Tagged: “New Ideas”

Agape Love: “A Sense of Joy in the Giving”

The first phase of a multi-million-dollar, multi-year forgiveness research project in three culturally distinct regions of the world is providing clarity to an ancient concept that researchers say could bring psychological health to individuals as well as peace and unity to families, communities, and countries.

“Agape love is an under-researched concept that has significant implications for harmonious relationships and good mental health,” according to forgiveness pioneer Dr. Robert Enright, an educational psychology professor at the University of Wisconsin-Madison and co-founder of the International Forgiveness Institute (IFI). “The goal of this project is to define what agape love is and is not, and to develop accurate measures of agape so we can assess the degree to which a person understands and practices it.”

 

That 3-year research project is focused on incorporating agape love fundamentals with Dr. Enright’s Forgiveness Education Curriculum materials for grade school students. Working with 60 teachers and up to 1,200 elementary students in Northern Ireland, Israel (both Arabic- and Hebrew-speaking schools), and Taiwan, the research is being funded by the John Templeton Foundation which has been supporting research on forgiveness for more than 20 years.

Agape love is a concept found in at least eight world religions and dates back to the work of three Greek philosophers:

  • Socrates (470 BC – 399 BC), who was among the first moral philosophers to espouse the theory of virtue ethics;
  • Plato (428 BC – 347 BC), a student of Socrates who is the namesake of Platonic love; and,
  • Aristotle (384 BC – 322 BC), a student of Plato, who is called “the father of psychology.”

The influence of those three philosophers continued well into the 19th century, helped shape much of Western moral philosophy, and gained renewed interest with the modern advent of virtue ethics in the late 1950s. This “Aristotelian philosophical view of virtue ethics” was used by Dr. Enright’s initial research team (composed of UW-Madison and IFI researchers) to develop its definition of agape love:

“Agape love is a moral virtue in which a person willingly and unconditionally offers goodness, at a cost to the giver, to another or others in need.”

To further explain, the team added:

“There is a giving of the self to the other(s) that is: a) understood, b) motivated c) willed, and d) acted upon toward other people in such a way that the actions cost the one expressing that love. Because so much is given in agape, it follows that something is taken away from the one who engages in this form of love and such taking away might be needed energy, needed material possessions, needed comfort, and/or even needed safety. Yet, there is a paradox to agape: In the giving, there is psychological gain for the giver, including a sense of joy in the giving.”

That definition was the key element in the research team’s initial report called “The Philosophy and Social Science of Agape Love.” It was published this month in the latest issue of the Journal of Theoretical and Philosophical Psychology, a quarterly publication of the American Psychological Association (APA).

In addition to examining the true meaning of agape love, the research report explores the characteristics of a moral virtue and delineates both the commonalities and significant differences between agape and other forms of love. It also provides an in-depth critique of existing social scientific love scales in preparation for a phase-two activity that will result in the development of a specific psychological agape love scale that is statistically reliable and valid and that has cross-cultural validity.

“Agape love is worth studying because, as a moral virtue, it challenges people to strive for betterment in their humanity,” the report concludes. “Agape requires heroic commitment to the betterment of others. As such, agape may aid humanity in reaching its highest level when people begin to deliberately, consciously, and willingly cultivate this moral virtue.”

The content of the agape and forgiveness curriculum across the three world zones will be described by the teachers themselves during the International Educational Conference on Agape Love and Forgiveness being held at the University of Wisconsin-Madison campus on July 19-20, 2022. Additional information about agape love and the conference is available at the                Agape Love and Forgiveness website.

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The Path to Peace Through Forgiveness

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 addition to Dr. Enright, others named Paul Harris Fellows include U.S. President Jimmy Carter, U.S. astronaut James Lovell, and polio vaccine developer Jonas Salk.

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.”

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Forgiveness Education for Students in Nursing Program Helps Reduce Anxiety and Depression

A research study published last month, utilizing Dr. Robert Enright’s forgiveness intervention model, showed that students in college nursing programs would benefit from a forgiveness intervention in the areas of self-care and forgiveness facilitation.

The nursing students, randomly assigned to either an experimental group or a no-contact control group, used Dr. Enright’s book 8 Keys to Forgiveness as the project’s treatment manual. After studying one chapter a week for 8 weeks, the students in the experimental group showed greater improvement in forgiveness compared to those in the control group from the pretest to the posttest which was maintained at the four-week follow-up. In addition, those in the experimental group showed statistically significant decreases in anxiety, depression, and fatigue from pre-testing to both post-testing and follow-up testing periods.

The study was conducted by a team of 8 researchers from the Liberty University School of Nursing (Lynchburg, VA) under the direction of Jichan J. Kim, Associate Professor of Psychology at Liberty. Dr. Kim has been the lead investigator on more than a dozen forgiveness-related studies over the past several years.

This latest study, The Efficacy of a Forgiveness Bibliotherapy: A Randomized Controlled Trial with Nursing Students, was published in the Journal of Holistic Nursing (JHN) on Jan. 10, 2022. JHN is a peer-reviewed quarterly journal with a focus on advancing the science and practice of holistic nursing and healthcare.

“The need for forgiveness education for nursing students has risen dramatically as responsibilities have broadened for nursing professionals,” according to Dr. Kim. “Our study positively demonstrated that the use of bibliotherapy can be a cost-effective way to promote the virtue of forgiveness for nursing students who are likely to be in need of exercising self-care and would have opportunities to facilitate forgiveness for their patients.”

Bibliotherapy, Dr. Kim explained, is a therapeutic approach that uses literature (in this case Dr. Enright’s 8 Keys to Forgiveness) to support good mental health. This study, he added, demonstrated not only the effects of forgiveness, as numerous studies have done in the past, but also the feasibility of using a forgiveness bibliotherapy that can be easily adopted into the existing nursing curriculum.

The University of Michigan-Flint has added the IFI’s Forgiveness Therapy training course to its nursing program curriculum.

That same approach has been used by Dr. Enright, co-founder of the International Forgiveness Institute (IFI) and the man Time magazine calls “the forgiveness trailblazer,” in a slightly different format over the past two years. Dr. Enright has worked with Dr. Chontay Taylor Glenn, PhD, RN, PMHNP-BC, to enroll a total of eight University of Michigan-Flint nursing students in the IFI’s Forgiveness Therapy training course.

Dr. Glenn is Assistant Professor & Project Director of the Psychiatric Mental Health Nurse Practitioner Residency Program at UM-Flint. In addition to incorporating the IFI’s forgiveness training into the curricula for her nursing students, she also developed a program through which nine Flint-area community counselors completed the Forgiveness Therapy online continuing education course. Dr. Kim provided three hour-long training sessions by Zoom as part of that collaborative effort between Dr. Glenn, Dr. Enright, and himself.

The newly trained counselors in Flint are also undertaking an expanded role in their community, according to Dr. Glenn–providing forgiveness education classes and case coordination to Flint-area adolescents who have experienced adverse childhood experiences. The project is funded by a grant from the W.K. Kellogg Foundation in Battle Creek, MI.


About Dr. Kim

Dr. Jichan J. Kim

Jichan J. Kim is an Associate Professor of Psychology and the Director of the M.A. in Applied Psychology program at Liberty University, Lynchburg, VA. His research interests include the effects of interpersonal and intrapersonal forgiveness as well as the integration of psychology and Christianity.

Dr. Kim has degrees from the University of Wisconsin-Madison (M.S. & Ph.D.), Harvard University (Ed.M.), Gordon-Conwell Theological Seminary (M.Div. & M.A.), and City College of New York (B.A.). He also has extensive ministry experience in New York City, Boston, and Madison (WI), serving various age groups in Korean immigrant congregations.


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Forgiveness: The 2021 Holiday Miracle

With Thanksgiving now under our belt and Christmas already being unwrapped, readers of the New York Times are being encouraged to make forgiveness an ongoing part of their holiday tradition.

An article in the Nov. 24 edition features Dr. Robert Enright and explains why forgiveness could be anyone’s “2021 holiday miracle.” The article, “This Thanksgiving, Please Pass the Forgiveness, was written by four-time New York Times bestselling author Kelly Corrigan who is also host of the popular interview series Tell Me More on PBS.

 “Dr. Robert Enright, co-founder of the International Forgiveness Institute, which develops curriculums for schools, defines forgiveness as simply ‘choosing to be good to those who are not good to us,’” according to the article. “He does not recommend adjudicating the hurt. Better to skip the picking over, the enumerating, the case-making. Direct your energy to this transformative move: recognizing the inherent worth in the other.”

To support her forgiveness-for-the-holidays premise, Corrigan saysthere’s research showing a link between facing our own flaws and finding our way to forgive others.”

The research she sites is a 2013 study conducted by psychology professors at Sakarya University in Sakarya, Turkey, that liberally references the work of Dr. Enright and many of his forgiveness research associates including:

  • The Human Development Study Group (University of Wisconsin-Madison) formed by Dr. Enright in 1994.
  • Richard Fitzgibbons, a psychiatrist who co-authored Forgiveness Therapy with Dr. Enright.
  • Catherine Coyle, who with Dr. Enright focused on pregnancy and abortion.
  • Joanna North, a forgiveness pioneer and philosopher who co-authored                    Exploring Forgiveness with Dr. Enright.
  • Gayle Reed whose work with Dr. Enright focused on forgiveness with emotionally abused women.

According to Corrigan, the painful conflicts that pass between family members over a lifetime often become inflamed during the holidays—but they don’t have to. She ends her article this way:

“If you’re looking for a 2021 holiday miracle, here’s a big one: At every Thanksgiving table, there are people who have managed to look past all kinds of wrongs, people who engage in a voluntary amnesty that marries an acceptance of our own flawed ordinariness and the truth that every last one of us is more than our most unjust behaviors. At every table, people are breaking bread, raising a glass, letting go.”

With more than 5.65 million paid subscribers to its digital (online) edition, the New York Times is one of the most widely read newspapers in the world. It has been a fixture of American print news for more than 150 years and has won far more Pulitzer Prizes (130) than any other media company in U.S. history.

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TIME Magazine: Forgiveness is One of Mankind’s Most Important Innovations

Calling forgiveness one of mankind’s “most important innovations,” TIME magazine is doubling down on its 22-year infatuation with the moral virtue by declaring, Beset by a global plague, political turmoil, and social reckonings, it’s time for forgiveness to go viral.”

The internationally acclaimed news publication first introduced the science of forgiveness to its readers on March 28, 1999, in an essay titled “Should All Be Forgiven?” That widely-cited introductory overview of forgiveness—one of the first ever in a publication designed for the general public—helped usher in a plethora of forgiveness-related articles since then that reported on the superabundance of new research projects focused on forgiveness.

“In the past two years, scientists and sociologists have begun to extract forgiveness and the act of forgiving from the confines of the confessional, transforming it into the subject of quantifiable research,” the TIME article in 1999 sermonized. “In one case, they have even systemized it as a 20-part ‘intervention’ that they claim can be used to treat a number of anger-related ills in a totally secular context. In short, to forgive is no longer just divine.”

The “20-part intervention” in the TIME quote (above) is a reference to the Enright Process Model of Forgiveness that was just being developed at that time by Dr. Robert Enright, a University of Wisconsin-Madison clinical psychology professor and forgiveness researcher. Dr. Enright had founded the International Forgiveness Institute four years earlier.

For his leadership work with that early model and for his development of innovative forgiveness interventions, TIME magazine crowned Dr. Enright “the forgiveness trailblazer.” Shortly after receiving that recognition, The Los Angeles Times editorialized that Dr. Enright is “the guru of what many are calling a new science of forgiveness.” The Christian Science Monitor called him “the father of forgiveness research.”

Fast forward 22-years and you will discover an updated and enthusiastic TIME magazine essay with this headline: “After a Year That Pushed Us to the Brink, It’s Time for Forgiveness to Go Viral.” The dictionary definition of “going viral,” of course, is when an idea is of such significance that it spreads quickly and widely on the Internet. In this case, it also refers to the actual implementation of that idea which is described in the article much like a miracle cure:

“It is a powerful solution backed up by both cutting edge neuroscience and age-old wisdom. It leads to greater cooperation, eases conflict, increases personal happiness, lowers anxiety and is completely free. It’s called forgiveness.”

One of the studies cited in this latest article is a comparison of various forgiveness interventions. Among those available for testing, the study concludes, Dr. Enright’s interventions are the most effective. “Using theoretically grounded forgiveness interventions is a sound choice for helping clients to deal with past offenses and helping them achieve resolution in the form of forgiveness,” according to the study. “. . . the advantage for individual interventions was most clearly demonstrated for Enright-model interventions.” (Efficacy of psychotherapeutic interventions to promote forgiveness: a meta-analysis)

That recent TIME article also makes a direct comparison between the success of the forgiveness coalition and the “mindfulness and meditation” movement:

“Like forgiveness, mindfulness and meditation have been shown in many circumstances to reduce stress levels, mitigate heart disease, and lower blood pressure. Can we create the same level of cultural penetration for forgiveness? Our future may well depend on it. Beset by a global plague, political turmoil, and social reckonings, it’s time for forgiveness to go viral.”

The latest TIME article was authored by Andrew Serazin, President of the Templeton World Charity Foundation and Chair of the Forgiveness Forum, a series of global conversations on the mental and physical health benefits of forgiveness.


Editor’s Note: To illustrate the dramatic upward trajectory of the forgiveness movement, when Dr. Enright began exploring the social scientific study of forgiveness in 1985, there were no published empirical studies on person-to-person forgiveness. Today there are more than 3,000 published articles on that subject according to the National Institutes of Health (NIH), many of them authored by Dr. Enright during his 35+ years of forgiveness research and intervention ingenuity.


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The Missing Piece to the Peace Puzzle

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