Tagged: “Why Forgive?”
I have heard the term “take the long perspective” regarding the injustices inflicted on me by others. What does that mean?
Go back into childhood for a moment and think about one time in which you had what seemed to be a serious disagreement with a friend. At the time, did it seem like this would go on indefinitely? Of course, it did not. Time has a way of changing our circumstances. I am not advocating a kind of passive approach to life here. “Oh, I will just wait it out and so I do not have to exert effort.” No, that is not the point. Instead, see beyond the next hill to a place that is more settled and the pain is not so great. You already saw in your childhood that conflicts end. The consequences of those conflicts (feeling sad or angry) also end.
What can you tell me about how forgiving can affect the physical heart (not the emotions but the cardiac system)?
We did a published study of men on a cardiac unit of a hospital. All of the participants had deep hurts from the past. Once they went through the forgiveness process, and four months after the end of that intervention, there was a statistically significant increase in blood flow through the heart as the men recalled the incident of deep hurt against them. This increase in blood flow did not occur for the control group that had the usual instruction of how to help the heart (diet, exercise, and stress-reduction). Here is the reference to this research:
Waltman, M.A., Russell, D.C., Coyle, C.T., Enright, R.D., Holter, A.C., & Swoboda, C. (2009). The effects of a forgiveness intervention on patients with coronary artery disease. Psychology and Health, 24, 11-27.
Is it possible that a person will not feel emotional relief at all when engaging in the forgiveness process?
The change in feelings from deep anger to more inner quiet does take time. Some people tell me that their anger does not necessarily go away entirely, but that the anger is no longer controlling them. If a person remains deeply angry after more than a few months of working on forgiveness, I usually ask this: Is there someone else in your life who somehow is reminding you of the one you are forgiving? For example, suppose you are trying to forgive your male friend and he has very similar patterns to your father. If you still have a lot of forgiveness work to do with your father, this can be getting in the way of forgiving the friend. This is the case because of how your feelings toward your father are spilling over to your feelings toward the friend. At that point, I usually ask the person to suspend forgiving the friend and to first focus on forgiving the father. Once the person forgives the father, then the feelings toward the father will no longer be interfering with the forgiveness process toward the friend. It is then that a true experience of emotional relief may begin to be present.
A soaringly insightful essay entitled, “The Fading of Forgiveness,” by the Presbyterian pastor, Rev. Timothy Keller, appeared in the May, 2021 issue of Comment magazine. Rev. Keller uses a series of quotations to make his point that the moral virtue of forgiving is fading in modern Western culture. The quotations can be summarized this way: Forgiving allows oppressors to dominate you. So, do not forgive. Otherwise, you will stay oppressed.
In other words, the call to forgive is seen as a trick by oppressors to keep the oppressed forgiving and therefore more continually oppressed. If the oppressed are convinced that they must forgive, with no choice in the matter, and if they are taught to think in either/or ways (they must either forgive or seek justice, but never both), then the critics of forgiveness have a good point. Yet, they are wrong in their understanding of what forgiveness actually is. The harsh critics of forgiveness need good forgiveness education to realize that forgiving is a choice, not a commanded law that must be done, and that the moral virtues of forgiving and justice can and should occur together.
Another wise article, this one by Dr. Kari Konkola, appeared in Humanitas magazine in 2019, “What Psychology Might Learn from Traditional Christianity.” As with Rev. Keller, who is seeing the demise of forgiveness, Dr. Konkola sees the demise of humility in modern Western culture. This is the case because of similar themes echoed by Rev. Keller. There is a rise in emphasis on justice apart from mercy which leads to excessive cries of injustice, excessive accusations of oppression with concomitant increases in anger and rage, divisions and acrimony, and a decided lack of an appreciation of reconciliation, harmony, and a working toward a genuine common good.
The cause, he argues, is a rise in pridefulness which may have origins in our genes, with the evolutionary tendency toward dominating others through the genetic mechanism of the survival of the fittest. For Dr. Konkola, and many Christian thinkers in the 15th through the 17th centuries, the antidote for this oppressing and self-interested activity is the now-faded moral virtue of humility. Humility restores the practice and the valuing of forgiving and inspires the reawakening of the call to the common good, now being lost as people strive to be better than others, to dominate others.
When we put these two articles together, we see a common theme discussed by both authors: Christian teaching in its ancient form was a call to forgiveness and humility, not to be dominated or to dominate, but instead to spread love to others, for the common good, for harmony among people so that we all work together to end oppression, to end others’ sorrow.
If both authors are correct, then deep Christian education needs to embrace forgiveness education, with its emphasis on love and humility as the forgivers, in suffering for their oppressor, offer the hand of potential harmony to those who misbehave. Good forgiveness education instructs students that they must not abandon the quest for justice when they exercise mercy. Good forgiveness education does not over-emphasize the “therapeutic” culture (that forgiving only is for the forgiver) but goes more deeply into the insight that forgiving in its essence is a decision to love and to engage in loving actions toward someone who was not loving toward the forgiver.
“Forgiving is a choice, not a commanded law that must be done; the moral virtues of forgiving and justice can and should occur together.”
Dr. Robert Enright
Are forgiving and humility fading in modern Western culture? Perhaps it is time for educational leaders and parents to galvanize their wisdom and energy to provide this kind of education for the children. Then let the children lead the revival of these central virtues that can thwart ideologies of power-over-others. Let the children learn through forgiveness education that the means of love and humility eventually lead to a better world than do the means of cultural revolution and destruction, which are devoid of such love and humility.
For example, the Catholic community with its worldwide schools seems particularly positioned for such forgiveness education. Implementing forgiveness in these schools on a worldwide basis just might reawaken a world which is starting to fall asleep to forgiveness and humility. Our International Forgiveness Institute already has constructed 17 forgiveness curriculum guides for students from age 4 to age 18, including an anti-bullying guide and two curriculum guides for parents.
Using those guides, Forgiveness Education has been implemented successfully in Greece, Iran, Israel, Liberia, Northern Ireland, Pakistan, Turkey, the United States and other countries. A more concentrated effort by the educational leaders and parents could be the beginning of a revolution of quiet and gentleness and love, in contrast to the tired ideologies of meeting unfairness only with anger and resistance and fire and destruction.
What will win: the genes calling for the survival of the fittest or the grace to overcome these by learning to love and forgive and then finding the path to justice for all? Once they have accurately learned about forgiveness, and if they so choose to forgive, then let the children lead us.
- Humility: What Can It Do for You?
- Forgiveness Education Curriculum Guides
- The Anti-Bullying Forgiveness Program
- Curriculum Guides for Parents
A new and innovative online training course is now available through The Forgiveness Project, a London (UK)-based organization that collects and shares stories of forgiveness in order to build hope, empathy and understanding.
“Working with stories of lived experience – the transformative power of storytelling,” draws on The Forgiveness Project’s 16-years of experience to explore approaches and perspectives relating to forgiveness, restorative narratives, shame, and resilience. The course also offers tools and techniques to build participants’ knowledge of and the use of storytelling in their work.
An introductory forum kicks off the course and is followed by five 3-hour sessions starting in July. Participants are expected to devote an estimated 3-4 hours of their own time between the sessions exploring and trying out different creative approaches. Because of the difficult subject matter being covered, all potential participants will be interviewed prior to final acceptance into the course and enrollment will be capped at 18 participants.
Marina Cantacuzino, MBE, The Forgiveness Project founder, and Sandra Barefoot, the organization’s Programme Development Lead, will facilitate the course. Cantacuzino is an award-winning journalist who embarked on a personal project in 2003 collecting stories of people who had lived through trauma and injustice, and who sought forgiveness rather than revenge. Barefoot, among her various responsibilities, is the manager of the organization’s prison program, RESTORE, and the lead facilitator of that work for the past eleven years. Course participants will be offered one-to-one mentoring time with each of the two facilitators.
Learning objectives and detailed course information is available on The Forgiveness Project’s “Working with stories of lived experience” website page. Cost of the course is £950 GBP (~ $1,350 USD) for individuals and £1350 GBP (~ $1,900 USD) for organizations.
“The Forgiveness Project shares stories of forgiveness in order to build hope, empathy and understanding.”
As the title of this innovative course suggests, storytelling can indeed embody the power to transform lives. That power is exhibited in the hundreds of personal stories shared on The Forgiveness Project website from both victims/survivors and perpetrators of crime and conflict who have rebuilt their lives following hurt and trauma.
That reliance on storytelling is also a crucial component of the strategy employed by the International Forgiveness Institute (IFI). Co-founder Dr. Robert Enright has incorporated storytelling (through the use of childrens’ literature) into most of the 17 Forgiveness Education Curriculum Guides developed by the IFI. Additionally, many of the same individuals featured on The Forgiveness Project website have been featured on the IFI website including:
- Archbishop Desmond Tutu, the 1984 Nobel Peace Prize winner for his opposition to South
Africa’s brutal apartheid regime, forgave those who tortured him and established a nonviolent path to liberation for his country. Archbishop Tutu is a “Founding Patron” of The Forgiveness Project and an Honorary Member of the IFI Board of Directors.
- Eva Mozes Kor, the Holocaust survivor who forgave her Auschwitz persecutors and who partnered with Dr. Enright on various media and personal projects before her death on July 4, 2019.
- Anne Gallagher, a Belfast, Northern Ireland nurse who: 1) tended to victims of bombs and bullets on both sides of the sectarian divide; 2) founded Seeds of Hope, an organization that facilitates storytelling based on The Troubles; and, 3) helped the IFI establish Forgiveness Education Programs in Belfast schools more than 19-years ago—programs that are still operating today.
- Thordis Elva and Tom Stranger—Elva was a 16-year-old student in Iceland when she was raped by 18-year-old Stranger (an exchange student from Australia). She later forgave her attacker and the two have since appeared together in countless presentations and co-authored a book South of Forgiveness.
Stories like those and the many others featured on the websites of The Forgiveness Project and the International Forgiveness Institute demonstrate that forgiveness is first and foremost a personal journey with no set rules or time limits. True forgiveness is also a testament to the resilience of the human spirit and an alternative to the cycles of conflict, violence, crime and injustice so prevalent around the world.