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.
How can we keep forgiveness initiatives going in schools and social groups, such as correctional institutions?
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 have heard some say that “forgiveness is a decision.” By that they mean a person decides to be good to the one who was unfair. Is this what forgiving another person is?
Actually, no, forgiveness is not only a decision to be good to the one who was unfair. Forgiveness is a moral virtue and as Aristotle tells us, all moral virtues are more complex than only the cognitive process of making a decision. All moral virtues also include the motivation to do good, the feelings of goodness, and behaviors that express that goodness. To call forgiveness only a decision is to engage in the logical fallacy of reductionism, making forgiveness less than what it actually is.
Suppose that of your 20 guideposts in your Process Model of Forgiveness, you had to eliminate one of them. Which would that be?
I would prefer to keep all 20. Yet, since you asked, I probably would eliminate the first guidepost, the one that asks people if they have been denying their anger. Even if they had been denying the anger, this tends to lessen as people come to realize that they have a safety net for that anger, and that safety net is forgiveness. So, even if a person was denying anger, this tends to fade away as people courageously confront the amount of anger that they have been carrying in their heart, in preparation for forgiving the one who acted unjustly.