Tagged: “agape love”
In your book, “The Forgiving Life,” you correlate forgiving with love (agape love). Can a person forgive and feel no love at all toward the one who acted unfairly?
We have to make a distinction between the essence of forgiveness (what it is in truth and on its highest level) and how we actually appropriate forgiveness at any given time. So, even though to forgive on its highest level is to love the one who was not loving toward the forgiver when the injustice occurred, a person can forgive, for example, by committing to do no harm to that other person. While this is not the highest form of forgiveness, it is part of the forgiveness process. So, if today the best a person can do is to commit to do no harm to the one who offended, this is forgiveness (with room to grow in this moral virtue).
As your question implies, you are aware that there is more than one reason why forgiveness is good. To meet your challenge, I would say that the major reason why forgiveness is good is because it is linked to love, particularly what we call service love or agape love. When you forgive you are exercising this kind of love toward someone who has not been loving to you as seen in the person’s unjust actions. Thus, forgiveness is good because it meets injustice with the heroic virtue of love. I call it heroic because it is so difficult to offer agape love in the face of others’ injustice.
The first phase of a multi-million-dollar, multi-year forgiveness research project in three culturally distinct regions of the world is providing clarity to an ancient concept that researchers say could bring psychological health to individuals as well as peace and unity to families, communities, and countries.
“Agape love is an under-researched concept that has significant implications for harmonious relationships and good mental health,” according to forgiveness pioneer Dr. Robert Enright, an educational psychology professor at the University of Wisconsin-Madison and co-founder of the International Forgiveness Institute (IFI). “The goal of this project is to define what agape love is and is not, and to develop accurate measures of agape so we can assess the degree to which a person understands and practices it.”
That 3-year research project is focused on incorporating agape love fundamentals with Dr. Enright’s Forgiveness Education Curriculum materials for grade school students. Working with 60 teachers and up to 1,200 elementary students in Northern Ireland, Israel (both Arabic- and Hebrew-speaking schools), and Taiwan, the research is being funded by the John Templeton Foundation which has been supporting research on forgiveness for more than 20 years.
Agape love is a concept found in at least eight world religions and dates back to the work of three Greek philosophers:
- Socrates (470 BC – 399 BC), who was among the first moral philosophers to espouse the theory of virtue ethics;
- Plato (428 BC – 347 BC), a student of Socrates who is the namesake of Platonic love; and,
- Aristotle (384 BC – 322 BC), a student of Plato, who is called “the father of psychology.”
The influence of those three philosophers continued well into the 19th century, helped shape much of Western moral philosophy, and gained renewed interest with the modern advent of virtue ethics in the late 1950s. This “Aristotelian philosophical view of virtue ethics” was used by Dr. Enright’s initial research team (composed of UW-Madison and IFI researchers) to develop its definition of agape love:
“Agape love is a moral virtue in which a person willingly and unconditionally offers goodness, at a cost to the giver, to another or others in need.”
To further explain, the team added:
“There is a giving of the self to the other(s) that is: a) understood, b) motivated c) willed, and d) acted upon toward other people in such a way that the actions cost the one expressing that love. Because so much is given in agape, it follows that something is taken away from the one who engages in this form of love and such taking away might be needed energy, needed material possessions, needed comfort, and/or even needed safety. Yet, there is a paradox to agape: In the giving, there is psychological gain for the giver, including a sense of joy in the giving.”
That definition was the key element in the research team’s initial report called “The Philosophy and Social Science of Agape Love.” It was published this month in the latest issue of the Journal of Theoretical and Philosophical Psychology, a quarterly publication of the American Psychological Association (APA).
In addition to examining the true meaning of agape love, the research report explores the characteristics of a moral virtue and delineates both the commonalities and significant differences between agape and other forms of love. It also provides an in-depth critique of existing social scientific love scales in preparation for a phase-two activity that will result in the development of a specific psychological agape love scale that is statistically reliable and valid and that has cross-cultural validity.
“Agape love is worth studying because, as a moral virtue, it challenges people to strive for betterment in their humanity,” the report concludes. “Agape requires heroic commitment to the betterment of others. As such, agape may aid humanity in reaching its highest level when people begin to deliberately, consciously, and willingly cultivate this moral virtue.”
The content of the agape and forgiveness curriculum across the three world zones will be described by the teachers themselves during the International Educational Conference on Agape Love and Forgiveness being held at the University of Wisconsin-Madison campus on July 19-20, 2022. Additional information about agape love and the conference is available at the Agape Love and Forgiveness website.
How many times have you heard or been asked the age-old question of: “Which came first, the chicken or the egg?” While that problematic conundrum may never be adequately answered, researchers are confident they are making inroads into solving a similar enigma: “Which is first required to engender the other, forgiveness or love?”
A just-published research study by world-renowned forgiveness trailblazer Dr. Robert Enright and three of his associates helped provide some answers to that larger question by examining three related questions:
- Do forgiveness and love develop together?
- Does love or forgiveness predict the other at a later time?
- Does one’s spirituality moderate the relationship between forgiveness and love?
The study, The Development of Forgiveness and Other-focused Love, was published last month in the online version of the Journal of Psychology and Theology, a peer-reviewed academic journal. It explores the development of forgiveness and other-focused love and examines the role of spirituality in the relationship between forgiveness and love.
As part of the study, participants from a large Christian university filled out measures of compassionate love, forgiveness, and dedication to God at Time 1 (T1) and measures of love and forgiveness after 4 weeks at Time 2 (T2). While love at T1 did not predict forgiveness at T1 or T2, forgiveness at T1 positively predicted love at T2, indicating that forgiveness temporally preceded love.
“Because the aim of the study was to see the natural unfolding of forgiveness and love over time, there was no treatment or intervention between T1 and T2,” according to study researcher Jican J. Kim, an Associate Professor of Psychology and Director of the M.A. in Applied Psychology program at Liberty University, Lynchburg, VA. “The results, however, suggest that we may be able to help people grow in other-focused love by helping them to forgive. That’s a really dramatic revelation.”
Dr. Enright emphasized those findings by explaining that the study shows a possibility that as one grows in the virtue of forgiveness (toward a specific offender), the person might experience growth in love toward others in general, thus becoming a more loving person (through the act of forgiveness toward a particular offender).
“In theory, this idea seems to have merit because a forgiving person must be able to love the most unlovable person–one’s offender,” Dr. Enright added. “That kind of love, what we call agape love, might make loving others in general comparably easy.”
The evidence from this study, together with findings from other recent empirical studies, have only begun to examine the development and relationship between forgiveness and love—a relatively new focus for forgiveness researchers. Further research needs to be done to document in what ways one’s practice of forgiveness results in greater love toward others.
The two researchers agree, however that it is time to extend forgiveness interventions with adults to not only focus on psychological healing of the unjustly treated but also to investigate how forgiveness can promulgate the development of other-focused love.
“The fact that forgiveness can increase love at a later time tells me that love and forgiveness grow together and the practice of forgiveness is a concrete
expression of love that matures over time.”
Dr. Jichan J. Kim
Read the full report: The Development of Forgiveness and Other-focused Love
Research Report Authors:
- Jiahe Wang Xu is a graduate student in the Department of Educational Psychology at the University of Wisconsin-Madison. Her research interest is in forgiveness and the development of agape love.
- Jichan J. Kim (Ph.D., University of Wisconsin-Madison) an Associate Professor of Psychology and the Director of the M.A. in Applied Psychology program at Liberty University, Lynchburg, VA. His research focuses on interpersonal, self-, and divine forgiveness.
- Naomi Olmstead (M.A. Psychology, Liberty University) is a secondary educator at Lanakila Baptist School, Ewa Beach (island of O’ahu), Hawaii.
- Robert D. Enright holds the Aristotelian Professorship in Forgiveness Science within the Department of Educational Psychology at the University of Wisconsin-Madison and is a founding board member of the International Forgiveness Institute in Madison, Wisconsin.
The ancient Greeks had four words for the term love: storge (the natural love, for example, between a mother and child), philia (friendship love), eros (romantic love), and agape (which eventually came to be known as a heroic form of love given for the sake of the other and involving effort and even pain on the part of the one offering such love). The Essence of forgiveness (what it is at its core) is agape love offered to a hurtful, offending other person. As Aristotle reminded us, we do not necessarily reach perfection as we practice any virtue and so even though agape is the deepest form of forgiving (its Essence), we as imperfect people can offer patience and respect toward the other and this still most certainly counts as a forgiving response. A person might eventually grow into agape for the other, but some do not.