University of Wisconsin-Madison, Dept. of Educational Psychology – It’s not a question university professors typically get asked during office hours: “Can you help me save my country?”
Of course, Robert Enright isn’t exactly typical, himself.
It’s closing in on three decades now that the UW–Madison professor of educational psychology has been pioneering the study of forgiveness by researching how people forgive and examining the benefits this action can have on emotional health.
Over the years, Enright has tested his program on a range of groups — including incest survivors, adult children of alcoholics, and children in classrooms in Milwaukee and Belfast, Northern Ireland — helping them work through the process of how to forgive. And the results have consistently shown improvement in themes such as anger, anxiety, depression and self-esteem.
Aware of Enright’s work, Josiah Cheapoo dropped in on the professor last year during office hours. Rev. Cheapoo, a Madison resident who fled his native homeland of Liberia amid the African nation’s bloody tribal wars a decade ago, sat down and looked Enright in the eye.
“I asked him to help me bring freedom to my country,” says Rev. Cheapoo, who runs Grace Network International, a small non-profit based in Madison. “I asked him to reunite the people to become one so we can rebuild the country and have a lasting peace. I asked him to help save my country.”
Thanks to that conversation, a forgiveness education initiative is launching in Monrovia, Liberia, which still is emerging from horrendous civil war conflicts in which it is estimated more than 200,000 people were killed between 1989 and 2003. The highest levels of the Liberian government and education systems have agreed to Rev. Cheapoo’s pitch for making forgiveness education for children part of the reconstruction effort, with the hopes of breaking the cycle of violence.
“I believe we have the knowledge, curricula and experience to help the Liberian people learn about forgiveness and to help put a stop to further unrest,” says Enright.
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