Calling forgiveness one of mankind’s “most important innovations,” TIME magazine is doubling down on its 22-year infatuation with the moral virtue by declaring, “Beset by a global plague, political turmoil, and social reckonings, it’s time for forgiveness to go viral.”
The internationally acclaimed news publication first introduced the science of forgiveness to its readers on March 28, 1999, in an essay titled “Should All Be Forgiven?” That widely-cited introductory overview of forgiveness—one of the first ever in a publication designed for the general public—helped usher in a plethora of forgiveness-related articles since then that reported on the superabundance of new research projects focused on forgiveness.
“In the past two years, scientists and sociologists have begun to extract forgiveness and the act of forgiving from the confines of the confessional, transforming it into the subject of quantifiable research,” the TIME article in 1999 sermonized. “In one case, they have even systemized it as a 20-part ‘intervention’ that they claim can be used to treat a number of anger-related ills in a totally secular context. In short, to forgive is no longer just divine.”
The “20-part intervention” in the TIME quote (above) is a reference to the Enright Process Model of Forgiveness that was just being developed at that time by Dr. Robert Enright, a University of Wisconsin-Madison clinical psychology professor and forgiveness researcher. Dr. Enright had founded the International Forgiveness Institute four years earlier.
For his leadership work with that early model and for his development of innovative forgiveness interventions, TIME magazine crowned Dr. Enright “the forgiveness trailblazer.” Shortly after receiving that recognition, The Los Angeles Times editorialized that Dr. Enright is “the guru of what many are calling a new science of forgiveness.” The Christian Science Monitor called him “the father of forgiveness research.”
Fast forward 22-years and you will discover an updated and enthusiastic TIME magazine essay with this headline: “After a Year That Pushed Us to the Brink, It’s Time for Forgiveness to Go Viral.” The dictionary definition of “going viral,” of course, is when an idea is of such significance that it spreads quickly and widely on the Internet. In this case, it also refers to the actual implementation of that idea which is described in the article much like a miracle cure:
“It is a powerful solution backed up by both cutting edge neuroscience and age-old wisdom. It leads to greater cooperation, eases conflict, increases personal happiness, lowers anxiety and is completely free. It’s called forgiveness.”
One of the studies cited in this latest article is a comparison of various forgiveness interventions. Among those available for testing, the study concludes, Dr. Enright’s interventions are the most effective. “Using theoretically grounded forgiveness interventions is a sound choice for helping clients to deal with past offenses and helping them achieve resolution in the form of forgiveness,” according to the study. “. . . the advantage for individual interventions was most clearly demonstrated for Enright-model interventions.” (Efficacy of psychotherapeutic interventions to promote forgiveness: a meta-analysis)
That recent TIME article also makes a direct comparison between the success of the forgiveness coalition and the “mindfulness and meditation” movement:
“Like forgiveness, mindfulness and meditation have been shown in many circumstances to reduce stress levels, mitigate heart disease, and lower blood pressure. Can we create the same level of cultural penetration for forgiveness? Our future may well depend on it. Beset by a global plague, political turmoil, and social reckonings, it’s time for forgiveness to go viral.”
The latest TIME article was authored by Andrew Serazin, President of the Templeton World Charity Foundation and Chair of the Forgiveness Forum, a series of global conversations on the mental and physical health benefits of forgiveness.
Editor’s Note: To illustrate the dramatic upward trajectory of the forgiveness movement, when Dr. Enright began exploring the social scientific study of forgiveness in 1985, there were no published empirical studies on person-to-person forgiveness. Today there are more than 3,000 published articles on that subject according to the National Institutes of Health (NIH), many of them authored by Dr. Enright during his 35+ years of forgiveness research and intervention ingenuity.
- Read the full TIME article: “After a Year That Pushed Us to the Brink, It’s Time for Forgiveness to Go Viral.”
- Read the full March 28, 1999 TIME article: “Should All Be Forgiven?”
In my experience, it is much harder, on the average, to forgive close family members. This is the case because those close to us are supposed to love us and not treat us deeply unjustly. There can be a deep sense of betrayal when someone, who is supposed to love us, acts very unjustly. As one more point, the answer to your question also depends on how serious the injustice is from the family member and from the stranger. If the stranger’s injustice is horrific, then this person will be harder to forgive than family members who do not act nearly as unjustly.
What has been your experience of seeing people forgive because they feel they have to (because of pressure from others or because of religious beliefs) and those who willingly choose to forgive on their own?
The idea of forgiving “because they feel they have to” do this is somewhat complex. For example, there is nothing wrong with others pointing a person in the direction of forgiveness. This can be of great help, especially if the person misunderstands what forgiveness is or has hardly tried it before. On the other hand, hovering over a person and not letting that person see the beauty of forgiving, and choosing it as part of one’s own free will, can be coercion. This is not helpful because the person is not necessarily being drawn to the beauty of forgiveness. So, if we make the distinction between educating a person and assisting the person to deeply understand forgiveness on the one hand and forcing on the other, we can see that the former is good and the latter is not. We need a gentle approach when helping others to think about forgiveness.
I have a question about what I am calling “angry crying,” or crying every time I am mad at someone. Is “angry crying” something good or to be avoided?
“Angry crying” can be a catharsis and this release of the negative feelings is good, at least to a point. A key issue to consider is the intensity, duration (at any given time), and how long over time you cry. In other words, when you look at your pattern, is it very intense and long lasting? If so, then the cathartic benefits are not necessarily leading to a cure of the anger. Forgiveness has as one of its goals the cure of deep resentment so that it goes away or is reduced to very manageable levels. So, “angry crying” is not necessarily good or bad in and of itself. If it is intense and the release is only temporary, then you need more, such as forgiving those who are making you cry.
I grew up in a household in which my parents got angry quickly and expressed their anger often. I am about to get married. What cautions do you see for me?
I would recommend that you have a discussion with your future marriage partner about the kinds of patterns that occurred in each of your families of origin. Try to see the woundedness that was expressed in each family. This is because both of you might reproduce those patterns of woundedness with each other in the years to come. Your being aware of the wounds in your parents (and siblings), as well as your own woundedness from these, may help both of you from inadvertently passing those wounds onto each other. Each of you forgiving family members for giving you wounds should help in this regard. I wish you the best in your upcoming marriage.