In your book, Forgiveness Is a Choice, you say that we should approach the process of forgiving with a sense of “willingness” rather than “willfulness.” I thought that forgiving is an active process and “willfulness” seems to capture that sense of being active more than “willingness” does. Would you please clarify for me?
When I use the term “willfulness” I mean this: We have to be careful not to force the process of forgiving. We, for example, cannot demand that we now feel compassion toward someone who treated us in a cruel way. We have to be open (willingness) to this gradual change of heart toward those who have hurt us. I do not mean to imply either that forgiving is passive or outside of our free will. Instead, I am suggesting that as we actively engage our free will, the process of forgiving still takes time. We are not in absolute control of the timing or the difficulty involved in forgiving another person.
For additional information, see Forgiveness is a Choice.
I am considering going to a therapist so that I can work on forgiving someone. How can I be sure that it is time to switch psychotherapeutic approaches and focus now on forgiveness?
I think you have to look within and ask this: Have the psychotherapeutic approaches in which you have engaged worked for you? One way to discern this is to ask yourself: On a 1-to-10 scale, how angry am I at a particular person who has been very unjust to me? Let a “1” stand for no anger at all and a “10” stand for so much anger that you can hardly take it. If your answer is in the 8, 9, or 10 range, and if your previous and current psychotherapies have not reduced that resentment, then it may be time to try Forgiveness Therapy.
For additional information, see The Four Phases of Forgiveness.
I want to start working on the theme of forgiving toward one of my parents. I have a therapist with whom I have been working for many years. She says that she has not studied Forgiveness Therapy, but is open to exploring forgiveness with me. What do you suggest under this circumstance?
I recommend that you, personally, first examine one of my self-help books (Forgiveness Is a Choice, The Forgiving Life, or 8 Keys to Forgiveness). See which you prefer. Then bring a copy of the chosen book to your therapist as you also retain a copy. Both of you can work systematically through the book that you choose. Given the therapist’s years of experience in the mental health profession, she should have no problem assisting you on your forgiveness journey.
For additional information, see Learning to Forgive Others.
The answer depends on the definitions of both the term “good” and the term “highly developed person.” If by the term good we mean: a) understands forgiveness accurately; b) practices it consistently; c) has developed a love of this virtue; and d) tries to appropriate forgiving as love for others, then yes, I would say that this is a highly developed person. By “highly developed” I would say that he: a) strives to be good to others in terms of justice, courage, and wisdom in addition to forgiving; b) puts moral virtue above material gain or the rewards and praises from others; and c) has as an end point to his life the betterment of humanity.
Editor’s Note: Dr. Robert Enright, founder of the International Forgiveness Institute, sent this communiqué today while overseeing forgiveness education projects in western Europe.
It was time to go from Edinburgh, Scotland to Rome, Italy to continue the forgiveness work. While going to the Edinburgh airport, Kenny, the driver, engaged me in conversation.
“Were you here to see the sights of this beautiful city?” he asked me.
“I do admire the beauty of the city, but I was not here for sightseeing,” I replied.
As he inquired further, I explained that I had been doing research with people who are homeless. It is our hope to be able to research whether forgiveness interventions can help with this population. I explained that we have found that about two-thirds of people without homes, who take our surveys, show the following pattern:
a) They have been deeply hurt by others’ injustices against them prior to their becoming homeless;
b) they have not yet forgiven, but have significant resentment toward those who treated them unfairly; and
c) they have psychological compromise in the form of anger, anxiety, and depression.
If we can help the people to forgive, perhaps they will have sufficient energy and psychological health to change their life circumstance.
Kenny had wise insights for me regarding the situation of homelessness in Edinburgh.
As we continued the conversation, I told him how, while in Edinburgh, I had visited men in what is called, in the United States, a maximum security prison because one of the professionals in the prison invited me to discuss Forgiveness Therapy. The talk was well-received and so he now is planning to implement a forgiveness intervention soon in that facility.
Again, Kenny seemed to have uncommon insights for me about how to proceed with forgiveness interventions in the prison of Edinburgh.
By then, we were at the airport. After Kenny lifted my suitcase from the boot (trunk in USA talk), I handed him the 55 Great Britain Pounds Sterling as payment. He refused to take it. As I did not want him to work for me for nothing, I again handed the money to him and he said, “You have come a long way to enter my city to help the homeless and the imprisoned. I cannot take money from you. I want you to give that money to the poor when you are in Rome this coming week.” I was almost speechless, but I did manage a heart-felt thank you.
In Rome, there are many people who hold out paper or plastic cups in the hope of help. I met Andrea, a woman with a kind smile. She walks daily through the streets of Rome. She uses crutches because she has one leg. She manages, as she walks on crutches, to hold a white plastic cup in her right hand as she maneuvers the crutches. Much of the funds, meant for Kenny, went to Andrea over the coming days. We got to know one another, as I spoke a little Italian and she spoke a little English. Her eyes brighten each time we come toward one another and she expresses a genuine gratitude, meant, of course, for Kenny, whom she likely will never meet. She, though, has met Kenny’s kindness through me.
Kindness went from Edinburgh to Rome, 1549.7 miles away from each other. Forgiveness work followed the same route. Kindness and forgiveness can spread across hearts and across countries. Long live kindness and forgiveness.