Even if I ask for fairness from the one who hurt me, it seems that what I ask of the other may be too soft, too advantageous for the other and not for me. After all, if I start having softness in my heart toward the other, aren’t I then likely to be, to use an expression, “soft on crime”?
As you forgive and seek justice, you are not excusing what the other person did. In fact, as you scrutinize what happened to hurt you, then you may be seeing even more clearly what exactly the person did to you. This can be a motivation on your part to ask for an accurate justice from the other person, not a distorted version of that.
Suppose someone said to you, “Please do not be fair to me. Under no circumstances, you are not to exercise justice to me.” Would you not be fair? Isn’t it your choice to be fair, regardless of the other person’s request? It is the same with forgiveness. You can forgive from the heart, as a free-will decision. You need not verbally proclaim your forgiveness toward the other if this person insists, but your forgiving always is your choice. The key issue here is how you forgive, and that can be done silently, from the heart and in actions that do not proclaim forgiveness.
I do think it may be more difficult to forgive someone who is “frequently angry” and expresses that anger consistently to you. You may have to forgive on a daily basis if you are in regular contact with a person who is continuously angry. After you have forgiven to a deep enough level so that you can approach, in a civil way, this person, then it may be time to gently ask for justice. Part of justice is to ask this person, if you feel safe with this, to begin working on the anger so that you are not hurt by it.
Dr. Robert Enright and the organization he founded, the International Forgiveness Institute (IFI), undertook their first foray into the peace movement in 1999. That was the year they worked with a national team led by the Rev. Jessie Jackson that convinced Yugoslav (now Serbia) President Slobodan Milošević to release three captive American soldiers during the Kosovo Conflict.
In 2002, Dr. Enright initiated a forgiveness education program in Belfast, Northern Ireland that has now been in operation for 20 consecutive years. His Belfast work is featured in the award-winning documentary The Power of Forgiveness. Dr. Enright started similar programs in Liberia, West Africa in 2011 and in Israel-Palestine in 2013. He now has such programs in more than 30 contentious regions around the world and an IFI Branch Office in Pakistan at the Government College University Lahore (GCU-Lahore, Pakistan).
Eight years ago, Dr. Enright was invited by the United Nations to join an international “Expert Group” tasked with responsibility for developing intervention models aimed at ending gender-based violence across the globe. His initial presentation to the United Nations Population Fund in New York City was titled “Forgiveness as a Peace Tool.” Just three weeks later, delegates at the United Nations Peace Conference in Geneva, Switzerland, voted to embrace forgiveness and education as essential tools in peacebuilding.
Since those early years of his career, Dr. Enright has developed scores of peace-education initiatives and research projects in some of the world’s most contentious areas. Two of those projects were published recently involving teachers in the case of China and adult clients in the case of Pakistan. Other research projects have demonstrated that children as young as 4-5 years are capable of absorbing the basics of forgiveness and making it a natural part of their early life.
In 2015, Dr. Enright accompanied Eva Mozes Kor, a survivor of the Holocaust, on a guest tour of US radio and television stations to promote peace through forgiveness. Ms. Kor, with her twin sister Miriam, was subjected to human experimentation under Josef Mengele at the Auschwitz concentration camp during World War II yet she publicly forgave her tormentors.
During that tour, Ms. Kor repeatedly used this axiom:
“Let’s work together to heal the world through forgiveness. Not bullets, not bombs. Just forgiveness. Anger is a seed for war. Forgiveness is a seed for peace.”
In a 2018 guest blog that Ms. Kor wrote for this website, “My Forgiveness,” she writes that forgiveness can “improve life for everyone in the world.” Read Dr. Enright’s eulogy to Ms. Kor (upon her death on July 4, 2019): “In Memoriam: Eva Mozes Kor and Her Independence Day.”
In recognition of his contributions to the peace movement, Dr. Enright was awarded the Distinguished Peace Educator of the Year Award (2008-2009), from the Wisconsin Institute for Peace and Conflict Studies. In 2012, he received the Cecil Findley Distinguished Service Award for international peacemaking and was named a Paul Harris Fellow by Rotary International in 2016. Three years later he was awarded the 2019 Mazzuchelli Medallion from Edgewood College along with a pronouncement that “forgiveness, relevant in every age, may be one of the clearest paths to peace, individually and collectively, for our world today.”
While Dr. Enright was one of the first forgiveness research investigators to envision a path to peace through forgiveness, he says there is still much more work that needs to be done.
“We must double our efforts so that peace and forgiveness become a team that is routinely tapped in matters of conflict,” Dr. Enright says. “The flames of resentment can be extinguished by sound forgiveness programs.”
Read Dr. Enright’s essay in Psychology Today, “Reflecting on 30 Years of Forgiveness Science.”
I tend to have a sympathetic nature. This kind of worries me because when I forgive might I just give in to others’ demands?
As you forgive, it is important to realize that you can and should ask for fairness from those whom you forgive. If you keep in mind the teamwork of forgiving and seeking justice, then this should be a safeguard against giving in to others’ demands.