Tagged: “Why Forgive?”

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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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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I am wondering if there is any scientific evidence showing that forgiveness education might increase academic achievement.

Yes, there is scientific evidence specifically concerning adolescents who are at-risk for academic failure.  In the first study below, the students went from a D+ average to a C+ average.  The second study was done in South Korea.  Some of the participants were in a correctional institution.

Gambaro, M.E., Enright, R.D., Baskin, T.A., & Klatt, J. (2008). Can school-based forgiveness counseling improve conduct and academic achievement in academically at-risk adolescents? Journal of Research in Education, 18, 16-27.

Park, J.H., Enright, R.D., Essex, M.J., Zahn-Waxler, C., & Klatt, J.S. (2013). Forgiveness intervention for female South Korean adolescent aggressive victims.  Journal of Applied Developmental Psychology, 20, 393-402.

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I would like to teach forgiveness to some people, but I find that they are not receptive to the idea that forgiveness is worthwhile.  How do I proceed, given their resistance?

I have three points for you to consider.

First, because forgiveness is ultimately their choice, if they are not ready to proceed, you should honor that.

Second, a person’s rejection of forgiveness today is not necessarily his or her final word on the matter. So, be aware of changes in attitude.

Third, there is nothing wrong with occasionally discussing forgiveness, bringing it up in conversation, as long as you do not push an agenda. Conversation concerns at least two people and their worlds. If your world includes forgiveness, then sharing that world with others is legitimate, again as long as you are sharing who you are and not using this in a manipulative way. Who you are may play a part in whom the other will become as you share this aspect of yourself.

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You talk about the “worldview” or one’s philosophy or theology in life.  Suppose I forgive but cannot reconcile with the one who hurt me.  Might this lack of reconciliation keep me bitter, keep me mistrustful, and actually not alter my worldview to a more positive state once I forgive?

Forgiving can help us to see the special, unique, and irreplaceable character of each person, not just toward the one you are forgiving.  When this happens, your trust can increase, not toward the one who hurt you and who remains unrepentant, but now toward more people in general.  As you forgive, you realize that all people are capable of love, even though some do not necessarily express it.  Some will choose not to love, in which case your trust remains low toward them, but you also begin to realize that other people, who have the capacity to love, do want to grow in this moral virtue.  It is in this realization by the forgiver that the worldview can become more positive as trust, toward some, is realistically enhanced.

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