We have five projects right now at the International Forgiveness Institute:
1) We have a bumper sticker campaign entitled, “Drive for Others’ Lives.” The point is that, when driving, people are encouraged to think about those in the other cars and to behave in such a way as to respect them for the purpose of keeping them safe.
2) We are working on forgiveness interventions for people who are without homes, specifically those who: a) have unjust treatment from others in the past; b) are experiencing now excessive anger, anxiety, and depression in need of healing; and c) currently are not forgiving the people from the past for their injustices. We expect that the forgiveness intervention toward those from the past will lessen the current psychological challenges and possibly aid them in securing more stable housing across time.
3) We are doing similar programs (as described in #2 above) for people who are in prison.
4) Forgiveness education through our curriculum guides for educators of children (as young as age 4) through adolescence (up to age 18).
5) We are planning an international forgiveness conference in July, 2022 for educators, particularly educators who have been teaching forgiveness in Hong Kong, Northern Ireland, and Israel and the West Bank.
Recent estimates in 2016 place the number of people without homes in the United States on any given night at 553,700 and worldwide at over 100 million based on the 2005 global survey done by the United Nations Human Rights (Homeless World Cup Foundation, 2019). Recent estimates from the International Center for Prison Studies (London, England) place the number of people who are imprisoned in the United States at approximately 2.2 million and worldwide at approximately 10.35 million (Walmsley, 2015), with recidivism rates in the United States being 57% after one year (Bureau of Justice Statistics, 2010) and 77% after five years (Bureau of Justice Statistics, 2005).
Such statistics show that traditional forms of rehabilitation are not working.
We recommend that researchers and mental health professionals begin to place more emphasis on adverse childhood experiences for people who are without homes or are imprisoned. Current mental health issues, possibly caused by these, might be more deeply ameliorated through Forgiveness Therapy.
Forgiveness Therapy focuses the client’s attention, not on current symptoms or behaviors, but instead asks the client to begin viewing offending other people with a much wider perspective than defining those offenders primarily by their hurtful behavior. The attempt to be good to those who are not good to the client has the paradoxical consequence of reducing anger, anxiety, and depression in the client.
Through Forgiveness Therapy applied to people without homes and those imprisoned, clinicians will have a new, empirically-verified approach for reducing the resentment that might keep people in a homeless situation and in a cycle of recidivism.
The vital next step is to begin randomized experimental and control group clinical trials of Forgiveness Therapy for people who are without homes and for those who are imprisoned when they: a) have adverse childhood experiences; b) currently are unforgiving of those who perpetrated the trauma; and c) currently are clinically compromised with excessive anger, anxiety, and/or depression.
This is an excerpt from an article recently accepted for publication:
Trauma and Healing in the Under‐Served Populations of Homelessness and Corrections: Forgiveness Therapy as an Added Component to Intervention by Mary Jacqueline Song, Lifan Yu, & Robert D. Enright (in press). Clinical Psychology & Psychotherapy.
- Recidivism of prisoners released in 30 states in 2005: Pattern from 2005 to 2010 updated. Bureau of Justice Statistics (2005/2010).
- Global homelessness statistics. Homeless World Cup Foundation. (2019).
- World Prison Population List (Eleventh Edition). Walmsley, R. (2015).
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):
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
In the all-night cafe
At 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.
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.