Tagged: “Justice”

I am discouraged. As I look at societies in this early part of the 21st century, I see far too much mayhem, too much outrageous injustice.  Offenders rarely self-accuse; they rarely have a well-formed conscience and so they just do not learn that what they have done is dark and completely unacceptable.  Therefore, forgiveness is not just a choice, but an absolute necessity.  It is not the forgiveness itself that discourages me.  What discourages me is this:  the mayhem will continue and so the incessant need to forgive will continue.  What insights do you have for me?

I think your discouragement is in the strong likelihood that the mayhem, as you call it, will continue in societies.  Yet, let us engage in a thought experiment.  Let us suppose that there never was such a moral virtue as forgiveness.  The only moral virtues in this alternative universe are the quest for justice and the courage to carry this out.  What, then, would individuals and families and communities be like?  Would it not be the case that the vengeance, the hatred, and wars would be continuous?  Would it not be the case that such wars would grow more violent, even more unjust?  Would humanity ever discover love?

Now, compare the world I just created in this thought experiment with our current world.  Yes, the injustices continue. Yes, we can address many of these with justice, but at the same time, we can add love to our interactions, at least within our own communities, so that the enmity, the hatred, and the toxic anger within people can be lessened and not passed on to the children.  Our world has the potential for love, even though it is not always realized in actuality.  What a world it would be if there was not even the potential for love.  Forgiveness on its highest level is to exercise love.  So, I hope that you have more hope now because love is real and available to all who have the wisdom to choose it.

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Is it possible for someone to actually improve in forgiveness? If so, what do you suggest as some keys for me to do that?

Forgiveness is not a superficial action (such as saying, “It’s ok” when someone is unfair to you). Instead, it is a moral virtue, as is justice and kindness and love. Aristotle told us thousands of years ago that one challenge in life is to become more perfected in the virtues. In other words, we do grow more proficient in our understanding and expression of the virtues, but only if we practice them. It is a struggle to grow in any virtue, including forgiveness. So, first be aware that you can grow in this virtue. Then be willing to practice it, with the goal of maturing in love, which is what forgiveness is (loving those who are unkind to us). You need a strong will to keep persevering in the struggle to grow in forgiveness. In sum, you need: understanding of what forgiveness is, practice, a strong will, and keeping your eye fixed on the goal of improving in love a little more each day.

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The Psychology of Interpersonal Forgiveness

By Suzanne Freedman, Ph.D.
Professor, University of Northern Iowa

I loved seeing the article on forgiveness in last month’s newsletter.  I have discovered in my 30 years of studying forgiveness from a psychological perspective, that there are many misconceptions associated with what it means to forgive and contexts associated with forgiveness.

A common comment I hear from students in my university course on interpersonal forgiveness is that forgiveness is more complicated than people realize. It may not be the same notion of forgiveness preached by one’s parents or a religious leader. It goes beyond just saying the words, “I’m sorry” or “I forgive you.” Although we often ask for forgiveness for minor injuries, forgiveness occurs in the context of deep, personal and unfair hurt (Smedes, 1996, The Art of Forgiving).

Specifically, forgiveness involves a willingness to abandon one’s right to resentment, negative judgment, and negative behavior toward an offender, while fostering the undeserved qualities of compassion, empathy, and goodwill toward one’s offender (Enright, 2001, Forgiveness is a Choice). Notice that in this definition, one has a right to resentment and that the offender does not deserve one’s compassion and goodwill.

Although frequently confused with forgetting, acceptance, condoning, excusing, pardon, and denial of anger, forgiveness is none of these. When we forgive, we decrease our negative thoughts, feelings, and behaviors toward the offender and over time, increase our positive thoughts, feelings, and sometimes behaviors toward the offender. We can also only forgive for the way that we were personally impacted by an offense.

Another common misconception about forgiveness is that you cannot forgive unless you receive an apology from the offender. This may be true for reconciliation but not forgiveness. Forgiveness is something people can do all on their own, for their own well-being, without any response from the offender. Forgiveness can sometimes lead to reconciliation between the injured party and the offender, but it does not have to.

Photo by Thalyson Souza on Unsplash

I began my career by educating adult incest survivors about forgiveness, and have recently turned my attention to children and adolescents. By teaching students about the psychological process of forgiveness, we are helping them develop healthy ways to express feelings, understand the perspective of others, and practice empathy and kindness.

As summarized by a 5th grader who was part of a forgiveness education program that I taught:

“I’ve learned that anger is a natural feeling. It takes time to forgive. You don’t have to forgive right away. They don’t always apologize. Forgiveness is one step closer to healing. You don’t have to be friends with the offender after. Apologies make forgiving easier. Forgiveness is made by the person who was hurt. If you want revenge, then you haven’t forgiven in your heart.”

I am often asked “Why forgive?” and my response is always the same: “What’s the alternative?”  Although forgiveness cannot undo the injury, or damage caused by the injury, it allows us to move forward in our lives free from the negative effects of all-consuming anger, hatred, and resentment. It offers us a way to heal while still acknowledging that what happened to us was wrong, unfair, and extremely hurtful.


This article originally appeared in the June 2021 issue of SEL in Action, “a newsletter written for educators, by educators to share real world stories, questions, ideas and opinions about how to address the social and emotional needs of students and the adults who teach them.” Social-emotional learning (SEL) is the process of developing the self-awareness, self-control, and interpersonal skills that are vital for school, work, and life success.

Dr. Suzanne Freedman

Dr. Suzanne Freedman is the author of The Courage to Forgive: Educating Elementary School Children About Forgiveness, a curriculum guide for 4th and 5th grade students she co-authored with Dr. Robert Enright. 

Dr. Freedman was recognized with a Veridian Community Engagement Fellowship (Fall 2020) for “meeting a community need through teaching and/or scholarship.” That same year she was also awarded a Kern Family Foundation Grant for a project that “examined ways that moral virtues, such as empathy, can be infused into a course on child and adolescent development.

Learn more about Dr. Freedman and her work at the University of Northern Iowa.

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Regarding forgiveness, do you, personally, have any doubts about its effectiveness?

Because forgiveness is a moral virtue, as with all moral virtues such as justice and kindness, it is good in and of itself.  Therefore, I am confident that to forgive is a moral good.  Yet, I do have doubts, but not about forgiveness itself.  My doubts instead are with how people imperfectly understand what forgiveness is or have errors in trying to apply it.  For example, if a person thinks that to forgive is just to move on and forget the other person, this is not what forgiveness is.  The misunderstanding, of course, is not the fault of forgiveness itself.  As another example, if a person spends only 2 hours forgiving someone who was brutal to him when he was a child, this is an error of not taking sufficient time to forgive.  Again, this is not the fault of forgiveness itself.  So, in summary, my doubts are in human imperfection not being able to lead to an effective forgiveness response.  I have no doubts about the goodness of forgiveness itself.

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Can Group Forgiveness in Liberia Lead to Peace?

The head of the Liberia Forgiveness Education Program (LFEP) has been appointed by that country’s president to serve on a Special Presidential Committee that will mediate post-civil war land disputes that have recently become violent. The appointment provides a unique opportunity to test the potential effectiveness of Group Forgiveness interventions developed by Dr. Robert Enright, co-founder of the International Forgiveness Institute (IFI).

Bishop Kortu Brown, who heads up the IFI Liberia Forgiveness Education Program.

Bishop Kortu Brown was appointed last month to the Nimba County Conflict Resolution Committee by Liberian President Dr. George Manneh Weah. Bishop Brown, Chairman/CEO of Church Aid Inc. (CAI) has been National Coordinator of the LFEP since it was established by Dr. Enright nearly 10 years ago.

“The president of Liberia has asked me to participate in a national effort aimed at resolving land conflicts in one of Liberia’s troubled sub-political divisions,”
Bishop Brown said of his recent appointment. “Nimba County has more than 500 land conflicts recorded so we hope that our work can help bring healing and reconciliation to this troubled area.”

The Nimba County conflicts are the aftermath of a horrendous 15-year civil war that resulted in the deaths of an estimated 250,000 Liberians between 1989 and 2004, the displacement of more than a million others from their homes, the overthrow of the government of the late President Samuel K. Doe who was assassinated in 1990, and the deployment of United Nations peacekeepers throughout the country. According to a Global News Network Liberia report, the US government has provided more than $2.4 billion in supporting Liberia’s post-war stabilization and development.

Unfortunately, the misery in Liberia did not stop with the end of the civil war. Between 2014 and 2016, more than 4,800 people died from Ebola in Liberia—the West African country hardest hit by the outbreak—and now the country of 4.8 million people is dealing with the deadly uncertainty of the coronavirus epidemic. According to the World Health Organization, Africa accounts for less than 1% of the coronavirus vaccine doses administered globally.

“There is a serious need to bring closure to the civil war and that means reconciliation through forgiveness,” Bishop Brown says, repeating what he has been espousing since becoming the head of the LFEP. “If Liberians will forge peace and reconciliation, they must forgive. Without forgiveness there will be no genuine reconciliation.”

Prior to becoming Liberia’s 25th president in 2018, George Manneh Weah was regarded as one of the greatest African footballers (soccer) of all time and was named African Player of the Century in 1996.

Dr. Enright has been working closely with Bishop Brown and other civic leaders in the West African country since Rev. Joseph Cheapoo, a native of Liberia, walked into Dr. Enright’s University of Wisconsin-Madison office in 2003 and bluntly asked, “Professor Enright, can you help me save my country?”

Rev. Cheapoo, who had fled his home country for the US to save his family during the civil war, agreed to head up the LFEP when he returned to Liberia in 2004. Sadly, Rev. Cheapoo unexpectedly passed away 8 years ago. Bishop Brown anxiously assumed leadership of the LFEP soon after.

“In light of his appointment by President Weah, I have suggested that Bishop Brown engage all Committee members in the Enright Group Forgiveness process before addressing the social conflict issues,” Dr. Enright says. “I suggested that approach, in all humility, because dialogue will not be fruitful if those engaging in the dialogue are still very angry about past grievances. Forgiveness is a scientifically-supported way of eliminating that anger.” 

In response, Bishop Brown shared with Dr. Enright a draft strategy he has since developed for the Committee’s first working session that he calls Reconciliation Through Forgiveness: A Program Concept for Community Bridge-Building.” Components of that strategy include:

  • Conducting a 3-day Awareness Workshop on healing and reconciliation for 150 community, religious and traditional leaders from the 9 sub-political districts in Nimba County on the need to bring closure to the civil war chapter.
  • Conducting a 3-day Forgiveness Education training workshop for teachers in Nimba County primary and secondary schools.
  • Replicating the Forgiveness Education Programs that Church Aid Inc. already has in place in Monrovia (the country’s capitol), Brewerville, and Monsterrado County by initiating identical programs in 25 schools in Nimba County using Kindergarten through Grade 12 curriculum guides developed by the IFI in collaboration with CAI.
  • Conducting a 3-day training and commissioning workshop for 45 Community Reconciliation Animators (CRA) who will continue the work of healing and reconciliation in their respective communities after the Special Presidential Committee’s tenure expires.

“I think that interventions like the Enright Group Forgiveness process are critical to bringing peace and harmony to the communities we seek to serve in Liberia,” says Bishop Brown. In addition to being the General Overseer of the New Water in the Desert Apostolic Pentecostal Church in Brewerville and Chairman/CEO of Church Aid Inc., Bishop Brown is also president of both the Liberia Council of Churches (LLC) and the Inter-Religious Council of Liberia (IRCL).

Forgiveness provides hope for children in Liberia.

“If this forgiveness initiative works as it did in our scientific studies, then resentments and hatred will be reduced, forgiveness will increase, and fruitful dialogue will commence,” Dr. Enright adds. “If forgiveness solves the entrenched group-to-group conflict in Liberia, that country will astonish the world with this new way of attaining peace.”

The Special Presidential Committee will conduct its first session in the next few days and is expected to report its formal recommendations to President Weah within 60 days. The Committee will be chaired by Liberia’s Minister of Internal Affairs while the Chairman of the Liberia Land Authority will serve as co-chairperson.

Learn More

A New Strategy for Peace in the World. . .The Enright Group Forgiveness Inventory

Examining Group Forgiveness: Conceptual and Empirical Issues 

Measuring Intergroup Forgiveness: The Enright Group Forgiveness Inventory

First Ebola, Now Coronavirus: Liberia Suffers Again

Help spread forgiveness education, reconciliation and peace throughout Liberia, West Africa. Click the “Donate” button at the bottom of this page to become a hero to the children of Liberia.


 

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