I can understand how forgiveness is part of philosophy and theology, but I am having a hard time seeing how forgiveness can be placed into the scientific arena. After all, this is a highly abstract concept. How can it be studied scientifically?
Forgiveness is not the only abstract concept studied scientifically. The theme of justice also is abstract and has been part of the scientific landscape since at least 1932 when Jean Piaget began his work on children’s and adolescents’ understanding of justice. Gratitude is another abstract construct that is studied in the social sciences. We can study forgiveness because it is possible to define forgiveness in such a way as to make it concretely measurable. For example, we have the Enright Forgiveness Inventory which assesses the degree to which participants forgive one other person who was unfair to them. We categorize forgiving in this scale into 6 dimensions: the degree to which the participant 1) harbors negative thoughts and 2) negative feelings, and 3) exhibits negative behaviors toward the unjustly acting person; the degree to which the participant shows 4) positive thoughts and 5) positive feelings, and 6) exhibits positive behaviors toward the unjustly acting person. We are able to get a score for each participant. Science shows that when people go through forgiveness intervention programs, then their forgiveness scores on this scale tend to increase. People with high scores on this scale tend to show better mental and physical health than people who have very low scores on this forgiveness scale.
For additional information, see: Forgiveness Research.
You keep calling forgiveness a “moral virtue” and then automatically conclude that it is good. I don’t see it that way. To me, forgiveness is an evolved biological survival mechanism to keep people from killing each other. In other words, your calling forgiveness a “moral virtue” is a cognitive illusion to make it sound more special than it actually is. If you see it as a biological advance along the evolutionary continuum, it seems then to reduce the high value you place on it. What do you think?
Let us suppose for a moment that you are correct. Even if you are correct, this does not mean that people **automatically** forgive as if this is some kind of an instinct. People still have to:
- cognitively understand that to forgive is to be good to those who are not good to them;
- decide to appropriate forgiveness, making it a choice, not an automatic response;
- struggle to forgive. It takes effort and even some pain to be good in this context;
- understand that there are no guarantees from the other that reconciliation will occur and occur well.
Do you see that to forgive still is something that is slowly formed within a person as good, comes out as a heroic choice, moves forward as kindness toward others, and is done even if it will not lead to others stopping their destructive behavior? If you see this, then what words other than “moral virtue” would you use? If this only is an evolved biological mechanism, then why do so many people not understand what forgiveness is and refuse to forgive? It seems to me that if forgiving were an evolved biological action, then we would see more people engaging in it and without such a struggle to complete it well.
For additional information, see: What is Forgveness?
You say that one reason why forgiving is good is because it could get the attention of the one who acted wrongly. Yet, what if the forgiveness never does get the other’s attention? It then seems to me that you have wasted your time in forgiving.
Forgiving when properly understood and willingly chosen to practice is never a waste of time. This is the case because, as a moral virtue, forgiveness is good in and of itself. In other words, when a person finds the strength and courage to be respectful, kind, generous, and even loving toward other people, even when they behave badly, this is a heroic act. Of course, we have to make a distinction here between forgiving and reconciling. Automatic reconciliation which could be dangerous for the forgiver is not wise. To unconditionally forgive, offering goodness while “watching one’s back,” is good because all moral virtues are good.
For additional information, see: Why Forgive?
Thank you for answering my earlier question about the advantages of forgiveness. It seems to me that if a person forgives to feel better, that is just a selfish move. It is all about “me.” So, I still am skeptical.
There is a difference between a selfish act and a self-serving act. A selfish act tends to ignore others’ legitimate needs. For example, Person A takes Person B’s money so that Person A can gamble with it. This deprives Person B of those funds that rightfully belong to Person B. In contrast, suppose Person A has to break a date with Person B because Person A hurt his knee and has to go to an Urgent Care facility for treatment. This is not selfish, but a healthy self-serving activity because of the damaged knee. There is no intention of depriving anyone, as was the case with our gambling example.
Forgiving to rid the self of excessive anger or depression is not depriving others of anything. It is self-serving because of the hurting heart that needs rehabilitation. Forgiving for this reason is not necessarily the exclusive reason people use when forgiving, but sometimes it is the place people start because they are so hurting inside. Forgiveness is good medicine for such hurts and so is not selfish in this context.
For additional information, see: How Forgiveness Can Change Your Life.
Rome, Italy – At the direction of Pope Francis himself, 190 of the Catholic Church’s highest-ranking officials gathered at the Vatican in Rome last month for a 4-day meeting on “The Protection of Minors in the Church.” Participants included 114 presidents of bishops’ conferences or their delegates, representatives from 14 Eastern churches in communion with Rome, female and male leaders of religious orders, the chiefs of several Vatican congregations, victim advocates, and others.After an introduction by the Holy Father, the very first keynote speaker at the meeting addressed what the Church–particularly those in attendance–must do to help the victims heal from the effects of the abuse they endured: implement the healing process developed and scientifically-tested by Dr. Robert Enright, of the University of Wisconsin-Madison and the International Forgiveness Institute, Inc. in Madison, Wisconsin.
“For this portion of my presentation, I will rely heavily on Dr. Robert Enright, professor at the University of Wisconsin-Madison in the United States, and the pioneer in the social scientific study of forgiveness,” said Cardinal Luis Antonio Tagle, Archbishop of Manila (Philippines). “We are collaborating with him on the programme of forgiveness in the Philippines. In fact, in this very moment there is a session among Catholic School Educators in Manila on “Pain, wound and forgiveness”.
“According to Dr. Enright,” Cardinal Tagle continued, “one concern that we must address is: Once justice is served, how do we help the victims to heal from the effects of the abuse? Justice is necessary but by itself does not heal the broken human heart. If we are to serve the victims and all those wounded by the crisis, we need to take seriously their wound of resentment and pain and the need for healing.”
Demonstrating his remarkable comprehension of Dr. Enright’s 20-Step pathway to healing, Cardinal Tagle added, “Resentment can be like a disease, that slowly and steadily infects people, until their enthusiasm and energy are gone. With increasing stress, they are prone to heightened anxiety and depression, lowered-self-images, and interpersonal conflicts that arise from the inner brokenness.
“Yet, before we even raise the issue of asking the victims to forgive as part of their healing, we must clarify that we are not suggesting that they should just let it all go, excuse the abuse, just move on. No. Far from it. Without question, we know that when victims come to a moment of forgiving others who have harmed them, a deeper healing takes place and the understandable resentments that build up in their hearts are reconciled. We know that forgiveness is one powerful and even scientifically supported pathway for eliminating pain, resentment and the human heart.
“We as the Church should continue to walk with those profoundly wounded by abuse building trust, providing unconditional love, and repeatedly asking for forgiveness in the full recognition that we do not deserve that forgiveness in the order of justice but can only receive it when it is bestowed as gift and grace in the process of healing.”
In an interview with America: The Jesuit Review following Cardinal Tagle’s talk, Dr. Enright said his research has found that survivors of trauma, including sexual abuse, report lower rates of depression when they include forgiveness in their healing process.
“Injustice is a wound,” Dr. Enright said, “but what happens after that wound is ever greater woundedness. The injustice leads to lots of complications, and the basic complication is what I’ve come to call resentment–resentment that can manifest itself years later in depression, anxiety and other mental health challenges.
While forgiving the offender can help those suffering from the fallout oftrauma, Dr. Enright cautioned that forgiveness can never be expected from those who experience abuse, merely offered as a choice.
“It is not excusing; it is not forgetting; it is not throwing justice under the bus; it may or may not be reconciling,” he said.
According to Vatican News, the goal of the Feb. 21-24 meeting at the Vatican was “that all of the Bishops clearly understand what they need to do to prevent and combat the worldwide problem of the sexual abuse of minors. Pope Francis knows that a global problem can only be resolved with a global response.”
The 61-year-old Cardinal Tagle has been the Archbishop of Manila (where he was born) since December 12, 2011, and became a cardinal less than a year later. He has worked with Dr. Enright, co-founder of the International Forgiveness Institute (IFI), since the two met at the Jerusalem Conference on Forgiveness, organized by the IFI in July, 2017.
Cardinal Tagle is personally leading an initiative in the Philippines to establish Forgiveness Education Programs in every Catholic school throughout the country’s more than 7,000 East Asian islands. Curriculum Guides developed by Dr. Enright for students in pre-k through 12th grade will form the foundation of those programs.♥
Read the full text of Cardinal Tagle’s presentation – The Smell of the Sheep: Knowing their pain and healing their wounds is at the core of the shepherd’s task.
1) Dr. Enright’s Forgiveness and Forgiveness Education Programs:
- 20-Step Forgiveness Healing Process
- Forgiveness Education and Therapy
- Forgiveness Education Curriculum Guides
- Feb. 21 – Feb. 24 Daily Program
- List of All Participants
- Text of All Presentations (plus the concluding speech by Pope Francis – in your choice of 8 languages)