With Thanksgiving now under our belt and Christmas already being unwrapped, readers of the New York Times are being encouraged to make forgiveness an ongoing part of their holiday tradition.
An article in the Nov. 24 edition features Dr. Robert Enright and explains why forgiveness could be anyone’s “2021 holiday miracle.” The article, “This Thanksgiving, Please Pass the Forgiveness,” was written by four-time New York Times bestselling author Kelly Corrigan who is also host of the popular interview series Tell Me More on PBS.
“Dr. Robert Enright, co-founder of the International Forgiveness Institute, which develops curriculums for schools, defines forgiveness as simply ‘choosing to be good to those who are not good to us,’” according to the article. “He does not recommend adjudicating the hurt. Better to skip the picking over, the enumerating, the case-making. Direct your energy to this transformative move: recognizing the inherent worth in the other.”
To support her forgiveness-for-the-holidays premise, Corrigan says “there’s research showing a link between facing our own flaws and finding our way to forgive others.”
The research she sites is a 2013 study conducted by psychology professors at Sakarya University in Sakarya, Turkey, that liberally references the work of Dr. Enright and many of his forgiveness research associates including:
- The Human Development Study Group (University of Wisconsin-Madison) formed by Dr. Enright in 1994.
- Richard Fitzgibbons, a psychiatrist who co-authored Forgiveness Therapy with Dr. Enright.
- Catherine Coyle, who with Dr. Enright focused on pregnancy and abortion.
- Joanna North, a forgiveness pioneer and philosopher who co-authored Exploring Forgiveness with Dr. Enright.
- Gayle Reed whose work with Dr. Enright focused on forgiveness with emotionally abused women.
According to Corrigan, the painful conflicts that pass between family members over a lifetime often become inflamed during the holidays—but they don’t have to. She ends her article this way:
“If you’re looking for a 2021 holiday miracle, here’s a big one: At every Thanksgiving table, there are people who have managed to look past all kinds of wrongs, people who engage in a voluntary amnesty that marries an acceptance of our own flawed ordinariness and the truth that every last one of us is more than our most unjust behaviors. At every table, people are breaking bread, raising a glass, letting go.”
With more than 5.65 million paid subscribers to its digital (online) edition, the New York Times is one of the most widely read newspapers in the world. It has been a fixture of American print news for more than 150 years and has won far more Pulitzer Prizes (130) than any other media company in U.S. history.
Forgiving is much more than just calming down. This is the case because some people calm down because they have dismissed from their life the one who was unfair. When a person calms down, there is not necessarily a sense of goodness toward the other, only an inner state that is no longer angry. Forgiveness is an active virtue of trying to be good to those who were not good to the forgiver. A calm inner world is not necessarily that.
I just do not have the confidence to forgive one of my parents from issues of long ago. I keep telling myself that I will not be able to get it done. What can you suggest to me that might boost my confidence?
First, I suggest that you look back on your life to concrete examples of your forgiving others. Have you had at least one successful attempt in your past? If so, you have shown yourself that you can forgive.
Even if you have never forgiven someone, you can start now with someone who is easier to forgive than your father. Try to recall someone who has hurt you in the past, but who has not hurt you severely. Start the forgiveness process with him or her and keep at it until you have forgiven. Once you succeed with this person, then try another, again who has not hurt you gravely.
Once you have successfully practiced forgiveness on these two people, keep in mind the path that you walked and now apply it to your parent. The practice may give you the confidence you need.
What advice do you have for parents when there are conflicts between siblings? What are the dangers to be avoided?
Sometimes, when parents want the children to forgive one another, the parent engages in a superficial ritual such as this:
“What do you say?” (directed toward the one who acted unjustly).
The parent waits for the words, “I am sorry.”
The parent then asks the one who was hurt by the other, “Now what do you say?”
The parent waits of the words, “I forgive you.”
Parents have to be careful that they do not equate forgiveness, in the children’s minds, with a language-ritual of “sorry” and “I forgive.” This is the case because forgiveness originates in the heart and the one who was treated badly might need a cooling-off period. It is best if the children are drawn both to forgiveness and to being forgiven rather than being forced into these.
Yes, here is the reference to a successful forgiveness education program in Northern Ireland in which parents taught forgiveness education to their children:
Magnuson, C. M., Enright, R. D., Fulmer, B., & Magnuson, K. A. (2009). Waging Peace in Belfast-IV Journal of Research in Education, 19, 57-65.