Dr. Enright Shares Forgiveness News with Audiences Around the World

The man Time magazine called “the forgiveness trailblazer” because of his groundbreaking forgiveness research, has just returned from a five-week international speaking tour during which he provided specialized  forgiveness workshops and presentations to such diverse audiences as prison administrators and correctional facility innovators, cancer doctors and oncology specialists, and educational pioneers. 

Dr. Robert Enright

Dr. Robert Enright, forgiveness researcher and educator who co-founded the International Forgiveness Institute, travels globally twice per year to respond to at least a handful of the innumerable requests that flow into his office on an almost daily basis.

In addition to private meetings in some of the more than 30 countries where he has helped establish elementary and high school Forgiveness Education Programs in the past few years, his formal presentation schedule on this most-recent tour included stops at Ramat Gan, Israel; Bratislava, Slovakia; and Belfast, Northern Ireland.

Those presentations included:

  • “Forgiveness Therapy for The Imprisoned: From Practice to Research Outcomes” on January 9 during the Restorative Justice, Forgiveness, and Prisoners Conference at Bar Ilan University in Ramat Gan, Israel–a short distance from Tel Aviv.

  • “Forgiveness Therapy for Patients with Multiple Myeloma and Other Blood Cancers,” on Jan. 16 (World Cancer Day 2019) during the Sympozium Integrativna Onkologia at the Slovak Academy of Sciences in Bratislava–the capital of the Slovak Republic.
  • “Forgiveness Education for Our Students” on Feb. 1 during the 12-day forgiveness-focused extravaganza in Belfast, Northern Ireland called the 4Corners Festival that ran from Jan. 30 through Feb. 10. The theme for the 2019 Festival was  “Scandalous Forgiveness.” 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.

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Kids Say the Darndest Things – About Forgiveness

Art Linkletter was a Canadian-born entertainer whose CBS radio and television show called House Party first aired shortly after the end of World War II and ran 5-days per week continuously for more than 25 years. The show’s best-remembered segment was a feature called “Kids Say the Darndest Things” in which Linkletter interviewed schoolchildren whose candid remarks provided some of his shows most precious, and hilarious, moments.

Like Linkletter, educational psychology professor Dr. Suzanne Freedman gathered lots of cute and insightful anecdotes when she recently taught two classes of 5th graders about inherent worth, moral love, kindness, respect, and generosity—the five basic components of forgiveness. Here are some of their unedited comments:

  • Forgiveness has made me more calm and given me more chances in life instead of death.
  • We are all the same when we take our skin off.
  • Don’t be mean to others. Even if people you know are mean to you, you can still be nice to them.
  • Forgiveness is one step closer to healing. When you forgive you can put it in the past.
  • I like forgiveness because it taught us how to not wait till it’s too late to forgive.
  • Forgiveness helped me be nicer to my brother and friends.

During the 27-year run of “Kids Say the Darndest Things,” Linkletter interviewed an estimated 23,000 children. The popularity of the segment led to a TV series with the same title, seven books (including Linkletter’s first book by the same title), spin-off TV shows in seven countries, and a number one record hit by country music superstar Tammy Wynette called “Kids Say the Darndest Things.”

On one of his more inspirational programs, Linkletter asked a four-year old if she knew how to pray. She immediately began saying the Our Father which included this nugget: “And forgive us our trash baskets as we forgive those who put trash in our baskets.”

Here are more of the darndest things kids like that little girl told Dr. Freedman:

  • You could always give a person that is mean to you a second chance because maybe the person that is being mean is having a bad day or got in an argument with their best friend.
  • Even though somebody is being mean to you, you could still forgive them.
  • It doesn’t matter if you are a different religion or have different colored eyes because everyone is the same person underneath.
  • When you have empathy you want to know how they feel and then you can put your feet in their shoes, and if you are getting bullied you can turn them into a friend by knowing how they feel.
  • Revenge is not part of forgiveness.
Dr. Suzanne Freedman

Dr. Freedman, a professor at the University of Northern Iowa in Cedar Falls, Iowa, gathered those anecdotes while conducting a forgiveness education research project with two classes of 5th grade elementary school students attending a low-income school in a Midwestern community. She instructed each class for one 30-minute lesson each week for 10 weeks with two days of pre-testing and two days of post-testing. Each class was composed of 25 ten- and eleven-year-old students representing a diverse group of races and ethnicities.  

The forgiveness education curriculum that Dr. Freedman used with those students was based on the four phases of Dr. Robert Enright’s scientifically-proven 20-unit process model and used children’s literature to illustrate the basic components of forgiveness. Dr. Freedman studied under and conducted research with Dr. Enright while earning her Masters Degree and Ph.D. from the University of Wisconsin-Madison. Her dissertation was a landmark study that was published in the Journal of Consulting and Clinical Psychology on Forgiveness with Incest Survivors.

Quantitative results from Dr. Freedman’s research project demonstrated that students increased significantly in their forgiveness toward a specific offender and showed significant increases in their knowledge of forgiveness from pre-test to post-test.

Qualitative results from the study illustrated that students both enjoyed and benefited from the forgiveness education curriculum. Specifically, when asked what they learned about forgiveness education, 14 students reported that the forgiveness education helped them learn to forgive someone.Other comments included: I like forgiveness because in the future we will meet other people that we do not like but we still need to forgive them;” and; “It helps me forgive people when they make bad choices.”

“This study illustrates the potential of forgiveness education to improve elementary school students’ psychological well-being and interpersonal relations as well as the importance of including forgiveness education in the school curriculum,” according to Dr. Freedman. 

“Students who learn how to forgive and decrease their anger in healthy ways will be less likely to be involved in bullying and other violent acts. This research is encouraging and needs to be replicated with additional populations of children and adolescents.”

One could add that the study proves kids do indeed say the darndest things. . .


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Editor’s NoteArt Linkletter had a degree in teaching and was the author of 17 books. He was married to his wife Lois for nearly 75 years and he died in 2010 at the age of 97.


 

The Impact of Using Children’s Literature to Teach 5th Graders about Forgiveness

Dr. Suzanne Freedman

A Guest Blog by
Suzanne Freedman
, Ph.D.

University of Northern Iowa

“How children navigate their emotional world is critical to their life long success
.”
      Susan David, Emotional Agility

Recent statistics illustrate an increase in elementary school children dying by suicide (Dillard, 2018). Three nine-year old children took their own lives this past year and bullying was related to all three deaths. Hate incidents at school are increasing at alarming rates although most incidents of hate are not reported. Along with increases in suicide and suicide ideation, anxiety and depression in youth are on the rise (Dillard, 2018).

Click the graphic to find out if your state has established SEL goals.

Helping students develop empathy toward others is a key strategy in bullying prevention and intervention and according to a recent NY Times article (Brody, 2018), it is critical that we help kids develop empathy early in their lives. Social emotional learning (SEL) programs that include a focus on empathy and regulation of emotions are being recognized as an important part of the school curriculum for all students (Zakrzeski, 2014) and based on recent statistics, there is a need for more SEL programs in schools today. 

According to Cook-Deegan (2018), social-emotional learning teaches the key attitudes and skills necessary for understanding and managing emotions, listening, feeling and showing empathy for others, and making thoughtful, responsible decisions. Research illustrates that including social-emotional learning (SEL) in the curriculum is good for both students and their teachers (Zakrzeski, 2014).

Forgiveness education, with its focus on recognizing and validating students’ anger as well as teaching students to express emotions in a healthy way, understand the perspective of others, recognize the humanity in all, and increase empathy and compassion, is one form of social-emotional learning that is currently being investigated by researchers (Enright., Knutson, Holter., Baskin, & Knutson, 2007; Freedman, 2018).

The forgiveness education research project described here was based on a quasi-experimental pre-test post-test design with two classes of 5th grade elementary school students attending a low-income school in a Midwestern community. There were approximately 25 ten and eleven-year old students in each class representing a diverse group of races and ethnicities.

The forgiveness education curriculum consisted of 10 weekly lessons of 30 minutes in duration with two days of pre-testing and two days of post-testing. Although all students received the forgiveness education, only the students who returned signed consent forms from their parents completed pre and post-tests (30 out of 50 students total – 16 students in one class and 14 students in another class).

The forgiveness education was taught by the researcher (and author of this blog) and occurred in each classroom on different days of the week. The same weekly lesson was taught in each classroom and the forgiveness education curriculum was based on Enright’s four-phase, 20-unit process model.  Selected children’s literature was used to teach and illustrate forgiveness and related concepts to the students.

Certain principles from the chapter, “Helping Children and Adolescents Forgive”, in Enright’s (2001) book, Forgiveness is a Choice, guided the education. First, the idea that it is always the child’s choice to forgive was highlighted. Second, the curriculum was developed with the understanding that children may not understand forgiveness in the same was as adults. Third, the point that forgiving and reconciling are not the same thing was emphasized. Fourth, the rationale for this education and research project was based on the realization that if children are going to learn about forgiveness they need to be educated about it and know that it exists as an option as well as the knowledge that children learn more deeply when challenged and encouraged.

After the project, quantitative results illustrated that students increased significantly in their forgiveness toward a specific offender from pre-test to post-test. Students reported being hurt by friends, siblings, mothers and other students. Students also showed significant increases in their knowledge of forgiveness from pre-test to post-test.

Qualitative results illustrated that students both enjoyed and benefited from the forgiveness education curriculum. Specifically, when asked about what they learned and enjoyed about the forgiveness education, 14 students reported that the forgiveness education “helped them learn to forgive someone”.

Specific statements included, “I like forgiveness because in the future we will meet other people that we do not like but we still need to forgive them”; “Forgiveness has helped me forgive people I couldn’t forgive in a long time”, “It helps me forgive people when they make bad choices”; and “I liked learning because I have learned how to forgive someone like I am trying to forgive someone right now”.

Ten students reported that learning about forgiveness helped them know more about “being nice and showing kindness to others”. Specific comments included, “Even if people you know are mean to you, you can still be nice to them. Don’t be mean to others”; “It helped me be nicer to my brother and friends”; and “You could always give a person that is mean to you a second chance because maybe the person that is being mean is having a bad day or got in an argument with their best friend”.

Nine students also reported that they “learned more about bullying” from the forgiveness education. Specific comments included, “Some bullies get bullied so they are letting their anger out on somebody else”; “People are just hurt inside when they bully”; Even though somebody is being mean to you, you could still forgive them”; and “When you have empathy you want to know how they feel and then you can put your feet in their shoes, and if you are getting bullied you can turn them into a friend by knowing how they feel”.

Seven students reported that they “learned ways to calm down and let go of anger as a result of the forgiveness education. Six students stated that the forgiveness education taught them that “we are all the same underneath”. Another six students reported that they “learned about empathy”. Additional responses by more than one student included, “Forgiving is hard”; “Forgiveness is a choice”; “You don’t need an apology”; Forgiving takes time”; “Forgive but not forget”; and “Revenge is not part of forgiveness”.

This study illustrates the potential of forgiveness education to improve elementary school students’ psychological well-being and interpersonal relations as well as the importance of including forgiveness education in the school curriculum. Students who learn how to forgive and decrease their anger in healthy ways will be less likely to be involved in bullying and other violent acts (Freedman, 2018). This research is encouraging and needs to be replicated with additional populations of children and adolescents.


I have a roommate who is very angry with his mother.  It seems to me that he has built up a story on his mother that is exaggerated, in other words, not entirely true.  What do you suggest I do to help him forgive?

First, it would be best to have him think as carefully and as rationally as possible to sort out what is true and what is false regarding the mother’s actions.  He needs to take a courageous view of the truth of the mother’s actual injustice.   Once this occurs, he should be able to see the exact injustices in which the mother engaged.  Your roommate then can pick out one incident and forgive his mother for that one.  Then he can move to another incident.  Little by little, he may forgive so that his resentment lessens and he can consider approaching his mother with a deeper sense of her inherent worth.

For additional information, see What Is Forgiveness?

Syrian children have watched their parents die or have assisted in carrying out their parents’ bodies.  What would you advise for these children?

We first have to realize that forgiveness belongs to those who rationally conclude that they have been wronged.  Even if others say, “You have no right to forgive because there is no injustice here,” this does not mean that the children now are frozen in their decisions to forgive.  Some, perhaps the majority, of children who have such a traumatic experience, may develop severe resentment.  This resentment could destroy their lives in the future, even in the distant future because the damaging effects of resentment may not be manifested for years.  So, if there is the poison of resentment and if the children, as they grow up, decide to forgive, they should do so.  A question is whether they are able to identify specific people to forgive or whether they will end up forgiving a system and which system that will be.

For additional information, see Healing Hearts, Building Peace.

I am a victim of incest. My father has died and I refuse to go to his graveside.  Does this mean I am not forgiving him?

Your not going to your father’s graveside does not necessarily indicate that you have not forgiven.  Forgiveness does not necessarily mean that you are finished with all negative emotions.  Classical conditioning may be happening here in that you associate the grave with the incest and it makes you uncomfortable or anxious.  Staying away under this condition is understandable.  If you are doing no harm to your father in that you are not talking negatively about him to family members or others, you may be on the path to forgiving.

For additional information, see Learning to Forgive Others.

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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