Despite your response to a question on April 30 in this column, I can cite a variety of cases where the one extending mercy was indeed “higher” than the one receiving that mercy. Can you further explain your contention?

Yes, there are many examples of one person as “higher” than another in mercy, such as a judge reducing a deserved sentence of a person who is convicted of a crime.  Yet, mercy in general is going beyond what is deserved to aid someone who is suffering.  Such aid need not imply, in every case, that the one who is exercising mercy is somehow higher than the other. 

Here is an example: Let us suppose that a judge just got into an auto accident.  The judge is hurt and needs help.  Now, here comes a driver, who is a convicted person on probation.  The convicted person is late for work, under pressure, but nonetheless stops his car to aid the judge.  This is costing the convicted person who now is going beyond fairness (after all, he could simply call 911 and move on) to help the judge, who is supposedly the “higher” person. 

So, mercy is not always a moral virtue in which the “higher” person aids a lower person.  If you think about it, by our use of the word “higher” in these examples, it always involves not some kind of spiritually higher situation, but instead only a social role situation.  If we look beyond social roles, no one is higher than anyone else.  Thus, mercy is the attempt to alleviate the suffering of another, regardless of social role.

Learn more at What is Forgiveness?

It seems to me that mercy and forgiveness are different. In mercy, one person is higher than another and has pity on the one who is hurting. In forgiveness, you level the moral playing field and each are equal in their humanity. Would you please clarify for me?

Actually, forgiveness is a moral virtue that flows from mercy and mercy flows from the moral virtue of love. Yes, you are correct that when a person is showing mercy toward another, the one who is merciful is helping someone in distress. This, however, does not at all make the one who extends mercy somehow higher in humanity than the one who is in pain. They are equal as **persons** even though their **circumstances** differ.

So, to summarize, love in the Greek sense of agape, is to serve others for the others’ sake. In the serving, one may have to endure pain and persevere and actually suffer in such serving. This, in other words, does not put the one who is serving in a higher position. Mercy is a particular form of love in which the one showing mercy tries to alleviate the pain of another, which can cause the mercy-worker to feel pain and experience humility in the serving, thus leveling the moral playing field in that this is one person helping another person. Forgiveness is a special case of mercy in that the forgiver tries to serve the offending person by alleviating his or her pain, misunderstanding, and even moral weakness by helping the one who caused pain and who may be in pain because of the unjust action. In each case of love, mercy, and forgiveness, the moral virtue is one **person** serving another **person or persons** and each is equal in their personhood.

For additional information, see Learning to Forgive Others.

How can I introduce forgiveness into my own family. I am a mother of three children, ages 6, 8, and 11.

We have forgiveness education curriculum guides here at the International Forgiveness Institute, Inc. for children age 4 all the way up to adolescents ages 17 to 18. We help children and adolescents first understand forgiveness through stories, which are part of these curricula. You might consider once a week having a “Forgiveness Hour” in which you use the lessons from our curriculum guides. You also might consider even a 15 minute Family Forgiveness Forum once a week in which you discuss your own themes of forgiveness that week: How you are working on forgiving, what you are doing concretely to forgive, and how this is going for you.

For additional information, see: Forgiveness Makes Kids Happier.

How to Gradually Introduce Kids to the Idea of Forgiveness — and Why You Should

Greater Good Magazine, University of California, Berkeley – “Because conflict is inevitable, teaching children about forgiveness early on. . .may indeed be a path toward building communities of people who prize and cultivate peace.”

The advice outlined in the paragraph above is provided by Maryam Abdullah, Ph.D., Parenting Program Director of the Greater Good Science Center at the University of California, Berkeley. She is a developmental psychologist with expertise in parent-child relationships and children’s development of prosocial behaviors.

Image courtesy of Greater Good Science Center

Ironically, Dr. Abdullah’s advice (published March 26, 2019) is what Dr. Robert Enright, forgiveness researcher and educator who co-founded the International Forgiveness Institute, has been telling parents, educators, and peace activists for nearly 20 years. 

In 2002, Dr. Enright established his first forgiveness education program at Ligoniel Primary School in Belfast, Northern Ireland. Belfast provided an obvious location for forgiveness education because of the  widely-known “Troubles” in Northern Ireland during the late 20th century that resulted in more than 3,600 deaths with thousands more injured during 30-years of conflict. That was 17-years ago; the Belfast program has flourished, expanded, and continues to this day.


Young kids can learn the building blocks of forgiveness and develop them as they get older.
Maryam Abdullah, Ph.D.,
Greater Good Science Center


In her Greater Good article, Dr. Abdullah outlines some of the benefits that forgiveness programs offer kids “ranging from more empathy and hope to less anger, hostility, aggression, anxiety and depression. After learning forgiveness, some children even perform better at school, have fewer conduct problems and delinquency, and feel more positive about their parents and teachers.”

Dr. Abdullah also describes, based on Dr. Enright’s insights from three decades of researching  and implementing forgiveness programs, how parents can set the stage for forgiveness in their very young children and start building their forgiveness skills as they become young adults:

“Ages 4-5. Before introducing young children to the subtleties of forgiveness, you can first introduce them to the concept of love—caring for the other for the sake of the other. For example, you can do this by reading picture books to your children in which there are loving family interactions.

Ages 6-7. Starting at about age 6, children have the capacity for what Jean Piaget called concrete operational reasoning, meaning that they now can understand the causes and effects of people’s actions. Because of this advance in reasoning in young children, you now can begin to introduce forgiveness systematically.”

The article continues with five very specific and sequential steps parents can take over several years to help young children become rather sophisticated in their understanding and practice of forgiveness before moving on to other age-appropriate forgiveness skills.

The bottom line for parents, as Dr. Enright has been saying for the past 17 years,  is that you can help your kids grow up to be more peaceful and forgiving adults which will make our families, our communities and our societies more peaceful and forgiving.

Read the complete article: How to Gradually Introduce Kids to the Idea of Forgiveness.

Read more GGSC articles:
 Why Kids Need to Learn How to Forgive.
⋅  8 Keys to Forgiveness


Greater Good Magazine is published by the Greater Good Science Center (GGSC). Since 2001, the GGSC has been at the fore of a new scientific movement to explore the roots of happy and compassionate individuals, strong social bonds, and altruistic behavior–the science of a meaningful life. Dr. Abdullah’s role at the GGSC is to support organizations providing parenting education and to share the latest parenting science findings on the Greater Good website.

I have challenged the importance of forgiveness in my previous questions. Thank you for your thoughtful replies. I have one final question for you regarding my skepticism about forgiveness. It seems to me that as I try to forgive, the other receives all of the “getting” and I, stupidly, do all of the “giving.” Am I correct in saying that there is no balance here?

Because forgiving is centered in the moral virtue of mercy, you, as a forgiver, do have an interest in alleviating the other’s pain or even misery, caused in part by the unfair behavior. Thus, you are right that in forgiving you are “giving.” Yet, here is where I think your reasoning has a fallacy. You are thinking in “either/or” terms. By this I mean that you seem to be reasoning this way: Either I forgive or I seek fairness, but I do not do both. Under this circumstance, yes, you are right, to forgive is to be a giver who may not get anything back. Yet, I would urge you to think in “both/and” ways. As you forgive, then seek justice. In this way, you are both giving and seeking to right a wrong, or get something back that is important to you and possibly to your relationship with the other person. This balances forgiving and justice and thus you are not “stupid” when you forgive.

For additional information, see: Forgiveness: An Offshoot of Love.

I can understand how forgiveness is part of philosophy and theology, but I am having a hard time seeing how forgiveness can be placed into the scientific arena. After all, this is a highly abstract concept. How can it be studied scientifically?

Forgiveness is not the only abstract concept studied scientifically. The theme of justice also is abstract and has been part of the scientific landscape since at least 1932 when Jean Piaget began his work on children’s and adolescents’ understanding of justice. Gratitude is another abstract construct that is studied in the social sciences. We can study forgiveness because it is possible to define forgiveness in such a way as to make it concretely measurable. For example, we have the Enright Forgiveness Inventory which assesses the degree to which participants forgive one other person who was unfair to them. We categorize forgiving in this scale into 6 dimensions: the degree to which the participant 1) harbors negative thoughts and 2) negative feelings, and 3) exhibits negative behaviors toward the unjustly acting person; the degree to which the participant shows 4) positive thoughts and 5) positive feelings, and 6) exhibits positive behaviors toward the unjustly acting person. We are able to get a score for each participant. Science shows that when people go through forgiveness intervention programs, then their forgiveness scores on this scale tend to increase. People with high scores on this scale tend to show better mental and physical health than people who have very low scores on this forgiveness scale.

For additional information, see: Forgiveness Research.

The Role of Forgiveness in the Process of Healing

Rome, Italy – At the direction of Pope Francis himself, 190 of the Catholic Church’s highest-ranking officials gathered at the Vatican in Rome last month for a 4-day meeting on “The Protection of Minors in the Church.” Participants included 114 presidents of bishops’ conferences or their delegates, representatives from 14 Eastern churches in communion with Rome, female and male leaders of religious orders, the chiefs of several Vatican congregations, victim advocates, and others.After an introduction by the Holy Father, the very first keynote speaker at the meeting addressed what the Church–particularly those in attendance–must do to help the victims heal from the effects of the abuse they endured: implement the healing process developed and scientifically-tested by Dr. Robert Enright, of the University of Wisconsin-Madison and the International Forgiveness Institute, Inc. in Madison, Wisconsin.

“For this portion of my presentation, I will rely heavily on Dr. Robert Enright, professor at the University of Wisconsin-Madison in the United States, and the pioneer in the social scientific study of forgiveness,” said  Cardinal Luis Antonio Tagle, Archbishop of Manila (Philippines). “We are collaborating with him on the programme of forgiveness in the Philippines. In fact, in this very moment there is a session among Catholic School Educators in Manila on “Pain, wound and forgiveness”.

“According to Dr. Enright,” Cardinal Tagle continued, “one concern that we must address is: Once justice is served, how do we help the victims to heal from the effects of the abuse? Justice is necessary but by itself does not heal the broken human heart. If we are to serve the victims and all those wounded by the crisis, we need to take seriously their wound of resentment and pain and the need for healing.”

Demonstrating his remarkable comprehension of Dr. Enright’s 20-Step pathway to healing, Cardinal Tagle added, “Resentment can be like a disease, that slowly and steadily infects people, until their enthusiasm and energy are gone. With increasing stress, they are prone to heightened anxiety and depression, lowered-self-images, and interpersonal conflicts that arise from the inner brokenness.

“Yet, before we even raise the issue of asking the victims to forgive as part of their healing, we must clarify that we are not suggesting that they should just let it all go, excuse the abuse, just move on. No. Far from it. Without question, we know that when victims come to a moment of forgiving others who have harmed them, a deeper healing takes place and the understandable resentments that build up in their hearts are reconciled. We know that forgiveness is one powerful and even scientifically supported pathway for eliminating pain, resentment and the human heart.

“We as the Church should continue to walk with those profoundly  wounded by abuse building trust, providing unconditional love, and repeatedly asking for forgiveness in the full recognition that we do not deserve that forgiveness in the order of justice but can only receive it when it is bestowed as gift and grace in the process of healing.”

In an interview with America: The Jesuit Review following Cardinal Tagle’s talk, Dr. Enright said his research has found that survivors of trauma, including sexual abuse, report lower rates of depression when they include forgiveness in their healing process.

“Injustice is a wound,” Dr. Enright said, “but what happens after that wound is ever greater woundedness. The injustice leads to lots of complications, and the basic complication is what I’ve come to call resentment–resentment that can manifest itself years later in depression, anxiety and other mental health challenges.

While forgiving the offender can help those suffering from the fallout oftrauma, Dr. Enright cautioned that forgiveness can never be expected from those who experience abuse, merely offered as a choice.

“It is not excusing; it is not forgetting; it is not throwing justice under the bus; it may or may not be reconciling,” he said.

According to Vatican News, the goal of the Feb. 21-24 meeting at the Vatican was “that all of the Bishops clearly understand what they need to do to prevent and combat the worldwide problem of the sexual abuse of minors. Pope Francis knows that a global problem can only be resolved with a global response.”

One of the 16 books written by Cardinal Tagle, Archbishop of Manila (Philippines).

The 61-year-old Cardinal Tagle has been the Archbishop of Manila  (where he was born) since December 12, 2011, and became a cardinal less than a year later. He has worked with Dr. Enright, co-founder of the International Forgiveness Institute (IFI), since the two met at the Jerusalem Conference on Forgiveness, organized by the IFI in July, 2017.

Cardinal Tagle is personally leading  an initiative in the Philippines to establish Forgiveness Education Programs in every Catholic school throughout the country’s more than 7,000 East Asian islands.  Curriculum Guides developed by Dr. Enright for students in pre-k through 12th grade will form the foundation of those programs.

Read the full text of Cardinal Tagle’s presentation – The Smell of the Sheep: Knowing their pain and healing their wounds is at the core of the shepherd’s task.


Learn more:

1) Dr. Enright’s Forgiveness and Forgiveness Education Programs:

2) The Protection of Minors in the Church: