Have you ever made a promise to love, honor, and obey outside the covenant of marriage? In a certain way, I have.
That promise, which I made in 2002, has now been fulfilled as we turn the clock to 2022. We at the International Forgiveness Institute had just decided to start forgiveness education programs at the century’s turn. The point was this: If learning to forgive can aid people’s recovery from deep injustices against them, then wouldn’t it be a good idea to help young children learn to forgive so that, once the storms of life hit them as adults, then they would have a tool, forgiveness, to avert confusion, resentment, and even possible abiding anger and anxiety? It seemed to be worth a try and so we looked around the globe with this question: Where is there a society that now is post-conflict, which has suffered, and which might benefit from forgiveness education?
Our team at the International Forgiveness Institute, after much thought and discussion, centered on Belfast, Northern Ireland for four reasons: 1) There had been The Troubles across Northern Ireland, in which Irish Catholics and British Protestants were in an escalated conflict since 1972’s Bloody Sunday in Derry/Londonderry; 2) there was a signed peace accord in 1998, which reduced the conflict, but still there was a post-conflict sense of tension; 3) the two groups were English-speaking and so we would not have to start with interpreters; and 4) Ireland and Northern Ireland are two of the closest ports-of-call from the Eastern United States.
So, off my two sons and I went in July of 2002, landing first on the West Coast of the Emerald Isle and then to Belfast, where we met the esteemed Anne Gallagher, who formed Seeds of Hope to do her best to bring peace to Northern Ireland. Anne was amazing in introducing us to primary school personnel and we had the great honor to start forgiveness education in both St. Vincent de Paul Primary School and Ligoniel Primary School, both on the Ligoniel Road in Belfast.
“Forgiveness isn’t something that’s talked about with reconciliation, but it’s needed to bring closure to the pain and suffering experienced in Northern Ireland. You can’t contemplate hope unless you address despair. To heal the wounds of Northern Ireland I believe you have to see humanity in the face of the enemy. Forgiveness is a journey.”
Anne Gallagher (1953-2013)
Upon my first visit to the principal of St. Vincent de Paul School, Mr. Brian McParland, he heard our proposal for forgiveness education and agreed that this is a vital vision for Northern Ireland. He assented to having this programme pioneered in his school. Yet, he quickly added this: “You will not last more than 3 years here in Belfast.” I was surprised to hear that and asked, “Brian, why do you say that?” He looked at me and said, “No one lasts more than 3 years in Belfast. After that time, people grow weary, the thrill of travel wears off and they quit.” I took a deep breath and answered, “Brian, I will give you 20 years.” He looked at me with kindness, but said nothing.
Well, as I consult Siri on the Apple Watch, I see that the calendar is about to turn to the year 2022. Hold on for a minute. . . I have to do a little bit of quick math. Ahh, yes. . . it has been exactly 20 years now since my promise to Mr. McParland. Our International Forgiveness Institute has successfully implemented forgiveness education now in many schools of Belfast and surrounding communities.
As we end the 20th year, some of us at the University of Wisconsin-Madison are doing a research program with 18 classrooms of primary 7 students (grade 5 in the United States), across Northern Ireland, funded by the John Templeton Foundation. This will culminate in an international conference in Madison, Wisconsin, led by Jacqueline Song of our International Forgiveness Institute, in which these teachers will participate.
As I look around, I see that Mr. Brian McParland now is retired from his educational duties. Mrs. Claire Hilman, the principal at Ligoniel Primary in 2002, also is retired. Dear Anne Gallagher now has passed to eternal life. No other educators who joined us two decades ago are still there. As I look around, I see that I have kept my promise now only to God and me. And that is sufficient for the promise-keeping. I hope that at least some in Northern Ireland are the better for it.
A promise kept may bear fruit of which none of us is aware and this is why we press on with the vision for forgiveness education, started two decades ago.
I have a problem with my partner. He does not see that he has hurt me, despite my best efforts. I now am wondering if reconciliation is even possible. What I mean is that he keeps hurting me and doesn’t even see it.
This is a difficult situation because you now have a lack of trust that he can change. I recommend that you first forgive him and from that softened-heart position, approach him at an opportune time and have this kind of a conversation with him: First, you could let him know that you suspect that he is practicing the psychological defense of denial, in that he possibly is afraid to see the truth of his hurtful actions. Second, if he begins to see that he indeed is using the defense of denial, you then can let him know the extent of your hurt, for example, on a 1-to-10 scale with 10 being an enormous amount of hurt. Third, if he sees this hurt and sees it as caused by his actions, the next step is to work with him on a plan to deliberately change the behavior that is causing the hurt. Please keep in mind that even if all three strategies work, it still will take some time for you to build up trust because this tends to develop slowly after a pattern of injustices that cause hurt. Your continuing to forgive may increase your patience with the trust process.
Editor’s Note: Archbishop Desmond M. Tutu, the Nobel Peace Prize-winning Anglican cleric who helped end apartheid in his native South Africa, died Sunday at the age of 90. Called the “Man of Forgiveness” by The New York Times, Archbishop Tutu worked closely for many years with Roy Lloyd, President of the International Forgiveness Institute’s Board of Directors. Here are Dr. Lloyd’s reflections on his years with the incomparable Archbishop Desmond Tutu.
Archbishop Desmond Tutu was a person of immense generosity, joy and courage and I was privileged to call him a friend. Desmond and I knew each other, over many years, through anti-apartheid work including sanctions against South Africa, divestment efforts and protests. I also was privileged to spend a considerable amount of time with him when he was in New York City at General Theological Seminary as a scholar in residence. Later on, when he was speaking and teaching at Emory University in Atlanta, he and I produced TV and radio spots enlisting aid for those suffering so horrifically in the Kosovo conflict. This was entirely in character. For him, caring meant acting, not just talking about it.
This was a man who stood on principle, calling out oppression of every kind, albeit with a generosity of spirit, decency and respect. Desmond believed that when people can come face-to-face with each other to speak the truth with sincerity, then it is possible to achieve closure and a more equitable outcome.
That was certainly at the heart of his leadership of the Truth and Reconciliation Commission in South Africa that brought together perpetrators of violence facing people who had been persecuted. An open atmosphere was created in which participants could confess what they had done or be candid about what they had endured. The desired result of mutual responsibility for moving forward in a more positive way was achieved by facing reality, while not denying justice. Those responsible for their actions received whatever penalty was necessary. Yet, that wasn’t the end of the story. Those who were sincere in their confession were forgiven and welcomed into a higher level of meaning in interracial relationships.
It was through a commitment to these kinds of meaningful endeavors that Desmond and I became involved in the initial days of the International Forgiveness Institute. Desmond declared, at our first national conference, the message that drove his lifelong ministry: “Without forgiveness there is no future.”
This is the central message of the International Forgiveness Institute (IFI).
Forgiveness is an opportunity to accept that gift for ourselves, liberating us from whatever harm we have experienced and the freedom to offer it to others. Desmond knew well that this doesn’t necessarily lead to reconciliation or to the denial of justice. Those who commit harm deserve a just penalty. However, through forgiveness the equation is vastly changed. A never-ending problem of harm that challenges us can become an opportunity for growth, renewal and regeneration of life.
The Archbishop was someone who was effervescent in personality, continually joyous and always with a twinkle in his eye. This was a hero who was continually committed to walking the hard road to achieve the common good. I always found him to be looking forward rather than backward. As the saying goes, he always had his eye on the prize.
“If you are neutral in situations of injustice, you have chosen the side of the oppressor.”
Archbishop Desmond Tutu
I firmly believe that Desmond Tutu provided a template for how all of us can lead a meaningful existence—one that celebrates the bonds of our humanity and grants to each we meet our thoughtfulness, consideration and esteem.
We at the International Forgiveness Institute pay homage to this marvelous man and are honored by his years of commitment to forgiveness and as an honorary IFI board member.
President, Board of Directors
International Forgiveness Institute
- Before his death, Archbishop Tutu had served as an Honorary Member of the International Forgiveness Institute Board of Directors for more than 25 years.
- In 1995, Archbishop Tutu provided the opening remarks (by recorded audio) at the historic international forgiveness conference hosted by the IFI and held at the University of Wisconsin-Madison–the first academic forgiveness conference ever held at any university in the world.
- Archbishop Tutu wrote the “Foreword” to the 1998 book Exploring Forgiveness, a collection of forgiveness essays edited by IFI-founder Dr. Robert Enright and philosopher Joanna North. That Foreword is titled “Without Forgiveness There Is No Future.”
- In 2014, Dr. Enright announced to IFI website followers the Tutu Global Forgiveness Challenge–a free 30-day program developed by Archbishop Tutu and his daughter Mpho Tutu, designed to teach the world how to forgive. In that article, Dr. Enright said of Archbishop Tutu: “He has lived forgiveness. He has embodied it.”
- Read “Quotations on Forgiveness from Desmond Tutu.”
- Read “Desmond Tutu Wins 2013 Templeton Prize for Forgiveness Work.”
- Called the “Man of Forgiveness” by The New York Times, Archbishop Tutu is the author of several books including: No Future without Forgiveness and The Book of Forgiving: The Fourfold Path for Healing Ourselves and Our World.
- Read a biographical account of Archbishop Tutu’s life and global activities in The New York Times or watch a biographical video at CNN News. Archbishop Tutu is survived by his wife of 66 years, Leah, and their four children.
About Roy Lloyd:
In addition to being the long-term President of the IFI Board of Directors, Roy Lloyd is an IFI founding director and contributing writer. He is a retired communications executive with graduate degrees in education, communications and theology. Before retiring to Springfield, MO, Dr. Lloyd was a regular commentator on all-news radio station 1010 WINS in New York City and he appeared with Desmond Tutu on Good Morning America, CNN, Religion and Ethics Newsweekly, Live with Regis and Kelly, and other programs. His high-profile career activities included his service as media officer for the Jesse Jackson trip to Belgrade in 1999 that gained the release of three American soldiers held by the Milošević regime. He has also served as executive producer of numerous network television programs and as producer and host of Public Television’s “Perspectives” series. He can be contacted at: email@example.com
I sometimes test myself by asking if I still am angry with the person who abused me. When I do this, I find that I still have some anger. Does this mean that I have not forgiven?
If your anger has fallen to manageable levels so that the anger no longer is controlling you, and if you now can wish the person well, then you are forgiving. Forgiveness need not be perfect in that there can be some anger left over. If you wish to reduce your anger even more, then you can once again start the forgiveness process with that person.
Editor’s Note: This Guest Blog was written by Roberta Baumann, Managing Editor of the Waunakee (WI) Tribune, and originally appeared in that newspaper on Dec. 31, 2020.
This past year has been so difficult that perhaps, more than any other time, we’re all looking forward to its end, to starting 2021, a year filled with hope.
With the promise of a vaccine and an end to the pandemic, we hope our lives will return to normal, we can send children back to school in person, and our economy can begin to recover.
In some ways, rather than bringing us together, COVID-19 has rendered deep divisions. Another hope for 2021 is forgiveness.
Several years ago, University of Wisconsin social sciences professor Robert Enright spoke about this topic at a Waunakee Rotary meeting. With his examples of remarkable acts of forgiveness — cases in which a rape victim forgave the rapist, and individuals from war torn countries made peace with those who killed their loved ones — his talk was unforgettable.
Forgiveness is not the same as forgetting. It requires empathy, recognizing the person behind the act. And it does not benefit that person who has done harm. Instead, it benefits the one holding the grudge.
Holding onto anger increases stress and anxiety, and neither is healthy emotionally or physically. Experts say forgiveness can result in lowered blood pressure, improved mental health and even a stronger immune system. We all know how important a strong immune system is right now.
Also, when we carry that resentment, it can spill over and affect our relationships with others. When we bring it home and say, yell at the dog, we just create stress in our families’ lives and feel worse.
Forgiveness starts with recounting the wrong you feel has been done, trying to understand the reasons behind it, and then moving on. For some, meditation or prayer helps with this process.
One article from the Mayo Clinic suggests, “Move away from your role as victim and release the control and power the offending person and situation have had in your life.”
Forgiveness is not always one-and-done; anger can resurface, and the process can start all over again.
Forgiveness also differs from reconciliation. In some cases, the person who has done harm feels no remorse or takes no responsibility. Yet essentially, it’s not about the wrongdoer, but the person who feels resentment and how harboring that feeling affects them.
As we look ahead to a year full of hope, let’s do so in a way that brings greater unity and peace. We are all stronger together as a community and a nation, and we will soon face the task of healing and rebuilding from the tremendous losses we’ve faced in 2020.
“I wrote this piece during what may have been the darkest time of the COVID-19 pandemic,” Baumann says. “In retrospect, I believe isolation and fear gave rise to anger — a much more empowering feeling — among many in the Waunakee community. My hope was that in 2021, divisions in the community could begin to heal.”
An award-winning writer, Baumann has been the Managing Editor of the Waunakee Tribune for 26 years. She graduated from Iowa State University with a master’s degree in English. Waunakee is a village of 15,000 residents just outside Madison, WI.