Tagged: “forgiving communities”
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:
- 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.
- 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.
- 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.
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.
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.
2 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.
Dr. Robert Enright and the organization he founded, the International Forgiveness Institute (IFI), undertook their first foray into the peace movement in 1999. That was the year they worked with a national team led by the Rev. Jessie Jackson that convinced Yugoslav (now Serbia) President Slobodan Milošević to release three captive American soldiers during the Kosovo Conflict.
In 2002, Dr. Enright initiated a forgiveness education program in Belfast, Northern Ireland that has now been in operation for 20 consecutive years. His Belfast work is featured in the award-winning documentary The Power of Forgiveness. Dr. Enright started similar programs in Liberia, West Africa in 2011 and in Israel-Palestine in 2013. He now has such programs in more than 30 contentious regions around the world and an IFI Branch Office in Pakistan at the Government College University Lahore (GCU-Lahore, Pakistan).
Eight years ago, Dr. Enright was invited by the United Nations to join an international “Expert Group” tasked with responsibility for developing intervention models aimed at ending gender-based violence across the globe. His initial presentation to the United Nations Population Fund in New York City was titled “Forgiveness as a Peace Tool.” Just three weeks later, delegates at the United Nations Peace Conference in Geneva, Switzerland, voted to embrace forgiveness and education as essential tools in peacebuilding.
Since those early years of his career, Dr. Enright has developed scores of peace-education initiatives and research projects in some of the world’s most contentious areas. Two of those projects were published recently involving teachers in the case of China and adult clients in the case of Pakistan. Other research projects have demonstrated that children as young as 4-5 years are capable of absorbing the basics of forgiveness and making it a natural part of their early life.
In 2015, Dr. Enright accompanied Eva Mozes Kor, a survivor of the Holocaust, on a guest tour of US radio and television stations to promote peace through forgiveness. Ms. Kor, with her twin sister Miriam, was subjected to human experimentation under Josef Mengele at the Auschwitz concentration camp during World War II yet she publicly forgave her tormentors.
During that tour, Ms. Kor repeatedly used this axiom:
“Let’s work together to heal the world through forgiveness. Not bullets, not bombs. Just forgiveness. Anger is a seed for war. Forgiveness is a seed for peace.”
In a 2018 guest blog that Ms. Kor wrote for this website, “My Forgiveness,” she writes that forgiveness can “improve life for everyone in the world.” Read Dr. Enright’s eulogy to Ms. Kor (upon her death on July 4, 2019): “In Memoriam: Eva Mozes Kor and Her Independence Day.”
In recognition of his contributions to the peace movement, Dr. Enright was awarded the Distinguished Peace Educator of the Year Award (2008-2009), from the Wisconsin Institute for Peace and Conflict Studies. In 2012, he received the Cecil Findley Distinguished Service Award for international peacemaking and was named a Paul Harris Fellow by Rotary International in 2016. Three years later he was awarded the 2019 Mazzuchelli Medallion from Edgewood College along with a pronouncement that “forgiveness, relevant in every age, may be one of the clearest paths to peace, individually and collectively, for our world today.”
While Dr. Enright was one of the first forgiveness research investigators to envision a path to peace through forgiveness, he says there is still much more work that needs to be done.
“We must double our efforts so that peace and forgiveness become a team that is routinely tapped in matters of conflict,” Dr. Enright says. “The flames of resentment can be extinguished by sound forgiveness programs.”
Read Dr. Enright’s essay in Psychology Today, “Reflecting on 30 Years of Forgiveness Science.”
I think it is so important to foster forgiveness in families. Children need to learn to forgive. What advice can you give to parents for this?
Yes, I agree that it is of vital importance that this happen so that we can fortify children against the injustices that likely will occur when they are adults. Knowing how to forgive can be a protection against the build-up of unhealthy anger. Here is a link to one of my essays on the Psychology Today website that gives details on how a family can become a forgiving community:
We talk about forgiveness as if it has universal meaning, but should we be talking about early 21st Century forgiveness in Western cultures, rather than a generic “forgiveness?” Should we presume that forgiveness is not the same everywhere and across all time of human history?
Although there are wide cultural and religious differences among the Hawaiian family ritual of Ho-O-Pono-Pono, the discipline of forgiveness in the Jewish customs of Yom Kipper, and the sacrament of Penance within Catholicism, this does not mean that each is dissimilar at the core. The behaviors manifested in these three kinds of forgiveness differ, but all three are concerned about confronting injustice with love. All three acknowledge that there is right and wrong; all three acknowledge resentment or some kind of moral response to wrong; and all three see forgiveness as a merciful response of goodness toward the offender(s). At their core, these three seemingly disparate cultures and/or religions share much in common.
Across time, we have ancient stories of forgiveness that do not differ from the present day. In Hebrew writings, there is Joseph forgiving his brothers, and we see an unconditional, merciful response to their injustices against him. In Christian scripture, there is the father of the prodigal son offering him acceptance and love in the face of injustice. In Muslim writings there is a parallel story to Joseph, also showing mercy in the face of wrongdoing. Hindu, Buddhist, Confucian, and other ancient literature are more alike than different in describing what forgiveness is. The preserved meaning has not changed to this day.
Might we come across a culture that defines forgiveness very differently than those above? Might we come across a culture that condemns forgiveness as unnecessary or unimportant? Perhaps, but it seems just as likely to find a culture that de-values justice and honors cheating and lying and murder. No such culture to date has been found. While it is true that different cultures might give different examples of what constitutes a just action, all cultures honor just action.
Is forgiveness the same thing in all cultures and times? Despite wide cultural nuances, it appears to be so.