The Risk of Throwing It All Over the Cliff……..and Then Learning How to Fly

1984. The Orwellian year of change, but in the novel by the same name it was a year of forced conformity, the chaining of ideas to the Big Brother agenda. It was the worst of times in the mind of George Orwell.

In my own case, 1984 was a time of finally breaking free of conformity, unlocking the chains of imprisoned ideas and learning for the first time how to fly. I am an academic and academics live and die by ideas, ones that they research and publish and try to spread to others.

I had a sabbatical in that fated year at the University of Wisconsin-Madison where my ideas centered on moral development, which was centered on how youth     become fair, which was centered on two thinkers, Jean Piaget of Switzerland and Lawrence Kohlberg of Harvard. Like sheep, the rest of us fell into line behind these thinkers’ ideas and we bleated out the same old story: there are stages of development in how youth think about justice and the more complex their thinking, the better off the youth are. And when I studied the progression of ideas on this theme during my 1984 sabbatical I faced a frightening reality: We are all recycling the same old story decade after decade after decade…..from 1932 to the present. 1984. Yes, I was horrified that I was about to spend the rest of my career in the pasture of old ideas, following shepherds who had brilliant original ideas. Yet, why should I keep going to that same pasture again and again…….and again?

I decided to get out of the line and flee that pasture. I threw over the academic cliff all of my writing and research on these two luminaries’ ideas…….and I never have gone back, over 30 years now, to read even one of my journal articles on youths’ justice-thinking that helped me receive both grants and tenure. I did not go back because the ideas were choking the life out of me. Why live in the shadow of luminaries when their ideas already have been brought to pasture so often by so many?

So, here I was in a publish-or-perish university without an idea……and academics live and die by ideas. So, I asked myself this question: What in the area of moral development might impact — — — truly impact on a deep level — — every person on the planet? Well, I thought, everyone who has ever lived and in the future will live on this planet must confront the opposite of Piaget’s and Kohlberg’s life-callings: injustice. How do people respond to injustice so that they can emotionally heal from the effect of cruel, undeserved injustice? Forgiveness. Yes, forgiveness. If people can learn to forgive, perhaps this could aid people in casting off resentment and unhealthy anger and discouragement. Yes, forgiveness is worth studying even though it seems so….so… unreasonable, being good to those who are not good to you.

Yet, when I went to the library and asked the librarian to do a literature search (there were no Google searches back then) for all studies in all of the social sciences focused expressly on people forgiving other people, she came back with a blank piece of paper. Sorry, but there are no such studies on the planet. A friend of mine, at the same time, did such a search in the library at a Kansas university and he, too, was met with a blank sheet. No published studies on forgiving existed.

I decided to start a think-tank at the University of Wisconsin-Madison to begin asking these questions: What does it mean to forgive others? What is the pathway that people typically walk when they decide to forgive? What outcomes can we measure when people choose to forgive? The Friday Forgiveness Seminar was born in the spring semester of 1985 (and continues to this day) and consisted of a wide range of cultures and faiths and no-faiths, people from Saudi Arabia, Greece, Taiwan, Korea, and the United States…….Muslims, Jewish, Christian, agnostics, and the religiously indifferent. We all sat around a table every Friday, discussed the questions, did the research, and found very good things in that research. When people forgive, even when hurt gravely such as by incest or emotional abuse, there is a tendency for the forgivers to reduce in anger and anxiety and even in depression. They get their lives back.

Nonetheless, academia is not so forgiving as to forgive me for stepping out of the sheep line and thinking independently. Academia talks the talk of academic freedom, but offers its support only within the parameters of what is considered acceptable at that point in time in that cultural context. I now like to say that academia, if we are not careful, grooms us for the sheep’s meadow where we can live out our lives under the careful watch of the academic shepherds who will tell us what is and what is not an acceptable thought. And the study of forgiveness in 1985 was not one of those ideas.

A firestorm erupted about our studying forgiving. It is unacceptable, I was told. It is too soft an idea for hard-headed academia, I was told. You are ruining your career and so you will ruin the career of your unsuspecting graduate students. Desist! Desist with your ideas! 1984.

I did not listen, nor did my brave graduate students, so many of whom now are in solid and tenured academic positions…….because the original nay-sayers were wrong. As soon as we started to publish work on Forgiveness Therapy, showing the reduction of depression, and even its elimination in people who had suffered for years, many academics began to change their ideas about our ideas. The American Psychological Association played a large part in this turn around, as the Editor of APA Books, Mary Lynn Skutley, took her own risk by publishing one of my books, Helping Clients Forgive with the psychiatrist Richard Fitzgibbons, then another and then another. 5 books in all at APA and this helped to put the social scientific study of forgiving on the map of acceptability.

We were able to fly with our ideas, but only after not accepting the chains in the pasture of the sheep. And I will never go back to that pasture.                          

The risks continue. My colleagues and I have given talks in war-torn areas, areas where governmental overseers warn us not to go. Yet, the ideas beckon. We are planning the Jerusalem Conference on Forgiveness for July 12 and 13, 2017 because, well, Jerusalem is a very hurting city and so it is a symbol of the need for forgiving, so off we go.

Within the past month, the Rotary Club of New York has taken the risk with us. We now have created the joint Declaration for Peace and Community Renewal, centered on bringing forgiveness education to as many war-torn communities across the world as we can over the next 24 years. That Declaration is on the Rotary Club of New York’s website as I write this. We are planning a conference on forgiveness education at the United Nations. We are taking a risk together.

Risk. Without it, my ideas die in the academic pasture. With it, I fly because forgiveness flies…..into broken hearts, into broken families, into broken communities. APA and Rotary are risk-takers. We have flown and are flying together……and the world is better off. Taking that risk has allowed many researchers to fly with us and has allowed hurting people to cast off the chains of resentment in their own hearts. Risk can save lives.

This blog first appeared on Thrive Global, June 15, 2017.
Go to the profile of Robert Enright

Robert Enright

Professor of Educational Psychology, UW-Madison, licensed psychologist, and IFI board member was the first to research forgiveness in the social sciences.

Dr. Enright Joins Two New Digital Media Ventures

Dr. Robert Enright, world-renowned forgiveness researcher and educator, has been selected by two of the nation’s premier blog sites to add his forgiveness expertise as a regular contributor.

Dr. Robert Enright, founder of the International Forgiveness Institute
Dr. Robert Enright, founder of the International Forgiveness Institute

1. Psychology Today is a New York City-based print magazine that will celebrate its 50th year of continuous publication in 2017. Its new blog site, according to the publication, is  “devoted exclusively to everybody’s favorite subject: Ourselves.”

To make and keep their new blog site relevant, Psychology Today has gathered a group of renowned psychologists, academics, psychiatrists and writers to contribute their thoughts and ideas on what makes us tick. According to the website,  “We’re a live stream of what’s happening in Psychology Today.”

The forgiveness blog section on Psychology Today’s website is called “The Forgiving Life”–which is also the title of one of the eight books Dr. Enright has written. Here are links to the first four blogs Dr. Enright has produced for the new site this month:
Dec. 7 – Forgiveness Saved My Life: Reflections from Prison
Dec. 16 – Afraid of Mingling with the Relatives This Holiday Season?
Dec. 17 A New Approach to School Bullying: Eliminate Their Anger
Dec. 20 Is It True That Forgiveness Is “Ridiculous“?

Arianna Huffington’s New Venture

2. You’ve probably heard of Arianna Huffington, the 66-year-old digital media pioneer, bestselling author, and founder of The Huffington Post–the online news powerhouse that has spread its influence around the world in dramatic fashion. Oh, yes, and she is one of TIME magazine’s “100 Most Influential People.”

Huffington stepped down in August as editor-in-chief of the Huffington Post (affectionately called HuffPost), which she founded in 2005 andthrive-global-arianna-huffington sold to AOL six years later for $315 million, to concentrate full time on her new venture–Thrive Global. The new entity is partly based on her runaway bestselling 2014 book, Thrivewhich defines a new math for success based on the variables of well-being, wisdom, wonder and generosity.

One of the entities under the Thrive Global umbrella is The Thrive Journal–an online blog site that the company says goes “beyond informing and entertaining to action. Our goal is to help you bring about changes in your life by giving you concrete, actionable tips laid out in five pathways: Calm, Joy, Purpose, thrive-logoWell-Being, and Productivity. These microsteps and tips are embedded in every piece of content we produce.”

Similar to the new blog site developed by Psychology Today, the Thrive Global blog site will feature a wide array of international wellness experts, psychologists, medical doctors and other professionals. Here are links to the first five blogs Dr. Enright has produced for Thrive Global:
Nov. 25Forgiveness and the Presidential Election of 2016: 7 Tips
N
ov. 30 Reflections from Prison: “Forgiveness Saved My Life” 
Dec. 4 Forgiveness, the Marathon, and the Inspired Work of Art
Dec. 8 – How Evil Works
Dec. 17 
Afraid of Mingling with the Relatives This Holiday Season? 4 Tips from Forgiveness Therapy

On Lowered Expectations of Injustice

We can get so annoyed so easily.  A traffic jam….and we are annoyed.

A colleague late for the meeting…..and we are annoyed.

A spouse who is taking too long in the changing room at the clothing store…..and we are annoyed.

Spend a little time with a homeless person and then ask yourself if the above three are big or minor annoyances. When I pass a homeless homeless 3person, I can tell that he expects me to not see him.  He thinks he is invisible.

He is not.

On one occasion, in leaving a restaurant with a good friend, there was a dear homeless person on the corner.  It was a cold evening.  He smiled.  We gave him our “take out box” and he beamed.  He laughed and with arms outstretched, he proclaimed, “God bless you.”

So amazing.  He has nothing of material value….no home…..and he thinks he is invisible to the rest of the world.

Yet, he is rich because he has gratitude and love in his heart.homeless9

We decided, after having traversed a block on making our way to the safety and warmth of our homes, to turn back and give him some money along with the food.  He was eating, saw us coming, and with outstretched arms, welcomed us with a “God bless you.”

He seems to have no resentment in his heart…..even when outside….without a home…..in the cold of an early winter……even while seeing that others do not see him.

Robert

Note: We are filing this in the category of Famous People.  The homeless are not invisible and we did not want this uncategorized post to become invisible.

The Generosity of the Rev. Desmond Tutu

I first met Rev. Tutu in March, 1995.  Well, I did not exactly meet him….I met his voice.  We were holding the first conference on person-to-person forgiveness ever held at any university in the world and we were doing so at the University of Wisconsin-Madison.  Rev. Tutu was kind enough to give the opening remarks by recorded audio to what now is an historical event–the first academic forgiveness conference.

I was immediately impressed with his warmth and wisdom.Rev Tutu 2  He talked of the African word ubuntu, of how we are all persons because of other persons.  He urged us all to try to overcome the animosities that have wounded the world because of a lack of forgiveness.  It was a challenge that is still with me, 19 years later.

Rev. Tutu recently has expanded his vision of stopping animosities worldwide by asking all of us to take the bold step of trying to learn to forgive as a global calling—for each of us—now—-for the good of humanity as well as for ourselves as we unburden from resentments that can pollute human interactions.

The new plan, announced recently by Desmond Tutu and his daughter Mpho Tutu, concerns the Tutu Global Forgiveness Challenge, a free online program starting May 4, 2014, designed to teach the world how to forgive.

The 30-day program is based on a systematic process of forgiving that the Tutus present in their new book, The Book of Forgiving: The Fourfold Path for Healing Ourselves and Healing Our World.

We have seen how Rev. Tutu guided the Truth and Reconciliation Commission with such compassion as he absorbed a country’s intense pain borne out of grave injustice.  We have read his book, No Future without Forgiveness.  He has lived forgiveness.  He has embodied it.  We can’t wait for his global initiative.  We hope you take a look and benefit from a man and his daughter who have known suffering.

Robert

The Will to Power, the Will to Meaning, and the Will to Love

Friedrich Nietzsche in the 19th century popularized a view of the world that he called the Will to Power.  His was a response to the emerging NietzchkeDarwinist view of evolution that there is a Will to Survive by all living things, not deliberately conscious (because, for example, blades of grass or turtles do not consciously reflect on such a will to survive).  For Nietzsche, the Will to Survive was not, well, powerful enough to explain how living organisms and systems work.  Grasses do not only struggle to live, but to expand territory by pushing out other living forms for a larger habitat.  Thus, even grass has the Will to Power, to control or even to (again unconsciously) dominate.

Viktor Frankl, a psychoanalytic psychologist, imprisoned in concentration camps during World War II, Viktor Franklhad a direct response to Nietzsche by saying that the primary human force is the Will to Meaning, a will to make sense out of life and particularly out of suffering.  Finding meaning, not a specific meaning common to all people, but finding a meaning itself has the survival value.  As people think of life as meaningless, then they die.  Yet, this contentless Will to Meaning has a contradiction in it.  It cannot be opposing Nietzsche’s Will to Power if, in finding meaning, one person’s meaning for life is to gain more influence over another.  In other words, Frankl’s deliberately contentless theme of the Will to Meaning must accommodate the content in some people’s minds that the Will to Power is their own personal meaning to life.  It is the way the world works, at least as some people try to make meaning out of a cruel world.  Yet, Frankl’s view, I think, is a developmentally more sophisticated worldview because it makes room for much more than the brutish vying for dominance and control in the world.

Jesus Christ, in contrast to Nietzsche and Frankl, has a different worldview.  It is the Will to Love.  Others, of course, have said this, too, but we must be scholarly here and give credit to the originalJesus - forgiven 2 proclamations.  This Will to Love consciously repudiates the need to dominate, to seek power.  Even if Nietzsche is correct that the Will to Power typifies the untrained, under-developed will of humanity, Christ’s challenge is to overcome that.  Nietzsche, in other words, takes what is and mistakenly presumes that this is what ought to be.  Frankl, in contrast, takes what is (we are presuming for now that the Will to Power is a natural tendency in humans) and is showing us that we can fill in the blank with other, perhaps better content when we ask, “What is the meaning of life and suffering for me?”  Christ, in contrast to Frankl, and in common with Nietzsche, commits to one particular content—in this case, love—as the central Will for humanity.

It seems to me that we have a developmental progression here in terms of a greater fulfillment of humanity, the fulfillment of who we are as persons.  We start in the mire of a Will to Power and can do great damage if we stay there, and if the world stays there.  The Will to Meaning is a transition in that it takes us out of the inevitability of seeking power.  The Will to Love, which honors the life of all, is the highest of these world views.  Why?  Because it is the only one of the three that is intimately concerned about all life.  If humanity will survive, our questing after the Will to Power is a dangerous path because in its conscious, extreme form, it destroys others so that one’s own domain can expand.

To those like Nietzsche who think that love and the equality of persons is a weakened view of humanity, my response is this:  How are you distorting the moral virtue of love?  How are you misunderstanding it?  To love is to help with the survival of all others, not to destroy for one’s own survival, dominance, and control.  In the seeking of others’ betterment, one finds vitality and joy and gives the freedom to others to do the same. The Will to Love is the only assurance of survival and the thriving of all, including the self.

Which of these world views will you bring to others today?

Robert

In Memorium: Nelson Mandela (1918-2013)

We are aware that Nelson Mandela was a controversial figure in this life.  He admitted to 156 acts of violence as a young man.  Apparently, his view was to counteract oppression and violence with violence.

Yet, people change, sometimes toward bitterness and despair, other times toward a greater vision that we are all in this together.  Mr. Mandela seems to have transformed in prison to seeing the humanity in all with the one exception of the unborn.  Yes, he had a flaw there in not seeing deeply enough into the humanity of the most vulnerable.

nelson_mandelaIt is for his stand against the evils of apartheid, a stand that ultimately became non-violent, that we say thank you. Thank you, Mr. Mandela, for your unwavering vision and amazing courage. You guided a nation in transition away from violence. It could have been very different.

One case in point: he invited his jailer to an honored place for the Presidential Inaugural Address.

He showed by his actions that forgiveness is the way back for South Africa.

As another case in point: How many reprisals against apartheid happened after he was elected?  People listened.

“And as we let our own light shine, we unconsciously give other people permission to do the same. As we are liberated from our own fear, our presence automatically liberates others.” –Nelson Mandela.

He did not always see clearly, but he matured to see that political violence is no solution at all.

Rest in peace.

On Lowered Expectations of Injustice

We can get so annoyed so easily.  A traffic jam….and we are annoyed.

A colleague late for the meeting…..and we are annoyed.

A spouse who is taking too long in the changing room at the clothing store…..and we are annoyed.

Spend a little time with a homeless person and then ask yourself if the above three are big or minor annoyances.  When I pass a homeless person, I can tell that he expects me to not see him.  He thinks he is invisible.

He is not.Homeless

Just yesterday, in leaving a restaurant with a good friend, there was a dear homeless person on the corner.  It was a cold evening.  He smiled.  We gave him our “take out box” and he beamed.  He laughed and with arms outstretched, he proclaimed, “God bless you.”

So amazing.  He has nothing….no home…..and he thinks he is invisible to the rest of the world.

Yet, he is rich because he has gratitude and love in his heart.

We decided, after having traversed a block on making our way to the safety and warmth of our homes, to turn back and give him some money along with the food.  He was eating, saw us coming, and with outstretched arms, welcomed us with a “God bless you.”

He seems to have no resentment in his heart…..even when outside….without a home…..in the cold of an early winter……even while seeing that others do not see him.

Robert

Note: We are filing this in the category of Famous People.  The homeless are not invisible and we did not want this uncategorized post to become invisible.