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.
» 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:
- Let’s Heal the World Through Forgiveness
- Nothing Good Ever Comes from Anger
- In Memoriam: Eva Mozes Kor
In Memoriam: Anne Gallagher, Seeds of Hope
It is with deep sadness that we announce the passing of a true patriot for peace, Anne Gallagher of Dublin, Ireland (August 7, 2013).
Anne started the peace organization, Seeds of Hope, in Ireland as a way to counter the after-effects of The Troubles. Even though the peace accord was signed in 1998, hearts were still embittered by the struggles that began to erupt in early 1972 with Bloody Sunday. Some of Anne’s friends and relations took up combat and were part of paramilitary organizations in Ireland and Northern Ireland. Anne, in contrast, sought dialogue as a way to peace.
Anne was instrumental in the International Forgiveness Institute’s transition to forgiveness education in Belfast. She tirelessly set up meetings with us at various schools such as Ligoniel, St. Vincent de Paul, and Mercy Primary School. Because of Anne’s endorsement of us, doors flew open and within about one month of trying, we were accepted into schools within the inter-face areas of the city (where contentious groups live segregated lives but in close proximity to one another)..
I recall vividly in 2003 sitting with three ex-combatants who wanted to know more about forgiveness education. They were unsure if it was a good idea. Anne set up the meeting. You see, we needed their permission to go into a particular school because some of the ex-combatants informally controlled their neighborhoods. One of them, battle-tested, said to me, “My son is in that school. Forgiveness will make him weak.” I swallowed hard and asked, “Do you want your son to grow up and live as you have?” He bowed his head and with love in his heart for his son said, “No.” It was then that he gave us permission to enter the school.
Anne was always close to danger like this. She did not care, even though some of her brothers were scared for her. Yet, she had a spark in her eyes and a conviction deep within that peace must be sought even if it meant putting oneself on the line at times.
Anne Gallagher represents peace in Ireland. We at the IFI will do our best to keep alive her vision for Seeds of Hope in each human heart. Peace be with you now, Anne.
Author’s Note: Read about the Northern Ireland Troubles, about Bloody Sunday, and about learning to forgive in the “Seeds of Hope Ex-Prisoners Think Tank Report” co-authored by Anne Gallagher (whose four brothers became involved in the Northern Ireland conflict and served long prison sentences, one being shot dead upon his release.)
— Anne Gallagher photo by Brian Moody
Forgiveness is full of paradoxes. Consider three examples of these paradoxes:
1) As one is kind to those who are not kind to the person, then the forgiver experiences emotional relief;
2) Rather than seeking justice as part of forgiveness, the person exercises the virtue of mercy and this can be part of the healing process between two people;
3) When emotionally hurting from the injustice the focus is not on the self, but on the other and this promotes healing in the forgiver.
Another paradox is that as forgiveness fosters humility, the lowliness of humility fosters the strength of courage. As one forgives, one begins to practice humility which means lowering oneself from a potential power position to see the self and the other as at least somewhat similar in these: We are both imperfect; we both have hurt others; we are both human and therefore each of us possesses inherent worth. The humility can help one stand firm in courage to persevere in the forgiveness process with all of its paradoxes. After all, if the forgiver sees the inherent worth in both, then there is motivation to acknowledge this worth and see the process of forgiveness through to the end, which requires courage. Courage is not the absence of fear, but moving forward even in fear.
Humility and courage each can be misunderstood. There are two extremes to both humility and courage. The first extreme for humility is to have a very lowly—too lowly—view of the self so that people think they deserve to be humiliated, even constantly humiliated. The other extreme of humility is, in trying to see one’s own bounds or limitations, to distort these at too high a level. The quest for humility, in this second case of extremes, leads to a distortion toward one’s own greatness, one’s own specialness above others.
The first extreme of courage is too much fear that leads to a lack of action. The second extreme of courage is a reckless bravado, charging ahead without the ability to do so and therefore to endanger self and others.
Humility requires a middle-ground between self-deprecation and self-inflation to a more realistic view of one’s own (and others’) strengths and weaknesses.
Courage requires a middle-ground between being frozen in fear and being reckless.
As one forgives, the person needs to balance both humility and courage. Genuine humility (without the extremes discussed above) helps the forgiver to see the shared humanity with the forgiven. Genuine courage (without those extremes) helps the forgiver to persevere in the struggle to forgive and to bring justice as its own moral virtue into the process of reconciliation.
Humility, courage, and forgiveness are a team that, together, can lead to inner healing and the offer of reconciliation toward those who have behaved unjustly.
“These five approaches to courage may help you to move forward.”
It is so easy to get stuck and so hard to get unstuck when life is a burden. When this happens, anxiety can rise along with discouragement and even anger with the self. Some try relaxation or behavior modification. Others try the less productive route of diversion: games, entertainment, anything to distract and avoid the goal…and even distraction from thinking about the goal. Still others try the self-destructive route of self-medication or dropping out of life in the hope that the challenge ends. Yet, as life moves forward, so do new challenges. We need an effective response so that we can meet the next challenge, and the next, and the next.
To meet those challenges in a positive way, you might want to begin adding the practice of courage to the way you live. Courage is the thought that you will go ahead despite discomfort, the feeling that you can and will overcome, and the behavior that you are willing to fight for what is good.
Here are five suggestions on using courage to get unstuck, not only in the current challenge, but in the rest of the challenges you will face in life.
Second, stay standing. Don’t give in. Persevere in the thought that you will go ahead despite the discomfort. Persevere in the feeling that you can and will overcome. Persevere in the behavior to fight for what you know is good for you.
Third, move forward. In the standing, you have shown yourself that you can take pain. Now show yourself that you can move forward with the pain and not give up. Be forward-looking. Be ready to act even in the pain. Make a small move today toward your overall goal. Do not necessarily expect to achieve everything related to the goal. The point today is to take a small step, to show yourself that you are forward-looking. Now. And tomorrow.
Fourth, do not accept unjust treatment against you. You sometimes have to clear a path when others are treating you unfairly if you are to achieve your goals. In your pain, as you stand, as you remain standing, please consider moving forward to undo others’ unjust treatment against you, but please do so with justice, with fairness. Courage and justice need to grow up together.
Fifth, do all of this with a forgiving heart. Forgiveness is being good, as best you can today, to those who are not good to you. Forgiveness reduces your anger, loosens those tight muscles, refreshes you, and gives you more energy and enthusiasm to stand, remain standing, move forward, and to right injustices with gentleness, respect, and even love.
Courage, justice, and forgiveness are three of the most important virtues that you can begin deliberately incorporating into your life now. They are a team to get you unstuck and to realize your important goals, and perhaps even to find joy. The alternative, being stuck, is not who you really are. Move forward with courage and see what happens.
Posted in Psychology Today June 07, 2017
Forgiveness within psychology is relatively new, having emerged as a research focus in the later 1980’s (Enright, Santos, & Al-Mabuk, 1989). Over the next three decades, a host of studies have emerged within the mental health professions showing that Forgiveness Therapy is beneficial for the client, for the one who forgives (Baskin & Enright, 2004; Wade et al., 2014). We have to be careful with these findings primarily because a false conclusion could emerge: Forgiveness is only for, or primarily for, the one who forgives; it has little to do with the one forgiven. This, actually, does not seem to be the case. A reflection on what forgiveness accomplishes, its purpose or goal, suggests at least 8 purposes to forgiving.
What does it mean to forgive? Although there may be different behaviors across the wide variety of cultures to express forgiveness, in its universal essence, forgiveness can be defined as a moral virtue, centered on goodness, that occurs in the context of being treated unfairly by others. The one who then chooses to forgive deliberately tries to eliminate resentment and to offer goodness of some kind toward the offending person, whether this is kindness, respect, generosity, or even love.
The one who forgives does not automatically go back into a dangerous relationship. The forgiver can forgive and then not reconcile. The forgiver does not excuse the unfair behavior but offers goodness in the face of the unfairness. The forgiver should not think in “either/or” terms, either forgiving and abandoning a quest for justice, or seeking justice alone without forgiving. The two moral virtues of forgiveness and justice can and should be applied together.
When I forgive, I do so:
1. to become emotionally healthier. Forgiving can reduce unhealthy anger.
2. to repair relationships as it helps me to see the other’s worth.
3. to grow in character because it can help me to become a better person.
6. to motivate me to contribute to a better world as anger does not dominate.
7. to help me to more consistently live out my own philosophy of life or faith tradition if that worldview honors forgiveness.
8. to exercise goodness as an end in and of itself regardless of how others react to my offer of forgiving.
To forgive is to exercise goodness even toward those who are not good to you. Forgiveness is perhaps the most heroic of all of the moral virtues (such as justice, patience, and kindness, for example). I say it is heroic because which other moral virtue concerns the offer of goodness, through one’s own pain, toward the one who caused that pain? Do you see this—the heroic nature of forgiving—as you extend it to others?
- Baskin, T.W., & Enright, R. D. (2004). Intervention studies on forgiveness: A meta-analysis. Journal of Counseling and Development, 82, 79-90.
- Enright, R. D., Santos, M., & Al-Mabuk, R. (1989). The adolescent as forgiver. Journal of Adolescence, 12, 95-110.
- Wade, N.G., Hoyt, W.T., Kidwell, J.E.M., & Worthington, Jr., E.L. (2014). Efficacy of psychotherapeutic interventions to promote forgiveness: A meta-analysis. Journal of Consulting and Clinical Psychology, 82, 154-170.
Posted in Psychology Today Apr 16, 2018