, said few people are taught how to forgive because we are ambiguous about the value of forgiveness.

We laud figures who can overcome anger. We quote Gandhi and Martin Luther King, Jr.

We laud characters who take vengeance, too. James Bond. Harry Potter. Batman.

So if someone is going to make forgiveness a practice they have to prepare for tragedy, expect to be wronged, Enright said.

Look at the Amish. When a gunman executed five schoolchildren in Nickel Mines, Pa., in 2006 the crime scene hadn’t even been cleaned up before Amish families were sending notes of forgiveness to the killer’s family. They brought the widow food and flowers. Half of those at the killer’s burial were Amish.

These tight-knit communities emphasize a predisposition toward forgiveness and shun the impulse to seek revenge, instead believing justice to be a divine matter.

At its core, regardless of spiritual belief, people come to forgive because they come to recognize every person’s tendency to err, Enright said.

“The biggest reason that people resist [forgiveness] is the profound confusion that is in the human heart,” he said. “When people are fuming, they are zeroed in on justice. Mercy is abhorrent.”

Read the full story: “Mother forgives drunk driver after crash killed her son.”

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The Missing Piece to the Peace Puzzle

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