Tagged: “Consequences of Forgiving”

Another Powerful Use for Forgiveness Therapy: Rehabilitating People in Prison

When International Forgiveness Institute founder Dr. Robert Enright first proposed Forgiveness Therapy for incarcerated people in a correctional facility, his approach was met with an equal amount of derision and skepticism. After all, it had never been tried with a prison population anywhere else in the world.

That was 35 years ago. Today, Dr. Enright’s methodology is being lauded–and more importantly, implemented–because of its positive, demonstrated results with people in prison.

As just one example of the current popularity and credibility of Forgiveness Therapy for prisoners, a podcast featuring Dr. Enright’s work entitled “Rehabilitating those who are “Forgotten”: People in Prison was downloaded by individuals in 225 US cities and 22 foreign countries in just the first three weeks after it was recorded on Aug. 9th.

The podcast was hosted and broadcast by Dr. Alexandra Miller, a popular psychologist, family relations specialist, and author who has also featured Dr. Enright on a previous podcast entitled “How to Forgive.”  The most recent 67-minute podcast discusses two rehabilitation research projects recently completed by Dr. Enright  and research colleague Dr. Maria Gambaro, Ph.D., with 103 men in a maximum-security prison in the United States.  Access the podcast.

Dr. Enright began exploring the possibility of sharing his forgiveness interventions with incarcerated individuals in early 2015 and he initiated his first in-prison research project later that year. Project team members included Dr. Gambaro and associates from the University of Wisconsin-Madison, the University of Ljubljana, Slovenia, and the University of the Philippines-Diliman, Philippines.


Why Forgiveness Therapy Works for People in Prison. . .

“Unjust treatment from others can lead to inner pain, which can lead to anger. Unresolved anger can deepen and linger, turning to what we call excessive anger, compromising one’s psychological health and behavior. Excessive anger can turn to rage (very intense, potentially violent anger) which can fuel crime, a lack of cooperation within the prison system, and increased recidivism rates. When the excessive anger is caused by unjust behavior from others, prior to a person’s crime, conviction, and imprisonment, then we can reduce and even eliminate the excessive anger through the empirically-verified treatment of Forgiveness Therapy. Forgiveness Therapy may be one of the few existing mental health approaches which offer the opportunity to be free of excessive anger, perhaps for the first time in the person’s life.”

From the Abstract of Dr. Enright’s first research project (2016) in a maximum-security prison – Proposing Forgiveness Therapy for those in Prison: An Intervention Strategy for Reducing Anger and Promoting Psychological Health.


Both the anecdotal and actual results of that initial project were extremely positive. In one group of 12 inmates receiving Forgiveness Therapy, their anger, anxiety, and depression went down significantly. The men themselves credited the forgiveness group experience for those positive outcomes and the facility’s warden asked that the program continue and expand.

In a similar study in South Korea, Forgiveness Therapy was tested against both an alternative skill streaming program and a no-treatment control group. The 48 female participants were adolescent aggressive victims ranging in age from 12 to 21 years old. After 12 weeks, findings showed that the participants receiving Forgiveness Therapy reported statistically significant decreases in anger, hostile attribution, aggression, and delinquency at posttest and follow-up assessments. Additional results included improved grades at the posttest.

“The reality of Forgiveness Therapy is that as those who are imprisoned learn how to give the gift of forgiveness to those who abused them, their inner world becomes healthier,” Dr. Enright says. “Anger has a way of landing some people in medical facilities and eventually contributes to their serious crimes and long prison terms. Forgiveness Therapy can put an end to that poisonous anger.”

One success story Dr. Enright cites is an imprisoned person he calls Jonah (not his real name). Jonah personally told Dr. Enright, during one of his follow-up visits to the facility, that “forgiveness saved my life.” Jonah also wrote an article for the prison newsletter outlining how confronting his anger enabled him to change his life.

“Jonah has been set free inside even though his body is imprisoned and will be for many years to come,” Dr. Enright explained. “The past pain will not continue to crush him because he has an antidote to the build-up of toxic anger–forgiveness.”

Testimonials from other imprisoned Forgiveness Therapy participants include these:

  •  “I have been imprisoned 6 different times.  I am convinced that on my first arrest, had I read your book, 8 Keys to Forgiveness, I never would have experienced the other 5.”
  • “My first imprisonment occurred when I was 12 years old.  If you can find a way to give 12-year-olds Forgiveness Therapy, they will not end up as I have in maximum security prison.”

Dr. Gambaro, one of those who helped spearhead the initial Forgiveness Therapy work, has as one of her goals to help imprisoned people prepare for re-entry back into society and reduce the chances that they will return to the facility.

“When you look at a population of imprisoned people, 95 percent of them are released back in the community,” Gambaro adds. “No matter what you think of those who are imprisoned, they could be your neighbor, someone on the road, or someone at the gas station. Our goal is to help them reintegrate into society so they don’t reincarcerate.”

Given the positive results demonstrated by his own prison projects, as well as similar results expected  from research starting soon in other areas of the world, Dr. Enright says, “Our aspiration is that Forgiveness Therapy will become a well-accepted protocol for people in prison and eventually become available to all in the prison system who need it.”

Learn more about Dr. Enright’s work with imprisoned people:

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The Common Good of Communities and the Need for Forgiveness: A View from Classical Greek Philosophy

A community is a single, whole entity, with a common purpose, made up of persons, each of whom is a single, whole entity (Maritain, 1994).  A community is not simply the sum total of the individuals in the community (a nominalist view).  Think of a symphonic community of musicians. There is a harmony of persons performing different activities and with different talents in the orchestra.  The group transcends any given part of the group (Wild, 1948).  A symphony orchestra is more than the violin section only.  Communities differ in their norms, beliefs, and actions (what Aristotle calls accidents).

Aristotelian realist philosophy states that communities have a common good (Aristotle, 1999/340 B.C.).  A common good is defined by Plato (2015/330 B.C.) in The Republic as persons growing in the Cardinal Virtues of justice, courage, wisdom, and temperance with these emphasized within the group. These four virtues, in Plato’s view, are not generated by opinion or feelings, but they naturally apply to all persons and all communities. These are understood by reason and chosen by the free will of each person.  In other words, the Cardinal Virtues are not forced upon us.

Let us, then, define these Cardinal Virtues: 1) Justice is offering one’s best to others and the community.  Kreeft (1992, p. 60) describes Platonic justice through the poetic image of music: one strives to be in harmony with others as all cooperate and play a beautiful societal tune. This is the central virtue according to Plato in The Republic.
2) Courage
is going ahead despite fear so that one can do one’s best even when it is difficult to do so.  3) Wisdom is knowing the right response at the right time without having a rule-book nearby.  4) Temperance is balance, avoiding too much or too little in all we do, including practicing the virtues, in pleasure seeking, and work.  In Book IV of his Republic, Plato (2015/330 B.C.) defends the view that all four of these Cardinal Virtues, together, help to mature individuals and to have a well-functioning community in which the greater good then benefits all. 

 As Wild (1948, p. 185) clarifies, the goal of the common good is human perfection for all in the community.  The common good of the community, which includes the good of each person, is considered higher than the individual good.  In other words, individuals can be in service to one another for the good of the other person and the good of the group. 

Now, and importantly for how forgiveness fits into the common good of the community, when people are treated unjustly by others, anger can ensue, which can develop into irritability (Stringaris, Vidal-Ribas, Brotman, & Leibenluft, 2017) and even to hatred.  Forgiving those who are unjust, then, can first reduce the anger, which in turn can reduce the desire for excessive recompense (in the case of justice), and the desire for reckless bravado (in the case of courage).  Without hatred, temperance can be restored, and the clear, rational thinking of wisdom can once again be present. If the common good is to be just, to work in harmony with others, then forgiveness can keep justice in balance, by first reducing toxic anger, and thus preserving the central Cardinal Virtue (justice) in communities. If this is true, then forgiveness needs to play a central part in the common good of communities.

If this is true, then forgiveness needs to be fostered in individuals, families, schools, workplaces, and places of worship……now.

Robert


  • Aristotle. (1999/340 B.C.). Nicomachean ethics. Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press.
  • Kreeft, P. (1992). Back to virtue. San Francisco: Ignatius Press.
  • Maritan, J. (1994). The person and the common good. South Bend, IN: University of Notre Dame Press.
  • Plato, translated by B. Jowett (2015/approximately 330 BC). The complete works of Plato/ the republic. Hastings, East Sussex, United Kingdom: Delphi Classics.
  • Stringaris, A., Vidal-Ribas, P., Brotman, M.A., & Leibenluft, E. (2017). Practitioner review: Definition, recognition, and treatment challenges of irritability in young people. Journal of Child Psychology, 59, 721-739.
  • Wild, J. (1948). Introduction to realistic philosophy. New York: Harper & Row.
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Tribute to a Freedom Fighter – Zindzi Mandela

 South African Broadcasting Centre, Johannesburg, SA, – Zindziswa Mandela, an internationally-known South African freedom fighter, speaker, writer and diplomat who made forgiveness a hallmark of her life, passed away on July 13 after being diagnosed with COVID-19 in a Johannesburg hospital. She was 59-years-old.

“Zindzi” to all who knew her, was the youngest daughter of global peace and forgiveness icons Nelson Mandela  and Winnie Madikizela-Mandela. She had served as her country’s first Ambassador to Denmark  (2015-2020) and had recently been named Ambassador to Liberia. Also known as Zindzi Mandela-Hlongwane (her first husband was Zwelibanzi Hlongwane), she is survived by her four children and her second husband Molapo Motlhajwa.

Born two days before Christmas in 1960, Zindzi was 18 months old when her father was arrested and charged with sabotage and treason. For 20 years, he had directed peaceful, nonviolent acts of defiance against the South African government and its racist policies.  Zindzi was only 3 years old when Nelson was found guilty and sentenced to life in prison where he eventually spent 27 years–much of it at hard labor.

At age 12, Zindzi wrote to the United Nations, urging it to intervene to protect her mother (also an anti-apartheid activist) who was sent to prison for 12-15 months at a time, mostly in solitary confinement and often tortured. In 1976, Zindzi accompanied Winnie when she was banished by the apartheid government to Brandfort, the site of a former concentration camp built by the British during the Second Boer War.

Zindzi and her mother were unceremoniously dumped at house 802 in Brandfort which had no running water, no electricity, no floors and no ceilings. Neither of them could speak the local Sotho language. A few years later the house was firebombed.

Zindzi rose to international prominence in 1985 when the white minority government offered to release Nelson Mandela from prison if he denounced the violence perpetrated by his movement, the African National Congress, against apartheid–the brutal system of racial discrimination that was being enforced in South Africa. Zindzi was the one who read her father’s letter rejecting the offer at a packed Soweto football stadium that was broadcast around the world.

Five years later, Nelson was released from prison and famously decided to forgive his captors and oppressors while moving forward in the spirit of reconciliation, in order to achieve a “rainbow nation at peace with itself and the world.”

Largely through his own negotiations, Zindi’s father persuaded white South Africans to share power with the black majority–an almost unbelievable transformation of the apartheid state into a colorblind democracy that soon after elected him to be its first Black president. He is often called “the father of South Africa” and in 1993 he received a Nobel Peace Prize.

In 1994, Nelson published his autobiography, Long Walk to Freedom: The Autobiography of Nelson Mandela, much of which he had secretly written while in prison. The book inspired the 2013 movie Mandela: Long Walk to Freedomthat tells the complicated and not always uplifting story of the man who went from prisoner to president. Multi-disciplinary African artist Lindiwe Matshikiza portrayed the adult Zindzi in the movie while African child-actress Refilwe Charles played a younger Zindzi. Watch the 2 min. 31 sec. trailer.

After viewing the movie, Zindzi said it “reasonably portrayed” her father’s shift from embracing violence to his post-prison insistence on forgiveness, reconciliation and peace. At the same time, she added, that shift created a good deal of friction between the two before she, too, embraced “the forgiving life.”  

Another popular movie about the Mandela family was Invictus, a 2009 biographical sports drama directed by Clint Eastwood and starring Morgan Freeman (as Nelson Mandela), Matt Damon (the country’s rugby team captain) and Bonnie Henna (the South African television personality who played Zindzi). The story is based on the John Carlin book Playing the Enemy: Nelson Mandela and the Game That Made a Nation about the events in South Africa before and during the 1995 Rugby World Cup.

The tagline for the movie Invictus was: “His people needed a leader. He gave them a champion.” The movie received positive critical reviews and earned Academy Award nominations for Freeman (Best Actor) and Damon (Best Supporting Actor) at that year’s Oscars. According to TSFX, an Australian educational resource center, Invictus “demonstrates the power forgiveness has to not only unite conflicting teams but to reconcile citizens of nations as well.”

Throughout her adult life, Zindzi had embarked on various humanitarian activities as well as participated in local politics while embracing and reinforcing the legacy her father lived. When Nelson Mandela died in 2013, Zindzi spoke at his funeral saying that she and her father repeatedly talked about how they wanted the world to embrace one thing–FORGIVENESS.

Along with her many other accomplishments, Zindzi is the author of Black As I Am, a collection of poems she wrote when she was 16, and a childrens’ book Grandad Mandela authored jointly by Zindzi and Nelson Mandela’s great-grandchildren. That books is included in the Bookroo: Children’s Book Experts list of the best 38 books about forgiveness.

Due to coronavirus lockdown requirements, only a handful of people were able to attend Zindzi’s funeral. South Africa, with 58 million people, is the African country hardest hit by coronavirus with more than 320,000 diagnosed cases and more than 4,600 deaths. Government projections estimate that the death toll could rise to 50,000 by the end of the year.


Learn more about forgiveness as practiced by Zindzi and Nelson Mandela:

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Why do you use stories when teaching children to forgive?

We deliberately use stories so that the child or adolescent is placed into a safe environment. It is not the student, then, who first has to confront wrongdoing. The student gets to quietly observe others who experience injustices and find a way to work out of the pain by forgiving. The story characters, then, serve as role-models in a non-threatening context. Once the students learn what forgiveness is (and is not) and see how story characters forgive, and the consequences of doing so, then they might be interested in trying to forgive. It is their choice.

For additional information, see Why We Should Introduce Kids to the Idea of Forgiveness.
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Forgiveness, I have concluded, is ultimately a selfish act.  We do it for ourselves.  Comments on this?

There is a large difference between what forgiveness is and some of the consequences realized when we forgive.  One of the consequences of forgiving others is that we, ourselves, begin to feel better.  Yet, these more positive feelings toward the self are not what forgiveness actually is.  Forgiveness is a deliberate, self-chosen virtue of being good to those who are not good to us.  This, as you can see by the definition, is focused, not on the self, but instead on the other, on the one who hurt us.  Thus, forgiving is not a selfish act or even a self-interested act, but one of the consequences is that forgiving helps the self.  This is not selfish to want to feel better and at the same time we should not confuse what forgiveness is and one of its consequences.

For additional information, see Forgiveness Defined.

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