On the Psychology Today website, I recently posted an essay entitled, Why We Need Forgiveness Education. One person’s comment on this piece does seem to suggest that, indeed, we need forgiveness education starting at a young age. The commentator’s point is that forgiveness is costly, perhaps too costly for some. Forgiveness becomes so costly when a person now senses the obligation, upon forgiving, to stay in a relationship that is highly abusive.
The assumption that a forgiver, because of forgiveness, now must stay in the deeply hurtful relationship is not correct. Forgiveness does not obligate a person to remain in a hurtful relationship. The assumption equates forgiving and reconciling and they are quite different. Reconciliation is based on trust as two or more people come together again. One can forgive from a distance without reconciling, if the other may do harm and is not trustworthy based on past and current behavior.
If we all had forgiveness education from childhood through adolescence and then applied the learning in adulthood, the assumption that equates forgiving and reconciling would not come up. The lesson would have been learned in school……a long time ago. Yet, current educational practices rarely make room for forgiveness education.
It seems to me that much of the misery in our own hearts could be eliminated if we took the time to learn the lessons of forgiving. Such lessons would question those assumptions which keep us from forgiving because we falsely see danger in the act of forgiveness when that danger actually does not exist.
We need forgiveness education for our little ones…………now.
Dr. Robert Enright, world-renowned forgiveness researcher and educator, has been selected by two of the nation’s premier blog sites to add his forgiveness expertise as a regular contributor.
1. Psychology Today is a New York City-based print magazine that will celebrate its 50th year of continuous publication in 2017. Its new blog site, according to the publication, is “devoted exclusively to everybody’s favorite subject: Ourselves.”
To make and keep their new blog site relevant, Psychology Today has gathered a group of renowned psychologists, academics, psychiatrists and writers to contribute their thoughts and ideas on what makes us tick. According to the website, “We’re a live stream of what’s happening in Psychology Today.”
The forgiveness blog section on Psychology Today’s website is called “The Forgiving Life”–which is also the title of one of the eight books Dr. Enright has written. Here are links to the first four blogs Dr. Enright has produced for the new site this month:
Dec. 7 – Forgiveness Saved My Life: Reflections from Prison
Dec. 16 – Afraid of Mingling with the Relatives This Holiday Season?
Dec. 17 – A New Approach to School Bullying: Eliminate Their Anger
Dec. 20 – Is It True That Forgiveness Is “Ridiculous“?
2. You’ve probably heard of Arianna Huffington, the 66-year-old digital media pioneer, bestselling author, and founder of The Huffington Post–the online news powerhouse that has spread its influence around the world in dramatic fashion. Oh, yes, and she is one of TIME magazine’s “100 Most Influential People.”
Huffington stepped down in August as editor-in-chief of the Huffington Post (affectionately called HuffPost), which she founded in 2005 and sold to AOL six years later for $315 million, to concentrate full time on her new venture–Thrive Global. The new entity is partly based on her runaway bestselling 2014 book, Thrive, which defines a new math for success based on the variables of well-being, wisdom, wonder and generosity.
One of the entities under the Thrive Global umbrella is The Thrive Journal–an online blog site that the company says goes “beyond informing and entertaining to action. Our goal is to help you bring about changes in your life by giving you concrete, actionable tips laid out in five pathways: Calm, Joy, Purpose, Well-Being, and Productivity. These microsteps and tips are embedded in every piece of content we produce.”
Similar to the new blog site developed by Psychology Today, the Thrive Global blog site will feature a wide array of international wellness experts, psychologists, medical doctors and other professionals. Here are links to the first five blogs Dr. Enright has produced for Thrive Global:
Nov. 25 – Forgiveness and the Presidential Election of 2016: 7 Tips
Nov. 30 – Reflections from Prison: “Forgiveness Saved My Life”
Dec. 4 – Forgiveness, the Marathon, and the Inspired Work of Art
Dec. 8 – How Evil Works
Dec. 17 – Afraid of Mingling with the Relatives This Holiday Season? 4 Tips from Forgiveness Therapy
“Forgiveness is fundamentally unfair. Here we have a deeply abused person and now we ask her, in her woundedness, to reach out to one who hurt her. She now has two burdens, the original abuse and having to forgive. Please, let us first help her with the wounds from the abuse and put forgiveness on the shelf for her sake!”
So goes the most pervasive criticism of what forgiveness is and what it supposedly does in 2016. This criticism is likely to change over time and a new one emerge because, well, that is the way it is with forgiveness. There always seems to be one major criticism that is in season and acts as a barrier to forgiveness.
Thirty years ago, that in-season criticism was the equating of forgiving and reconciling. Once the logic was worked out that forgiving cannot be the same as reconciling, that one faded. After all, forgiveness is a virtue (as is justice and kindness and patience); reconciliation is not a virtue, but instead is a negotiation strategy of two or more people coming together once again in mutual trust. One can forgive and not reconcile. Thus, they differ.
Let us now turn to the current in-season criticism of forgiveness. Yes, forgiveness is a burden if:
………we pressure someone into forgiving;
………we tell the person that the only motivation for forgiving is to be good—-very good—-to the person who was not good to the one who might forgive;
………we critically judge the would-be forgiver for not forgiving.
Yet, we can unburden the forgiver, as well as forgiveness itself, when we realize that:
………forgiveness is the forgiver’s choice. It is not our place to pressure someone to forgive (or not to forgive). Give the person freedom to make the decision;
………there are many motivations to forgive. One healthy motivation that often exists early in the process is the desire to be free from emotional pain. The forgiver is motivated to become emotionally whole. The forgiver, at this stage of the process, is not so interested in doing wonderful things for the one who was not wonderful. These are very different motivations and need to be distinguished, especially early in the process;
………it is wrong to condemn a struggling person who is ambivalent about forgiveness. Maybe the person needs more time; maybe the person needs more information about what forgiveness is (and not the colloquial misunderstandings that cloud the understanding). Again, it is the choice of the one who was abused.
When we unburden the abused person by clarifying these issues, then it is clear that we are not placing a new burden on the person by discussing forgiveness. Notice that I did not say “suggesting forgiveness.” Let us discuss and then let the person decide.
So, what will be the new criticism of forgiveness that could block, without justification, a person from exploring forgiveness?
Think about this: Long after you are gone, your love could be alive and well and living on this earth in the minds, hearts, and beings of others. You can begin to leave a legacy of love by how you live this very day. In all likelihood, you will meet others today. If your heart is filled with love rather than with bitterness, it will be much easier to pass that love to others. Do you see why it is so important to forgive? You are given the joyous opportunity to shed bitterness and put love in its place for the one who hurt you and then more widely to many, many others, as you are freed to love more deeply and more widely. The meaning and purpose of your life are intimately tied to this decision to leave a legacy of love.
Enright, Robert (2015-09-28). 8 Keys to Forgiveness (8 Keys to Mental Health) (p. 225). W. W. Norton & Company. Kindle Edition.
Too often in society the word forgiveness is used casually: “Please forgive me for being 10 minutes late.” Forgiveness is used in place of many other words, such as excusing, distorting the intended meaning. People so often try to forgive with misperceptions; each may have a different meaning of forgiveness, unaware of any error in his or her thinking.
Freedman and Chang (2010, in the Journal of Mental Health Counseling, volume 32, pages 5-34) interviewed 49 university students on their ideas of the meaning of forgiveness and found that the most frequent understanding (by 53% of the respondents) was to “let go” of the offense. This seems to be similar to either condoning or excusing. Of course, one can let go of the offense and still be fuming with the offender. The second most common understanding of forgiveness (20%) was that it is a “moving on” from the offense. Third most common was to equate forgiveness with not blaming the offender, which could be justifying, condoning, or excusing, followed by forgetting about what happened. Only 8% of the respondents understood forgiveness as seeing the humanity in the other, not because of what was done but in spite of it.
If we start forgiveness education early, when students are 5 or 6 years old, they will have a much firmer grasp of what forgiveness is…..and therefore likely will be successful in their forgiveness efforts, especially if these students are schooled not only in what forgiveness is but also in how to go about forgiving.