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.
A just-published scientific study has documented significant mental health benefits derived by Ukrainian citizens who practice forgiveness compared to those who are less willing to forgive. Those findings, according to the authors, will be especially useful for providing appropriate psychological assistance for those adversely affected by the ongoing war with Russia.
Although the Russian invasion of Ukraine began on Feb. 24 of this year, the war in eastern Ukraine has been ongoing since 2014 when a political coup overthrew the pro-Russian government. Since then, more than 14,000 people have been killed in the eastern Ukraine region of Donbas in warfare between ethnic Russians and the Ukrainian military.
That fighting has caused an obvious deterioration of socio-economic living conditions for all Ukrainians. As the armed conflict has intensified, so has the occurrence and severity of mental health issues including depression, psychosomatic diseases, anger and stress-related illnesses, trauma, alienation from friends and relatives, aggressive and antisocial behavior, and criminal activities.
What role the concept of forgiveness can play in a military conflict zone is poorly understood and has never been systematically investigated—until now. A new research report, Forgiveness as a Predictor of Mental Health in Citizens Living in the Military Conflict Zone (2019-2020), was published in the most recent issue of the Journal of Education Culture and Society.
The research was conducted during the years 2019-2020, prior to the Russian invasion. It was authored by Svetlana Kravchuk, a psychologist, and Viacheslav Khalanskyi, a psychotherapist, both of whom practice in Kyiv, the country’s capital city.
Study participants included 302 Ukrainian citizens, half living in the volatile eastern part of the country (where most of the pre-Russian invasion fighting took place), and half living in the more tranquil central part of Ukraine. Using eight different clinically validated scientific tools, the researchers were able to verify the strategic role forgiveness can play in the emotional health of conflict victims.
Here are some of their findings (direct quotes from the report):
- The obtained correlations show that the more a person is prone to forgiveness, the less anxiety and depression a person has.
- A person with a high tendency to forgiveness is characterized by higher levels of decisional forgiveness, hope, emotional forgiveness, tolerance and acceptance of others, mental health, happiness and life satisfaction, as well as tolerance for others’ mistakes.
- The more pronounced degree of tendency to forgiveness is correlated with less pronounced degree of anxiety and depression.
- Hope, happiness, life satisfaction, and tendency to forgiveness can allow citizens living in eastern Ukraine to recover quickly from psychological trauma, contribute to the successful overcoming of negative effects of military conflict and functioning successfully.
According to the authors, the practical value of this research lies in expanding and deepening the understanding of the “phenomenon of forgiveness” and, in the process, developing forgiveness therapy techniques that will work in the mental health sphere throughout Ukraine.
- Read the full report about the role of forgiveness in Ukraine’s military conflict.
- Forgiveness as a Missing Piece to Peace Between Ukraine and Russia (Psychology Today).
- Here’s What You Can Do to Help People in Ukraine Right Now (Time).
I do not like my job because of over-bearing demands from my supervisor. I cannot leave my current position just yet. Will forgiving even help me develop a better relationship with the supervisor?
When we forgive, we do not necessarily get the best result of a whole and fair relationship. If you forgive your supervisor, which I do recommend if you are ready, then at the very least, your resentment can lessen and so your inner world will not be as disrupted as it might have been. The forgiving may help you to have sufficient energy to apply for other positions if this opportunity arises. Even without justice in the workplace, you are taking steps to guard your inner world.
I am concerned about learning through observation. If children see parents arguing frequently, sometimes intensively, will these children, in the future, engage in bullying others in school or even be a contentious partner in adulthood?
This depends on what the child, who now is an adolescent or an adult, has learned from what was observed about the parents. It is possible that the person might gain wisdom from the parents’ fighting and realize that such a pattern is not healthy. Thus, the person may deliberately commit to not following the parents’ behavior. In contrast, if the person does not reflect on the potentially destructive pattern, then, yes, the person may grow up to show bullying behaviors in school and to repeat the pattern of a conflictual relationship with a partner. In other words, insight along with a commitment to not imitate the conflictual behavior might spare the person from repeating the parents’ behavioral pattern.
Consider one person’s meaning in a dramatic case of grave suffering. Eva Mozes Kor was one of the Jewish twins on whom Josef Mengele did his evil experiments in the Auschwitz concentration camp during World War II. In the film Forgiving Dr. Mengele, Mrs. Kor tells her story of survival and ultimate forgiveness of this notorious doctor, also known as the “Angel of Death.”
In describing her imprisonment as a child at Auschwitz, she said, “It is a place that I lived between life and death.” Soon after her imprisonment in the concentration camp, young Eva was injected with a lethal drug, so powerful that Mengele pronounced, after examining her, that she had only 2 weeks to live. “I refused to die,” was her response.
Her meaning in what she was suffering in the immediate short run was to prove Mengele wrong and thus to do anything that she possibly could to survive. Her second meaning in her suffering was to survive for the sake of her twin sister, Miriam. She knew that if she, Eva, died, Mengele immediately would kill Miriam with an injection to the heart and then do a comparative autopsy on the two sisters. “I spoiled the experiment,” was her understated conclusion. A third meaning in her suffering, a longer but still short-term goal, was to endure it so that she could be reunited with Miriam. A long-term goal from her suffering ultimately was to forgive this man who had no concern whatsoever for her life or the lives of those he condemned to the gas chamber. She willed her own survival against great odds, and she made it.
In this case, fiendish power met a fierce will to survive. Upon forgiving Mengele, she saw great meaning in what she had suffered. She has addressed many student groups, showing them a better way than carrying resentment through life. She opened a holocaust museum in a small town in the United States. And she realizes that her suffering and subsequent forgiveness both have a meaning in challenging others to consider forgiving people for whatever injustices they are enduring.
Her ultimate message is that forgiveness is stronger than Nazi power. And it has helped her to thrive.
» Excerpt from Chapter 5 of the book, 8 Keys to Forgiveness, R. Enright. Norton publishers.
Read more about Eva Mozes Kor and her forgiveness work with Dr. Robert Enright:
- Let’s Heal the World Through Forgiveness
- Nothing Good Ever Comes from Anger
- In Memoriam: Eva Mozes Kor