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.
Dr. Robert Enright, a professor of clinical psychology at the University of Wisconsin-Madison, has been studying the virtue of forgiveness for more than three decades. During that time, dozens of countries have been decimated by domestic infighting or by brutal war brought on by outside political entities. Millions of deaths have resulted.
Yet all the pain and suffering of those conflicts could have been avoided if forgiveness had been understood and employed as one of the options on the peace-keeping and peace-making table, according to Dr. Enright. And while no one can turn back the clock to erase our human frailties, he adds, future geo-political animosity can be curbed and peace achieved through forgiveness and forgiveness education.
“Forgiveness is the Rodney Dangerfield of therapy and politics in that too often it gets no respect,” says Dr. Enright. “This occurs, in my experience, because forgiveness is woefully misunderstood and then angrily dismissed. Such misunderstanding is tragic because it shuts down what may be the most powerful cure for the effects that emerge and remain after injustice rears its unwelcome head in relationships, families, communities, and nations.”
Dr. Enright, founder of the International Forgiveness Institute, is considered “the forgiveness trailblazer” (Time magazine – 1995) and “the father of forgiveness research” (Christian Science Monitor – 2002) He developed a 20-Step Process Model of Forgiveness (1993) and demonstrated its effectiveness in projects around the world. Seven years ago, he and psychiatrist Dr. Richard Fitzgibbons developed an empirically-based treatment manual, Forgiveness Therapy, that helped make forgiveness therapy a gold-standard therapeutic treatment like psychoanalysis and cognitive behavioral therapy.
After 35+ years of studying the moral virtue of forgiveness, he says he is convinced that forgiveness is the missing piece to the peace puzzle. He recently outlined his formula for peace in Ukraine and other world locations in three essays that were published this month in Psychology Today, the professional publication that has honored him with a dedicated column for his work:
Summary: A key issue for peace in Eastern Europe is to recognize not just political boundaries, but more importantly, the genuine personhood in people within and across those boundaries—a personhood that is so precious that it transcends nationalism. That can be accomplished through forgiveness education being deliberately incorporated into the schools and houses of worship throughout the region, a process Dr. Enright already has helped establish in more than 30 countries around the world. While forgiveness interventions have been shown in empirically-verified research to lower anger and enhance empathy, this process has yet to be tried in post war, post-accord societies, on a large scale with both children and adults, anywhere on the planet throughout all human history.
2. Why Do People Fear the Cure for the Disease of Resentment? (March 19, 2022)
Summary: Resentment is the deep anger that can be harbored within a person for decades with serious consequences for psychological and physical health. Research by Dr. Enright and others has shown that forgiveness is an empirically verified treatment that reduces that resentment, but which is often misunderstood and therefore rejected. Properly recognized and acknowledged, forgiveness should take its rightful place of front-and-center where there are severe injustices to be healed.
3. Understanding the Role of Forgiveness in Political Conflict (March 20, 2022)
Summary: Forgiveness education never begins during the heat of a political/military conflict but it must be included, instead of being ignored, as a crucial post-conflict building block. Reconstruction following war must focus on rehabilitating the heart, not just the infrastructure. By helping individuals reduce their anger and hatred, they will be more likely to be more open to traditional rehabilitation measures and can be set free from unhealthy resentment that will tamper any ongoing peace efforts. Importantly, people need to be drawn to forgiveness, not forced into it—as emphasized by the title of Dr. Enright’s first self-help book Forgiveness Is a Choice.
“Peace out there in the world is possible only when we have peace inside of us,” Dr. Enright concludes. “Mahatma Gandhi has said that if true peace is ever to be achieved in this world, if we are to make war against war, then we must begin with the children. It is time for forgiveness education to go viral and become ubiquitous.”
To read the complete version of each of Dr. Enright’s posts in Psychology Today, click on its title above.
While Russia’s invasion of Ukraine is invoking unwelcome recollections of previous territorial wars, an international multidisciplinary team of researchers that has been meeting since 2014 is discovering what makes some societies more peaceful than others. One of the crucial elements for promoting peace and nonviolence, they say, is an individual’s capacity for forgiveness—a concept International Forgiveness Institute co-founder Dr. Robert Enright has been espousing for decades.
“We launched our first peace initiative in 2002 when we began teaching forgiveness education in Belfast, Northern Ireland,” Dr. Enright recalls. “I was convinced back then, and I believe even more so now, that forgiveness is the missing piece to the peace puzzle. These study results are nothing new.”
During his 35+ years of studying the virtue of forgiveness, Dr. Enright has repeatedly demonstrated that as people forgive, they become less angry, less depressed, less anxious, and more hopeful of their future. In other words, people become more peaceful within themselves, making the possibility of peace with others more likely. He outlined his grass-roots approach in this 2010 article: Forgiveness Education as a Path to Peace. Read Dr. Enright’s latest blog for Psychology Today, Forgiveness as a Missing Piece to Peace Between Ukraine and Russia.
The study results about crucial elements for peace come from a team of experts that is part of the Advanced Consortium on Cooperation, Conflict, and Complexity (AC4), a multidisciplinary research institute based at Columbia University in New York City. AC4 is a unit of the university’s Earth Institute which is made up of scholars spread across 35 research centers and programs encompassing more than 850 scientists, students, postdoctoral fellows and staff.
The group’s mission is to employ models and methods from complexity science (a branch of applied mathematics) to study the dynamics of peaceful societies with the goal of “revolutionizing peace and conflict resolution.” AC4 research has identified and studied more than 80 internally peaceful societies around the globe and identified their common characteristics including:
- abundant forgiveness reservoirs that help mitigate anger, fear, and negativity; and,
- higher levels of capacity for forgiveness that can lead to the endorsement of peace beliefs.
Working together with organizations like the United Nations (UN), the International Peace Institute, and The World Bank, AC4 is exploring various models (i.e., the role of forgiveness, victim memory, and reconciliation) in the actual peace process in countries like Colombia, Israel-Palestine, and Afghanistan. In the process, they are generating and promoting new practical, transdisciplinary, evidence-based approaches to peace.
Like AC4, the International Forgiveness Institute (IFI) has also collaborated with peace-seeking organizations going as far back as 1999 when Roy Lloyd, IFI Board President, was part of a delegation led by the Rev. Jesse Jackson that traveled to Belgrade, Yugoslavia (now Serbia). That delegation not only gained the release of three American soldiers captured during the Kosovo Conflict but also urged Yugoslavian President Slobodan Milosevic to accept a UN offer to establish a foreign peacekeeping force in Kosovo.
In 2014, Dr. Enright laid the foundation for “Forgiveness as a Peace Tool” at a 2-day work session hosted by the United Nations Population Fund (UNFPA) in New York City. Dr. Enright, a University of Wisconsin educational psychology professor, was named to serve on a UN international “Expert Group” that was established to begin developing intervention models aimed at ending gender-based violence around the world. Three weeks later, delegates at the United Nations Peace Conference in Geneva, Switzerland, resolved that “justice and forgiveness” are essential tools in peacebuilding.
“Peace is not a goal to be reached but a way of life to be lived.”
Archbishop Desmond Tutu
Nobel Peace Prize-winning South African Anglican cleric;
25+ years Honorary Board Member – IFI
More recently, Dr. Enright last fall negotiated the establishment of the International Forgiveness Institute’s newest partner, IFI-Pakistan. That Branch Office is housed at the Government College University Lahore (GCU-Lahore, Pakistan) and is the first of its kind in Pakistan and in Southern Asia. The unit will function in collaboration with the IFI with the mission of developing and disseminating forgiveness interventions and methodologies throughout the country.
“Because only a few psychologists have expertise in this field in Pakistan, we can now offer an accredited course teaching forgiveness psychology,” said GCU Vice Chancellor Dr. Asghar Zaidi, in announcing the partnership. “Forgiveness liberates us from anger, resentment, bitterness, and destructive behavioral patterns that are prevalent in our society.”
Dr. Enright has been working since 2016 with Dr. Iffat Batool, a GCU psychology professor, who has tirelessly pursued creation of the unit. Pakistan was one of the seven countries that conducted research and validation on Dr. Enright’s new research tool, the Enright Forgiveness Inventory-30 and several of Dr. Enright’s research tools have already been translated into Urdu, one of the two official languages of Pakistan (along with English). A request is also pending to get the publisher’s approval to translate Dr. Enright’s book 8 Keys to Forgiveness into Urdu for use with GCU’s “Forgiveness Psychology and Practice” course.
Dr. Enright is also working closely with the National Director of the Liberia Forgiveness Education Program (that the IFI established 10 years ago after the country’s civil war finally concluded) to implement forgiveness interventions that could help with reconciliation efforts between the various factions: Can Group Forgiveness in Liberia Lead to Peace? His peace efforts in other parts of the world are outlined on the IFI website at Peace Education Goals.
- Interactive Sustainable Peace Casual Loop Diagram (AC4 Sustainable Peace Project)
- How to Live in Peace? Mapping the Science of Sustaining Peace (American Psychologist)
- The Sustainable Peace Mapping Initiative (Columbia University)
- Contribute to the realization of sustainable peace. Support the IFI with a charitable gift.
Recently, one of my high school students approached me and said this, “I am kind of ambivalent about forgiveness. If I forgive, some of the other students seem to think that I am a weakling.” I was not sure how to answer this. Do you have some insights for me?
The student is confusing forgiveness with giving in to others’ demands. This is not forgiveness. To forgive is to know that what the other person did is wrong and yet mercy is offered nonetheless. When one forgives, one also asks for justice and so this idea of weakness or giving in is not correct. There are two basic ways of distorting forgiveness: to let the other have power over you or to seek power over the other because of that person’s transgressions. True forgiveness avoids these extremes.