Tagged: “Communities”

Liberia Seeks Peace Through Forgiveness

A groundbreaking Forgiveness Education program initiated by the International Forgiveness Institute (IFI) has positively impacted the lives of more than 8,000 people in Liberia, West Africa, over the past five years. The objective of that program is to “help plant the seed of forgiveness in the hearts of people in post-war communities to spur reconciliation and national cohesion.”
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The Liberia Forgiveness Education Program (LFEP) is an initiative organized and funded by the IFI in conjunction with Church Aid Inc. (CAI), the relief and development arm of the Apostolic Pentecostal Church International. Liberia was targeted for the program in the aftermath of a horrendous 15-year civil war that resulted in the deaths of an estimated 250,000 Liberians from 1989-2004 and the displacement of more than a million others from their homes.
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“There is still a serious need to bring closure to the civil war and that means reconciliation through forgiveness,” according to Bishop Kortu K. Brown, Chairman/CEO of Church Aid and National Coordinator of the LFEP. “If Liberians will forge peace and reconciliation, they must forgive. Without forgiveness there will be no genuine reconciliation.” 
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Forgiveness Education class at Mother Tegeste Stewart Apostolic Pentecostal School in Brewerville, Monrovia, Liberia.

Bishop Brown has been working with IFI co-founder Dr. Robert Enright to implement elementary and secondary school Forgiveness Education initiatives (including for all 500 students at the Mother Tegeste Stewart Apostolic Pentecostal School in Brewerville), after-school forgiveness education clubs, and Sunday School forgiveness lessons. Since 2017, Group Forgiveness interventions also have been incorporated into the LFEP thanks to Bishop Brown’s significant role in governmental affairs.

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Last year, for example, Bishop Brown was appointed  to the Nimba County Conflict Resolution Committee by Liberian President Dr. George Manneh Weah. That Committee mediates post-civil war land disputes that have recently become violent. Bishop Brown and Dr. Enright then jointly developed a strategy for the Committee’s initial session called “Reconciliation Through Forgiveness: A Program Concept for Community Bridge-Building” that included a 3-day awareness workshop on healing and reconciliation for 150 community, religious, and governmental leaders. 
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“I suggested that approach, in all humility, because dialogue will not be fruitful if those engaging in the dialogue are still very angry about past grievances,” Dr. Enright explained. “Forgiveness is a scientifically-supported way of eliminating that anger.” 

Dr. Robert Enright (via Skype) and Bishop Kortu Brown, LFEP national coordinator, hosted a forgiveness seminar called “Renewing Communities Through Forgiveness Education” on May 13, 2022 in Brewerville, Liberia.

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Bishop Brown said he totally agrees with Dr. Enright’s assessment: “I think that interventions like the Enright Group Forgiveness process are critical to bringing peace and harmony to the communities we seek to serve in Liberia.”
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In addition to being Chairman/CEO of CAI, Bishop Brown is the General Overseer of the New Water in the Desert Apostolic Pentecostal Church in Brewerville, and president of both the Liberia Council of Churches (LLC) and the Inter-Religious Council of Liberia (IRCL). Despite dealing with thousands of local deaths due to the 2014-2016 Ebola outbreak and the nation-wide lockdown of schools due to COVID-19, Bishop Brown has persistently pursued forgiveness initiatives in the four-county area that encompasses the capital city of Monrovia.
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Liberia is Africa’s oldest independent nation and one of the country’s poorest. It was established by freed slaves from the United States in 1847. With 75% of its population being youth under the age of 25, about half of all Liberians live on less than two US dollars a day, according to the World Bank. In Monrovia, less than half the city’s 1.5 million people have access to working toilets, according to Liberia’s Water and Sewer Corporation.
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“Our program for peace, based on forgiveness education, is possibly one of the major answers to societal and individual unrest within communities beset by poverty and violence,” Dr. Enright added. “I believe it is the missing piece to the peace puzzle.”
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A Reflection on the International Educational Conference on Agape Love and Forgiveness, Madison, Wisconsin, July 19-20, 2022

Main Point 1: Despite cross-cultural differences, forgiveness has a common meaning across historical time and across cultures.

Main Point 2: To my knowledge, there never has been a conference on agape and forgiveness before this one.

Main Point 3: It is time for modern culture to reawaken the ancient moral virtues of agape and forgiveness for the good of individuals, families, and communities.

After over a year of detailed preparation by Jacqueline Song and the dedicated team, the agape love and forgiveness conference is now history.  That history is preserved in the videos which have captured each talk presented at the conference (the videos are available here: Agape Love and Forgiveness Conference Videos).

I have at least three take-away points as I reflect on this conference:

  1. The cultural diversity was strong, with presentations by people from Israel, Northern Ireland, the Philippines, Taiwan, and the United States. Despite the wide cultural differences, one thing was clear: The meaning of both agape and forgiveness do not change as we get on an airplane and visit cultures that are far away from one another. Instead, the core meaning of agape remains in that as a person loves in this way, it is for the other person(s) and the expression of this love can be challenging for the one who willingly offers it.  The core meaning of forgiveness remains as a person, unjustly treated by others, a) makes the free will decision to be good to those who acted unfairly, b) sees the inherent worth in those others, c) feels some compassion for them, d) willingly bears the pain on those others’ behalf, and e) offers goodness of some kind toward them.  Yes, those who forgive may not reach all five of these characteristics, but they remain the goal, that to which we want to strive if excellence in forgiveness is our end point.  Yes, there are important cultural nuances as one Islamic educator introduced forgiveness to the students with quotations from the Qu’ran and as an educator from a Christian school opened the New Testament to the students.  The rich diversity had a glue that bound all together—-the objective reality of what these two moral virtues mean across historical time and across cultures.  Objective meaning met cultural nuance at the conference.
  1. Unless I missed something in my travels with forgiveness over the past 37 years, I do not think there ever was an international conference that focused specifically on the moral virtues of agape and forgiveness. If this is true, why is it the case? What has happened within humanity so that these two key moral virtues, so prominent for example in Medieval times, would be characteristically ignored in educational contexts with children and academic contexts in university settings?  I think the transition from accepting objective truth about moral virtues (for example, justice is what it is no matter where we are in the world even when there are cultural nuances) has given way to an assumption that relativism is the new truth and so we all can choose the virtues we like and define them as we wish.  Do you see the contradiction in such a statement?  In the abandonment of objective reality that there is a truth, the new thinking is that relativism (in which there is no truth) is the new objective truth.  It is time to reintroduce communities to the moral virtues, which we all share as part of our humanity.  We need to know what these virtues are by definition and how we can give them away to others for their good, for our good, and for the good of communities.
  1. When I look across the globe at communities that have experienced conflict, that now carry the weight of the effects of decades and even centuries of conflict, I have come to the conclusion that a reawakening of the moral virtues of agape and forgiveness is vital if we are to heal from the effects of war and continued conflict with all of its mistrust and stereotyping of the human condition. Agape and forgiveness challenge us to see the personhood in everyone with whom we interact, even those who are cruel to us.  This does not mean that we cave in to injustices because the moral virtue of justice requires fairness from all.  The healing of hearts, families, communities, and nations will be better accomplished if people now can shake off the dust from agape and forgiveness, that have been so ignored in modernism, and find a new way with the old virtues.  It seems to me that agape and forgiveness, as a team, is a powerful combination for the healing of trauma for individuals and relationships.  I fear a continuation of the same old conflicts in hearts and in interactions if we do not go back and rediscover the life-giving virtues of agape love and forgiveness and bring them forward now in schools, families, houses of worship, and workplaces.

Robert

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A Reflection on the International Educational Conference on Agape Love and Forgiveness, Madison, Wisconsin, July 19-20, 2022

After over a year of detailed preparation by Jacqueline Song and the dedicated team, the agape love and forgiveness conference is now history.  That history is preserved in the videos which have captured each talk presented at the conference (the videos are available here: Agape Love and Forgiveness Conference Videos).

I have at least three take-away points as I reflect on this conference:

  1. The cultural diversity was strong, with presentations by people from Israel, Northern Ireland, the Philippines, Taiwan, and the United States. Despite the wide cultural differences, one thing was clear: The meaning of both agape and forgiveness do not change as we get on an airplane and visit cultures that are far away from one another. Instead, the core meaning of agape remains in that as a person loves in this way, it is for the other person(s) and the expression of this love can be challenging for the one who willingly offers it.  The core meaning of forgiveness remains as a person, unjustly treated by others, a) makes the free will decision to be good to those who acted unfairly, b) sees the inherent worth in those others, c) feels some compassion for them, d) willingly bears the pain on those others’ behalf, and e) offers goodness of some kind toward them.  Yes, those who forgive may not reach all five of these characteristics, but they remain the goal, that to which we want to strive if excellence in forgiveness is our end point.  Yes, there are important cultural nuances as one Islamic educator introduced forgiveness to the students with quotations from the Qu’ran and as an educator from a Christian school opened the New Testament to the students.  The rich diversity had a glue that bound all together—-the objective reality of what these two moral virtues mean across historical time and across cultures.  Objective meaning met cultural nuance at the conference.
  1. Unless I missed something in my travels with forgiveness over the past 37 years, I do not think there ever was an international conference that focused specifically on the moral virtues of agape and forgiveness. If this is true, why is it the case? What has happened within humanity so that these two key moral virtues, so prominent for example in Medieval times, would be characteristically ignored in educational contexts with children and academic contexts in university settings?  I think the transition from accepting objective truth about moral virtues (for example, justice is what it is no matter where we are in the world even when there are cultural nuances) has given way to an assumption that relativism is the new truth and so we all can choose the virtues we like and define them as we wish.  Do you see the contradiction in such a statement?  In the abandonment of objective reality that there is a truth, the new thinking is that relativism (in which there is no truth) is the new objective truth.  It is time to reintroduce communities to the moral virtues, which we all share as part of our humanity.  We need to know what these virtues are by definition and how we can give them away to others for their good, for our good, and for the good of communities.
  1. When I look across the globe at communities that have experienced conflict, that now carry the weight of the effects of decades and even centuries of conflict, I have come to the conclusion that a reawakening of the moral virtues of agape and forgiveness is vital if we are to heal from the effects of war and continued conflict with all of its mistrust and stereotyping of the human condition. Agape and forgiveness challenge us to see the personhood in everyone with whom we interact, even those who are cruel to us.  This does not mean that we cave in to injustices because the moral virtue of justice requires fairness from all.  The healing of hearts, families, communities, and nations will be better accomplished if people now can shake off the dust from agape and forgiveness, that have been so ignored in modernism, and find a new way with the old virtues.  It seems to me that agape and forgiveness, as a team, is a powerful combination for the healing of trauma for individuals and relationships.  I fear a continuation of the same old conflicts in hearts and in interactions if we do not go back and rediscover the life-giving virtues of agape love and forgiveness and bring them forward now in schools, families, houses of worship, and workplaces.

Robert

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Perseverance versus Novelty in Establishing Forgiveness Programs

What is one of the biggest impediments to forgiveness interventions in schools, homes, and organizations?

Having implemented research-based and service programs of forgiveness since about 1990, I can say that one of the most significant challenges is the quest for novelty, for that new, cutting edge activity that fills people with a short-term rush of enthusiasm.  When novelty becomes an end in and of itself, it is then that it becomes an impediment to the slow and steady build up of the moral virtue of forgiveness in hearts, homes, and communities.  This is the case because the newly popular can extinguish that which has been there for years.

The philosopher Blaise Pascal emphasized that one of the major distractions to growing as persons is what he called diversion.  In his book, Pensees, Pascal spends a lot of time discussing this issue of diversion, or being so busy with whatever is preoccupying the person at present that there is no time to contemplate what is important in life.

Consider this quotation from  #171 in the Pensees: “The only thing which consoles us for our miseries is diversion, and yet this is the greatest of our miseries.  For it is this which principally hinders us from reflecting upon ourselves and which makes us insensibly ruin ourselves. Without this we should be in a state of weariness, and this weariness would spur us to seek a more solid means of escaping from it.  But diversion amuses us, and leads us unconsciously to death.”

So, even if a family or an organization or even a community discovers the beauty of forgiveness and implements it, then the challenge is this: How do we keep forgiveness present to us instead of latching on to the newest fad, the newest game, the newest social cause that will fade when the next newest-whatever emerges in about a year or two?

This idea of persevering in forgiveness is vital according to Aristotle, who reminds us that it takes much time and effort to grow in any of the moral virtues.  We start with questions about what it even means to forgive.  As we work out our misconceptions (it is not excusing or automatically reconciling with someone who is harmful), we then begin to practice forgiveness, applying it to those challenging situations in which we are treated unjustly.  This can occur in schools as well.  Yet, once the new mathematics textbook appears, or the new anti-bullying approach, or the new field trip guidelines, forgiveness as a part of schooling can quietly fade away, as a rowboat does, from the dock, as the moorings are slowing and imperceptibly loosened from the wooden piling.  Forgiveness can slowly drift out to sea without anyone even noticing.

The first step in persevering with forgiveness once it is planted in a group is to realize that it could very easily fade away.  This kind of consciousness must not be lost.  As a second strategy, we all need to take a lesson from Pascal and know that diversion is not necessarily our friend, especially when it comes to growing courageously in the moral virtues and then persevering in practicing them.

Long live forgiveness, even in the face of the temptation of adding more and more diversion into our lives.

Robert

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Benefits of Classroom Forgiveness Education Confirmed by New Groundbreaking Study

The first-ever meta-analysis of classroom Forgiveness Education programs, a study involving nearly 1,500 grade school students in 10 countries, has determined that such programs “effectively decrease anger and increase forgiveness among children and adolescents. In addition, results indicated that forgiveness education interventions have robust effects that remain even after the termination of the program.” 
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Published this month in Child Development1 (Volume 93, Issue 2, March/April 2022), the critique analyzed 20 randomized intervention studies of forgiveness education programs that were implemented during school years 1996 through 2021. These studies spanned demographically diverse geographic areas including North America, Europe, Asia, and the Middle East.

The research, “A meta‐analysis of forgiveness education interventions’ effects on forgiveness and anger in children and adolescents,” was conducted by University of Wisconsin-Madison researchers Hannah Rapp and Jiahe Wang Xu (both graduate students in the Dept. of Educational Psychology), and Dr. Robert Enright, educational psychology professor and co-founder of the International Forgiveness Institute (IFI).

Other significant observations and findings in the just-published report include:

  • Children and adolescents inexplicably experience hurt and conflict in their interpersonal relationships and can “benefit from learning more about what forgiveness is and the process of how to forgive.”
  • Forgiveness education interventions “are effective regardless of whether participants have experienced severe or mild offenses or attend schools in economically disadvantaged areas.”
  • Programs of both short and long durations “can lead to significant positive change in anger and forgiveness outcomes.”
  • Children who forgive are more accepted by their peers.
  • Positive results for students “echoed findings from previous reviews of forgiveness interventions with primarily adult populations.”
  • Forgiveness education interventions are “significantly effective” whether they are facilitated by schoolteachers or by researchers.
  • The forgiveness education curriculum and process developed by Dr. Enright2 and the IFI “yielded significant effects.”

Overall, the analysis presents strong evidence that “children and adolescents can benefit from forgiveness education interventions.” Read the full meta-analysis report.
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1 Child Development is a 92-year-old bimonthly scientific journal published by the Society for Research in Child Development (SRCD). It is a vital source of information not only for researchers and theoreticians, but for a broad range of psychiatrists and psychologists, educators, and social workers in more than 60 countries around the world.

The Forgiveness Education curricula developed by Dr. Enright and the IFI for pre-k through 12th grade students is based on children’s story books. Those stories teach about forgiveness and other moral virtues and equip children with the knowledge of how to forgive a specific person who offends if they choose to do so. Lessons begin by educating participants about the five concepts that underlay forgiveness: inherent worth, kindness, respect, generosity, and agape love. During the program, participants read and discuss several age and culture-appropriate stories that display forgiveness between characters such as in The Tale of Despereaux by Kate DiCamillo and in Horton Hears a Who! by Dr. Seuss.

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