Tagged: “forgiving communities”

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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“FORGIVENESS IS A HEALING PROCESS. . .”

This quote is from The Gate of Light, a 2018-book by Lars Muhl, a Danish writer, mystic and musician. After years as a successful singer-songwriter in Denmark, Muhl began his self-studies of comparative religion, esoteric knowledge and philosophy and since 1988 he has focused on Aramaic, Christian and Jewish mysticism. He has written numerous books on these subjects and hosts workshops and lectures in Denmark and around the world.

Both the quote and the book were referred to the International Forgiveness Institute (IFI) by Ivy Huang, a writer and mystic in Vancouver, BC, Canada. Ivy is a long-time financial supporter of the IFI who donates through a PayPal monthly recurring payment. Ivy says she discovered the IFI while researching the etymology (origin) of the word ‘immunity’ which roughly translates to ‘forgiveness of disease’ in Sanskrit.

“Forgiveness–the release of unresolved memories and emotions–can lead to not only greater psychological well-being, but also physical benefits,” Ivy says. “On a grander scale, I believe that forgiveness can grant us collective peace.”

Like Ivy, you too can help make a difference in the world by supporting the IFI’s Forgiveness  Education Programs for grade school students now operating in the U.S. and more than 30 countries around the world. Click the DONATE button to take a stand and SEND YOUR GIFT OF LOVE.

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First Ebola, Now Coronavirus: Liberia Suffers Again

Monrovia, Liberia – More than 4,800 people died from Ebola between 2014 and 2016 in Liberia—the West African country hardest hit by the outbreak. Now, just four years later, the country of 4.8 million people is facing a new threat — the deadly uncertainty of the coronavirus epidemic.

Government officials in the capital city of Monrovia, where confirmed cases are just starting to ramp up, are optimistically reporting that Liberia can draw on its Ebola experience to overcome COVID-19. Doctors in the trenches, however, still fear the country is woefully under-equipped for a large outbreak.

Already decimated by back-to-back civil wars from 1989 to 2003, Liberia’s economy is still reeling from the impact of Ebola. About half of all Liberian’s live on less than two US dollars a day (1.75 euros), according to the World Bank. The healthcare system is generally acknowledged as underfunded, fragile, and lacking the Personal Protective Equipment (PPE) needed for healthcare workers.

Liberian authorities are acutely aware of the risk. Coronavirus cases remain relatively low for now, but they are rising rapidly. In neighboring Guinea—which was also hit by Ebola, and which suffers many of the same problems—infections have skyrocketed.

Perhaps most troubling, nearly one-third (28%) of all the confirmed coronavirus cases in Liberia have been among health workers themselves, according to the National Public Health Institution of Liberia (NPHIL). The organization’s director has said that fighting the virus outbreak will be difficult because the entire country has only one ventilator to help critical COVID-19 patients breathe.

On April 11, Liberian President George Weah declared a 14-day State of Emergency and locked down Monrovia, the country’s largest city with 1.5 million residents. Liberia’s legislature recently extended the country’s State of Emergency to 60 days. Despite those stay-at-home orders, confusion has reigned as false information about the coronavirus has been disseminated causing panic in some of the city’s overcrowded districts and frequent clashes with security officials.

A police officer tries to clear the streets of a market on the first day of lockdown to stop the spread of COVID-19 in Monrovia.

Doctors Without Borders – Médecins Sans Frontières (MSF) teams are racing to respond to the coronavirus pandemic not only in Liberia but also in the more than 70 countries where they run existing programs.  Confirmed COVID-19 cases in Liberia have now risen past 100 while the number throughout Africa now exceeds 30,000.

Worldwide, the response to COVID-19 has relied heavily on large-scale lockdowns of populations and physical distancing measures, with the aim of reducing transmission and preventing health systems from becoming overwhelmed. But for people dependent on daily activities for their very survival, such as day laborers and those living in Monrovia’s overcrowded settings, self-isolation and lockdowns are not realistic.

“Most recommendations for protecting  people against the virus and slowing down its spread simply cannot be implemented here,” says Cristian Reynders, a field coordinator for MSF operations. “How can you ask homeless people to stay at home to avoid infection? Those living in tents in camps don’t have homes.”

Soap is a luxury in Liberia and usually is not found at public handwashing stations like this one.

That means, of course, that the COVID-19 playbook that wealthy nations have come to know—stay home as much as possible, keep a six foot distance from others, wash hands often—will be nearly impossible to follow in much of the developing world. Even hand-washing is problematic in Liberia where 35% of residents do not have regular access to soap and water, according to the World Health Organization (WHO).

Public hand washing stations in Liberia—which were effective in the fight against Ebola—are often as simple as two buckets—one filled with chlorinated water, and one to catch the wastewater. Sanitation, however, is as problematic in big cities as it is in rural areas. 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.


The fight against coronavirus will not be won until every country in the world can control the disease. But not every country has the same ability
to protect people.

Dr. Wafaa El-Sadr,
Director of ICA, a global health organization at Columbia University in New York City


Monrovia residents who display coronavirus systems are currently taken to a military hospital where they—along with other “high risk contacts” are tested and, if necessary, treated, according to the Acting Director General of the NPHIL. According to the organization, Liberia has only one lab in the entire country that is available for COVID-19 testing.

Bishop Kortu Brown with students prior to the lockdown that closed all Liberia’s schools.

Because the lockdown included the closing of schools across Liberia on March 16, Forgiveness Education classes and after-school forgiveness programs have also been disrupted. Education providers, however, including those working with the International Forgiveness Institute (IFI), are racing to launch remote learning options as students once again face the prospect of staying out of school for months.

“We are now using an extension-outreach approach so children can continue to learn about forgiveness,” says Bishop Kortu Brown, Chairman/CEO of Church Aid and national coordinator of the Liberia Forgiveness Education Program that was established by IFI-co-founder Dr. Robert Enright more than 8 years ago. “Instead of teaching students in a classroom, our teachers prepare notes that are distributed to children at home. Parents then help deliver the message and assess the performance of their children.”

Forgiveness Workshops like this one in December have been suspended because of the lockdown in Liberia. Bishop Brown (center in green-white shirt) led the session.

Bishop Brown, who is also president of both the Liberia Council of Churches (LLC) and the Inter-Religious Council of Liberia (IRCL), said those organizations are spearheading “a massive coronavirus awareness campaign,” helping train COVID-19 contact tracers, and distributing food and hygiene materials.

“Meanwhile,” Bishop Brown added,  “we call on all churches and Liberians, in general, to continue to observe the preventive measures and to continue to pray for the safety and wellbeing of the country.

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Is wanting to forgive for your own health selfish?  Is it effective?

Suppose you hurt your knee while running. Further suppose that you want to make an appointment at Sports Medicine to address the issue. Is this selfish? There is a large difference between being selfish (absorbed with yourself at the expense of others) and engaging in self-care (attending to your needs without neglecting others’ needs). Forgiving is good self-care. Our research shows a cause-and-effect relationship between learning to forgive and improvement in heart health for cardiac patients:

Waltman, M.A., Russell, D.C., Coyle, C.T., Enright, R.D., Holter, A.C., & Swoboda, C. (2009).  The effects of a forgiveness intervention on patients with coronary artery disease. Psychology and Health, 24, 11-27.

Our research shows a cause-and-effect relationship between learning to forgive and improvement in fibromyalgia symptoms:

Lee, Y-R & Enright, R.D. (2014) A forgiveness intervention for women with fibromyalgia who were abused in childhood: A pilot study. Spirituality in Clinical Practice, 1, 203-217. doi: 10.1037/scp0000025.

A recent meta-analysis showed a statistically significant correlation between degree of forgiveness and a host of different physical issues:

Lee, Y.R. & Enright, R.D. (2019): A meta-analysis of the association between forgiveness of others and physical health. Psychology & Health, 34, 626-643.

So, yes, forgiving does seem advantageous for one’s physical health.

For additional information, see Forgiveness for Individuals.

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A Reflection on Forgiveness and the Forgotten People

As I look out the window of the hotel in downtown London, awaiting a flight soon to the Middle East, I see a bustling populace moving quickly……except for one man who is shuffling along slowly, quite in contrast to the others. As I watch, he stops, faces a passerby, and obviously is asking for funds. He is ignored. He shuffles a few more steps, approaches another, and is met with the same non-response.

His pattern is repeated over and over. I counted at least 15 approaches and 15 rejections. He then disappeared from view. I think he was invisible to many that day, even to those who were within view of him.

How we bristle when rejected by a co-worker who is not showing respect today or by others who do not share our goals. The man, refused by others over and over, probably felt wounded by the rejections.

The dear man in London was continuously rebuffed, and he kept trying……until after awhile he simply stopped asking. This sequence of approach-and-avoidance reminds me of Ralph McTell’s now classic song, Streets of London (originally released in 1969 and re-released in 2017):

(c) The Bowes Museum; Supplied by The Public Catalogue Foundation

Have you seen the old man
In the closed-down market
Kicking up the paper,
With his worn out shoes?
In his eyes you see no pride
Hand held loosely at his side
Yesterday’s paper telling
      yesterday’s news…..

In the all-night cafe
A
t a quarter past eleven,
Same old man sitting there on                       his own
Looking at the world
Over the rim of his teacup,
Each tea lasts an hour
Then he wanders home alone……

In our winter city,
The rain cries a little pity
For one more forgotten hero
And a world that doesn’t care.

The word “forgotten” catches my attention. That was the exact word used by imprisoned people serving life sentences with whom we spoke over a month ago. “Once you are here [in a maximum-security prison],” one gentleman explained to me, “you are forgotten.”

The forgotten people……

Yet, our forgiveness studies have taught me this: All people, regardless of circumstance, have inherent or built-in worth. The man, so continually rejected today on the street in London, has as much worth as the royalty in the palace. The one in maximum security prison for life has as much worth as the warden.

And in all likelihood, many of “the forgotten people” have stories to tell us of how they, themselves, were mistreated prior to their current plight. They have stories that include their own particular kind of pain, heartache, feelings that are part of the human condition. We need to hear those stories, to acknowledge their unique pain, their responses to that pain, and offer those suffering injustices from the past a chance to forgive. The forgiveness, for some, might be life changing as our science over the past three decades has shown for others.

We must not let forgiveness be the forgotten virtue.

We must not let the homeless and the imprisoned be the forgotten people.

Robert

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