Is wanting to forgive for your own health selfish?  Is it effective?

Suppose you hurt your knee while running. Further suppose that you want to make an appointment at Sports Medicine to address the issue. Is this selfish? There is a large difference between being selfish (absorbed with yourself at the expense of others) and engaging in self-care (attending to your needs without neglecting others’ needs). Forgiving is good self-care. Our research shows a cause-and-effect relationship between learning to forgive and improvement in heart health for cardiac patients:

Waltman, M.A., Russell, D.C., Coyle, C.T., Enright, R.D., Holter, A.C., & Swoboda, C. (2009).  The effects of a forgiveness intervention on patients with coronary artery disease. Psychology and Health, 24, 11-27.

Our research shows a cause-and-effect relationship between learning to forgive and improvement in fibromyalgia symptoms:

Lee, Y-R & Enright, R.D. (2014) A forgiveness intervention for women with fibromyalgia who were abused in childhood: A pilot study. Spirituality in Clinical Practice, 1, 203-217. doi: 10.1037/scp0000025.

A recent meta-analysis showed a statistically significant correlation between degree of forgiveness and a host of different physical issues:

Lee, Y.R. & Enright, R.D. (2019): A meta-analysis of the association between forgiveness of others and physical health. Psychology & Health, 34, 626-643.

So, yes, forgiving does seem advantageous for one’s physical health.

For additional information, see Forgiveness for Individuals.

A Reflection on Forgiveness and the Forgotten People

As I look out the window of the hotel in downtown London, awaiting a flight soon to the Middle East, I see a bustling populace moving quickly……except for one man who is shuffling along slowly, quite in contrast to the others. As I watch, he stops, faces a passerby, and obviously is asking for funds. He is ignored. He shuffles a few more steps, approaches another, and is met with the same non-response.

His pattern is repeated over and over. I counted at least 15 approaches and 15 rejections. He then disappeared from view. I think he was invisible to many that day, even to those who were within view of him.

How we bristle when rejected by a co-worker who is not showing respect today or by others who do not share our goals. The man, refused by others over and over, probably felt wounded by the rejections.

The dear man in London was continuously rebuffed, and he kept trying……until after awhile he simply stopped asking. This sequence of approach-and-avoidance reminds me of Ralph McTell’s now classic song, Streets of London (originally released in 1969 and re-released in 2017):

(c) The Bowes Museum; Supplied by The Public Catalogue Foundation

Have you seen the old man
In the closed-down market
Kicking up the paper,
With his worn out shoes?
In his eyes you see no pride
Hand held loosely at his side
Yesterday’s paper telling
      yesterday’s news…..

In the all-night cafe
A
t a quarter past eleven,
Same old man sitting there on               his own
Looking at the world
Over the rim of his teacup,
Each tea lasts an hour
Then he wanders home alone……

In our winter city,
The rain cries a little pity
For one more forgotten hero
And a world that doesn’t care.

The word “forgotten” catches my attention. That was the exact word used by imprisoned people serving life sentences with whom we spoke over a month ago. “Once you are here [in a maximum-security prison],” one gentleman explained to me, “you are forgotten.”

The forgotten people……

Yet, our forgiveness studies have taught me this: All people, regardless of circumstance, have inherent or built-in worth. The man, so continually rejected today on the street in London, has as much worth as the royalty in the palace. The one in maximum security prison for life has as much worth as the warden.

And in all likelihood, many of “the forgotten people” have stories to tell us of how they, themselves, were mistreated prior to their current plight. They have stories that include their own particular kind of pain, heartache, feelings that are part of the human condition. We need to hear those stories, to acknowledge their unique pain, their responses to that pain, and offer those suffering injustices from the past a chance to forgive. The forgiveness, for some, might be life changing as our science over the past three decades has shown for others.

We must not let forgiveness be the forgotten virtue.

We must not let the homeless and the imprisoned be the forgotten people.

Robert

Volunteers in Syracuse, New York, Reach Out to Spread the Word About Forgiveness Education

Mary Lou Coons is one of those always-optimistic individuals who uses every tool available to her to overcome life’s adversities–like the brain and spinal cord maladies that have caused her to endure repeated surgeries and years of suffering. Not one to be slowed down by such difficulties, Mary Lou decided to become a self-appointed “forgiveness ambassador” and has been on a mission to teach as many others as she can about the benefits of forgiveness.

This year alone, Mary Lou (who lives in Syracuse, NY) has:

  • Single-handedly convinced her parish elementary school to adopt Forgiveness Education in all of its classrooms from pre-kindergarten
    Mary Lou Coons with her puppet Lily.

    through 6th grade;

  • Organized and set up a booth to promote forgiveness to the more than 1,000 attendees at a Women’s Conference in Syracuse, NY–resulting in more of the state’s schools considering the use of Forgiveness Curriculum Guides; 
  • Developed Forgiveness Education videos featuring her puppet Lily through the Puppets For Peace Foundation she established 13-years-ago; and,
  • Introduced Dr. Enright and his staff to two native-Rwandan missionaries who quickly agreed to teach the IFI Forgiveness Education Program in three grade schools they established following the Rwandan Civil War and Genocide.

Mary Lou first contacted the International Forgiveness Institute (IFI) more than seven years ago just days after her second Chiari Malformation brain surgery (technically known as posterior fossa decompression surgery) at a Milwaukee, WI hospital. She had learned that IFI-founder Dr. Robert Enright was pioneering Forgiveness Education work with children and she thought her passion for ventriloquism and puppets could somehow supplement those efforts.

Surgery after surgery, recovery after recovery, Mary Lou never abandoned her passion for her Puppets For Peace Foundation and its mission of “spreading peace, love and joy to others.” With love and forgiveness at the heart of all her efforts, Mary Lou says she learned “how to suffer well” and how to give hope to others who were struggling, too.

“In order to suffer well, you need to love,” Mary Lou writes in one of her website blog entries. “When suffering is accepted with love, it is no longer suffering, but is changed into joy.”

Earlier this year, Mary Lou decided to talk about Dr. Enright’s forgiveness curriculum with one of the pre-K teachers at Holy Family School–a Roman Catholic elementary school on the west edge of Syracuse. That teacher, Nancy Whelan, was so impressed that she arranged a meeting for Mary Lou with the school’s principal, Sister Christina Marie Luczynski.

Shortly after that meeting, Holy Family School officially joined the scores of other  elementary schools in the state of New York and around the country that teach Forgiveness Education at every grade level. That IFI program uses proven Social Emotional Learning (SEL) techniques to teach students about the five moral qualities most important in forgiving another person–inherent worth, moral love, kindness, respect and generosity–and has been scientifically proven to benefit students by decreasing anger, increasing empathy and cooperation, and improving academic achievement.

Mary Lou Coons and Holy Family School teacher Nancy Whelan distributed forgiveness education materials at the October 26th 10th Annual Syracuse (NY) Catholic Women’s Conference.

Not content to recruit just one school into the program, Mary Lou teamed up with Nancy Whelan again and this time the dynamic duo set up a display booth at the 10th Annual Syracuse Catholic Women’s Conference. Together, the two women staffed a Forgiveness Education booth and tried to get forgiveness materials into the hands of every one of the more than 1,000 attendees crowded into the Convention Center for the Oct. 26 event.

Their on-site efforts and follow-up contacts resulted in several other Syracuse-area schools now considering using the IFI’s Forgiveness Education Curriculum Guides. Equally important, hundreds of New York women learned about the importance of forgiveness with many of them searching online for additional information causing a spike in the number of visitors to the IFI website following the Conference.

As part of her ongoing forgiveness mission, Mary Lou is now planning to develop a series of short videos with her favorite puppet Lily about forgiveness education and love. You can view one of her pilot vignettes called “Forgiveness Education” on her Puppets For Peace website.

Learn More:

Editor’s Note: Details on Forgiveness Education in Rwanda will be posted here shortly.

Finding Meaning in Suffering: I Am Someone Who Can Love Despite Hardship

Viktor Frankl, a survivor of the Holocaust and a world renown psychiatrist, made the point that the only ones who survived concentration camp were those who somehow could find Holocaust survivors found meaning in their sufferingmeaning in what they suffered. Those who saw their suffering as meaningless died.

In other words, finding meaning in this case meant to find life. What fascinates me about Dr. Frankl’s observations is that finding any meaning seems to count in staying alive. Whether a person saw the suffering as a way to toughen the self, or as a way to reach out to other suffering people was not the main point.

I wonder now, in reflecting on Dr. Frankl’s broad view of meaning in suffering, whether he had it entirely correct. Yes, it may be the case that any meaning can keep a person alive. Yet, what kind of meaning in suffering actually helps a person to thrive, not just to live? Perhaps people thrive only when they derive particular meaning from suffering. Of course, we do not know for sure, and any comment here is not definitive because it is open to scientific investigation and philosophical analysis. With that said, I think that when people realize that suffering helps them to love others more deeply, this is the avenue toward thriving.

How does suffering help people to love more deeply? I think there are at least three ways this happens: 1) Suffering makes people more aware of the wounds that others carry; 2) Suffering makes people more determined to help those others bind To live is to suffer, to survive, is to fin meaning in the suffering. Viktor E. Franklup their wounds, and 3) Suffering gives the sufferer the courage to put into action these insights and motivations to make a difference in the lives of others.

As people love in this way, there are characteristically two consequences which help them to thrive: 1) Those who deliberately love in the face of suffering grow in character, each becomes a better person; and 2) The recipients of this love-in-action have their well-being enhanced. As those who suffer see the fruit of their loving actions, this increases satisfaction with life, increasing thriving.

When we have been treated unjustly by others, this is an occasion of suffering. Let us cultivate the habit under this circumstance of finding this meaning: I have an opportunity now to love those who have hurt me. The one avenue to loving the unjust is to forgive them. Let us remember this meaning to forgiveness: “In my forgiving, I am someone who can love despite hardship.” As we say this routinely and come to know it is true, we may find that we have been given an opportunity to thrive as persons.

Robert

Edgewood College Honors Dr. Robert Enright as a “compassionate educator and voice for healing. . .”

Dr. Robert Enright, co-founder of the International Forgiveness Institute (IFI), has been named the 2019 Mazzuchelli Medallion recipient by Edgewood College in Madison, WI.

Dr. Robert Enright received the 2019 Mazzuchelli Medallion from Dr. Mary Ellen Gevelinger, O.P., Ed.D., Interim President of Edgewood College.

The Samuel Mazzuchelli Medallion recognizes those “who cultivate intellectual and spiritual resources to empower others.” One of the College’s highest honors, it is named for Fr. Samuel Mazzuchelli, who founded the Dominican Sisters of Sinsinawa in 1847.

“Tonight we recognize a compassionate educator and voice for healing, Dr. Robert Enright,” said Sr. Maggie Hopkins, O.P., Assistant to the President at Edgewood College, in her opening remarks at the Nov. 4 Award Presentation Dinner. “His vision, direction and scientific research served as groundwork for the International Forgiveness Institute he founded in 1994. To date, his Forgiveness program has impacted more than thirty countries around the globe, inspiring and assisting others to examine and navigate what can seem a difficult and sometimes an insurmountable path to personal freedom – the process of forgiveness.”

According to Sr. Hopkins, the Nov. 4 award presentation date was significant because Fr. Mazzuchelli was born on that date in 1806. She outlined how the Catholic priest, an immigrant from Italy to the US frontier, was a compassionate “voice for the voiceless” in the new American wilderness. His missionary vision, she added, centered on his conviction to offer healing, comfort, forgiveness, hope and justice.

“Similarly, at the heart of Dr. Enright’s vision and teaching is the conviction that forgiveness is a choice as well as the space where transformation begins. As Fr. Mazzuchelli sought to build up others in his time, TODAY through research, learning and expansive outreach, Dr. Enright continues to teach people to choose compassion and forgiveness, to see ‘the other as sister, brother, and friend.'”

Following Sr. Hopkins’ presentation, the Mazzuchelli Medallion was presented to Dr. Enright by Dr. Mary Ellen Gevelinger, O.P., Ed.D., Interim President of Edgewood College–a liberal arts Catholic college that has 1,460 undergraduate students and 700 graduate students. Founded in 1927, Edgewood College has been named to the 2019 “Best National Universities” list by U.S. News & World Report and one of the top ten colleges/universities in the country for promoting social mobility.


LEARN MORE:

  • Read Sr. Hopkins’ full Award Presentation Remarks: click here.
  • Edgewood College is located on a 55-acre wooded estate on the shore of Lake Wingra in the heart of Wisconsin’s capital city of Madison. It was donated to the Dominican Sisters of Sinsinawa in 1881 by Cadwallader C. Washburn, a Civil War general (Union Army) who built an industrial empire (founder of the company that became General Mills) and who became an influential politician (two terms in the U.S. House of Representatives, three terms in the U.S. Senate, and Wisconsin’s 11th governor from 1872-1874).
  • Dominican Sisters of Sinsinawa (formally: The Congregation of the Most Holy Rosary of the Order of Preachers) are dedicated to preaching and teaching the Gospel.  Today, more than 400 Sinsinawa Dominican Sisters serve in the United States and abroad (including missions in Bolivia and Trinidad and Tobago). Their General Motherhouse, the Sinsinawa Mound Center, is located in southwestern Wisconsin.
  • Dr. Mary Ellen Gevelinger, O.P., Ed.D., is a seasoned leader and administrator with decades of experience at the helm of complex organizations. She served as both Vicaress(Vice President) and Prioress (Chief Executive) of the Dominican Sisters of Sinsinawa congregation. Earlier in her career, she served as Director of Personnel and Planning for the Archdiocese of St. Paul and Minneapolis, with responsibility for more than 100 Catholic schools.
  • Sister Maggie Hopkins assists the Edgewood College President, leadership and the College community in assuring the consistency of the Dominican Catholic school’s identity and tradition.  She became a vowed member of the Dominican Sisters of Sinsinawa in 1966 and has served Edgewood College since 1991.

Can you show me one culture in which forgiving is expressed differently than in the United States?

Yes. There is a film entitled, Fambul Tok, in which small communities in Sierra Leone, Africa come together around a bonfire at night. The aggrieved person states the injustice and then the offending person emerges to explain the injustice from that vantage point. They express the seeking and the granting of forgiveness. This is done in front of the community. It is important to keep this in mind: This ritual does not change what forgiveness **is.** It changes how forgiveness is **expressed** relative to how we usually go about forgiving in the United States.

Learn more at What is Forgiveness?

I have noticed that in both Hebrew and Christian scripture the central stories of person-to-person forgiveness focus on family issues only. Does this imply that we are to forgive only family members because of the love we share? Maybe it is too hard to forgive strangers.

While the story of Joseph forgiving his 10 half-brothers in the Hebrew scriptures and the story of the father forgiving his Prodigal Son in the Christian scriptures center on family issues, there are other passages showing the importance of forgiving people who are not family. Consider the parable of the unforgiving servant in Matthew chapter 18. In this story, the king forgives a servant who owes a large debt. That servant then refuses to forgive the debt of another servant, who is not a family member. The king is very unhappy about this lack of forgiveness. In the Lord’s Prayer or Our Father in Matthew chapter 6, people are exhorted to forgive and this is not centered on family members only. Thus, it appears that scripture does not focus on family only when teaching us about the importance of forgiving others.

For additional information, see the “Faith and Religion” page on this website.