The Idea of Forgiveness Lives On

Two recent experiences have prompted me to reflect on this: Forgiveness as an idea for all of humanity is powerful and so such an idea tends to persevere across time and not wither.

For the first example, I unexpectedly received on Facebook a message from a person who coaches people before they give Ted Talks.  His name is Brendan Fox and he had this message for me in the context of forgiveness for sexual abuse victims/survivors:

“Hi, Robert! Hope all is well. I just wanted to let you know that I read your book, and I watched one of your online lectures. I think your work is so good for the world. Recently, I coached a Ted Talk featuring a sex trafficking survivor. Your work was hugely influential in inspiring the talk and message (as you’ll see). I wanted to credit you, and share it with you, because I think this represents part of your legacy, and how you are making the world a better place (in many indirect ways!). I’m rooting for you in the Game of Life!”

Here is a link to the talk to which Brendan refers.  The video (10:21) is quite inspirational: Escaping the Pain of Human Trafficking Markie Dell.

I find Brendan’s message and the video very interesting in this: Suzanne Freedman, whose blog on forgiveness education we recently posted here, and I had an idea in the mid-1990’s that a forgiveness intervention might be helpful for women who have been sexually abused.  At the time, this idea was exceptionally controversial.  People thought that we were saying this, “Oh, you were abused?  Forgive and go back into that situation.”  No.  This is not what forgiveness is at all.  A person can forgive, rid the self of toxic resentment and hatred, and not reconcile.  Suzanne’s ground-breaking forgiveness intervention with incest survivors was important in helping the social scientific world see the importance of forgiveness interventions.

That study was published in 1996, almost a quarter of a century ago: Freedman, S. R., & Enright, R. D. (1996).  Forgiveness as an intervention goal with incest survivors.  Journal of Consulting and Clinical Psychology, 64(5), 983-992.

After almost a quarter of a century later, Suzanne’s ideas live on and are helping people to heal from extreme injustices against them.  If we can get this far with forgiveness in the face of grave sexual abuse, perhaps there is a place for forgiveness in other areas of woundedness, such as helping people who have no homes, who are living on the streets, to forgive those who have crushed their hearts.  Will this aid their recovery?  Jacqueline Song of our International Forgiveness Institute is taking the lead right now on this question.

Here is the second of our two examples regarding the staying-power and influence of forgiveness.  In 2002, a team of us decided to start what we now call forgiveness education with children.  We reasoned this way:  If we can help children learn about forgiveness and how to forgive, then  when they are adults, they will have the tool of forgiveness for combating the potentially unhealthy effects of unjust treatment against them. 

These students at Ligoniel Primary School in Belfast, Northern Ireland, are learning about forgiveness at the same school where Dr. Enright’s Forgiveness Education Curriculum Guides were first used more than 17 years ago.

We developed forgiveness education guides for grades 1 and 3 (Primary 3 and 5 in Belfast, Northern Ireland) and we brought these guides to the principal, Claire Hilman, and the teachers at Ligoniel Primary School in Belfast.  Claire said yes and so we launched forgiveness education there as the first place in the world where there is a deliberate curriculum to teach forgiveness, about once a week for 12 to 15 weeks.  The program has expanded to include pre-kindergarten (age 4) all the way through 12th grade (this is a designation in the United States and includes ages 17-18).  These forgiveness education guides have been requested now by educators in over 30 countries. 

Just recently, Belfast had its almost 2-week annual 4Corners Festival.  The theme for 2019 was “Scandalous Forgiveness.”  The term “scandalous” was inserted as an adjective because, even in 2019, some people consider the act of forgiving others to be outrageous and inappropriate.  The point of the festival was to gently challenge that thinking and try to fold themes of forgiveness into the fabric of Belfast society.

I gave a talk on February 1, 2019 at this 4Corners Festival.  When Mr. Edward Petersen of the Clonard Monastery introduced me to the audience prior to my talk, he stated that the theme for this year’s festival was inspired by our 17-year presence of supporting Belfast teachers in their forgiveness education efforts.  We started in 2002 and an inspiration by community organizers blossomed in 2019, many years after we first planted the idea of forgiveness education in Belfast.  The idea of forgiveness lives on and now expands city-wide because of the vision and wisdom of the 4Corners Festival organizers.

Forgiveness: it does not wither.  It survives over time and grows.  I think it does so because forgiveness gives life.  Forgiveness unites people in families and communities where injustices could divide.

The idea of forgiveness lives on, and for good reason.

Robert

Presentations Around the World Focus on Forgiveness

Dr. Robert Enright boarded an international jetliner today to take his scientifically-verified Forgiveness Therapy and Education programs onto the world stage as he does at the start of each New Year. The 2019 excursion includes presentations and working sessions in Israel, the Philippines, Slovakia, and Northern Ireland.

Forgiveness Therapy for the Imprisoned in Israel

The founder of the International Forgiveness Institute (IFI), Dr. Enright kicks off his formal presentations on January 9 during the Restorative Justice, Forgiveness, and Prisoners Conference at Bar Ilan University in Ramat Gan, Israel–a 25-minute bus ride from Tel Aviv on Israel’s Mediterranean coast. His talk will be entitled, “Forgiveness Therapy for the Imprisoned.” 

Bar Ilan University is the largest, the fastest growing, and one of the highest-rated academic institutions in Israel with more than 32,000 students. It has a well-respected history of involvement with with criminal justice initiatives, is a member of the International Institute for Restorative Practices, and hosted the 2006 International Conference on Violence and Restorative Justice.

Dr. Enright was asked to be a keynote speaker at the Israeli conference because of the success his forgiveness therapy methodologies have had when adapted for use with inmates in maximum-security prisons over the past five years.

“Forgiveness therapy is beginning to gain traction in prisons because counselors are beginning to see that it is one of the few approaches to corrections that actually works,” Dr. Enright wrote in a recent blog post entitled Reflections from Prison: “Forgiveness Saved my Life.”

“For many prisoners, the abuse an inmate typically experienced as a young man turned to a poisonous anger which was destroying him and his life,” Dr. Enright explains. “Through forgiveness therapy, the heart softens toward those who are cruel and one’s own inner poisons find an antidote in growing compassion. And it works.”

Forgiveness Therapy for Patients with Blood Cancers in Slovakia

Seven days after his discussions at Bar Ilan University, Dr. Enright switches forgiveness gears with a presentation on Jan.16 entitled, “Forgiveness Therapy for Patients with Blood Cancers” to physicians and health researchers in Bratislava, Slovakia-the capital of the Slovak Republic, which is also referred to as the “Beauty on the Danube.”

While that location in central Europe may seem like an unusual spot for a talk on cancer, it actually makes perfect sense because of work done by internationally-known organizations in Slovakia like the Cancer Research Institute of the Slovak Academy of Sciences and the St. Elizabeth Cancer Institute Hospital, both in Bratislava.

Additionally, cancer survival rates in Slovakia are significantly lower than those of most other European Union member states. That makes physicians there anxious to dialogue with Dr. Enright about his research on the improved well-being of cancer patients who have significantly reduced their anger through forgiveness–research he first started in 2008 with elderly terminally-ill cancer patients.

Forgiveness Therapy in now routinely included among the overall treatment regimens of many cancer treatment centers.

“There is evidence to show that suppressed anger can be a precursor to the development of cancer, and also a factor in its progression after diagnosis,” according to ground-breaking   research done by Groer, Davis, Droppleman, Mozingo, and Pierce (2000). Follow-up research on unhealthy anger by Dr. Enright and Dr. Richard Fitzgibbons (2015), as well as others, has confirmed the apparent  connection.

“Perhaps it is time for both medicine and psychology to unite in a new angle in the fight against certain cancers by continuing to examine the anger-cancer link,” Dr. Enright wrote in his blog  “Finding ways of reducing anger may be part of a regimen for cancer prevention and treatment.”

In fact, the five hospitals operated by Cancer Treatment Centers of America (CTCA) now incorporate forgiveness therapy into their treatment regimen. Unforgiveness makes people sick and keeps them sick,” according to Dr. Steven Standiford, CTCA cancer surgeon.

“Anyone can get cancer. So make peace with yourself and others,” explains Rev. LaWanda Long, MDiv, Chaplain at CTCA Atlanta. “Forgive others and let go of past hurts and offenses. You do not have time to continue to invest in emotional pain that may be draining you spiritually. Let it go. Forgive and live.”

17 Years of Forgiveness Education for Belfast Students

Before returning to the US in early February, Dr. Enright will once more shift forgiveness gears by conducting a half-day workshop for educators in Belfast, Northern Ireland. “Forgiveness Education for Our Students” will focus on the forgiveness curriculum guides he has developed for students in pre-kindergarten through 12th grade which have been used continuously in many Belfast schools since Dr. Enright established his first program there 17 years ago.

That workshop is just one small part of a 12-day forgiveness-focused extravaganza in Belfast called the 4Corners Festival that runs from Jan. 30 through Feb. 10. The theme for the 2019 Festival is “Scandalous Forgiveness.” According to the event website, the Festival, “seeks to inspire people from across the city to transform it for the peace and prosperity of all. It consists of innovative events designed to entice people out of their own ‘corners’ of the city and into new places where they will encounter new perspectives, new ideas, and new friends.”The 2019 event will be the city’s 7th annual Festival. It includes a range of events featuring discussion, music, prayer, drama, poetry and story-telling in venues across the city of Belfast. The Festival was conceived by a group of Christians who wanted to promote unity and reconciliation in the midst of the city’s troubled past.

Students at Hazelwood Integrated Primary School in Belfast, Northern Ireland, learn about forgiveness principles.

The widely-known “Troubles” in Northern Ireland during the late 20th century resulted in more than 3,600 deaths with thousands more injured during 30-years of conflict. Because of the past animosity between Catholics and Protestants in Northern Ireland, Dr. Enright selected Belfast as the first city in which he would test his forgiveness education curriculum methodology. That was 17-years ago and the Program continues to this day.

Today, Dr. Enright’s school-based forgiveness programs are operating not only in Northern Ireland, but also in the US, and in more than 30 other countries around the world. Those programs have been repeatedly tested and scientifically-supported. A recent research project with middle school students in Korea, for example, concluded that:

“The Forgiveness Education Program helped these students reduce in anger and hostile attribution, and increase in empathy. Their academic grades improved and they reduced in behavioral aggression and delinquency.” 

Additional stops on Dr. Enright’s tour include: 1)  Manila, the capital of the Philippines–a tropical Southeast Asian country composed of more than 7,100 islands that are home to more than 98 million people–where he will meet with non-profit and religious leaders who are proposing to expand Forgiveness Education throughout the country from its current base in Manila and neighboring Quezon City; and, 2) While in Israel, he will visit with educators in Bethlehem and the West Bank where the IFI established a program last year that teaches forgiveness to both Christian and Muslim students and young adults.


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