I am considering going to a therapist so that I can work on forgiving someone. How can I be sure that it is time to switch psychotherapeutic approaches and focus now on forgiveness?

I think you have to look within and ask this: Have the psychotherapeutic approaches in which you have engaged worked for you? One way to discern this is to ask yourself: On a 1-to-10 scale, how angry am I at a particular person who has been very unjust to me? Let a “1” stand for no anger at all and a “10” stand for so much anger that you can hardly take it. If your answer is in the 8, 9, or 10 range, and if your previous and current psychotherapies have not reduced that resentment, then it may be time to try Forgiveness Therapy.

For additional information, see The Four Phases of Forgiveness.

I want to start working on the theme of forgiving toward one of my parents. I have a therapist with whom I have been working for many years. She says that she has not studied Forgiveness Therapy, but is open to exploring forgiveness with me. What do you suggest under this circumstance?

I recommend that you, personally, first examine one of my self-help books (Forgiveness Is a Choice, The Forgiving Life, or 8 Keys to Forgiveness). See which you prefer. Then bring a copy of the chosen book to your therapist as you also retain a copy. Both of you can work systematically through the book that you choose. Given the therapist’s years of experience in the mental health profession, she should have no problem assisting you on your forgiveness journey.

For additional information, see Learning to Forgive Others.

If a person is good at forgiving, does this mean that he is a highly developed person?

The answer depends on the definitions of both the term “good” and the term “highly developed person.” If by the term good we mean: a) understands forgiveness accurately; b) practices it consistently; c) has developed a love of this virtue; and d) tries to appropriate forgiving as love for others, then yes, I would say that this is a highly developed person. By “highly developed” I would say that he: a) strives to be good to others in terms of justice, courage, and wisdom in addition to forgiving; b) puts moral virtue above material gain or the rewards and praises from others; and c) has as an end point to his life the betterment of humanity.

For additional information, see What is Forgiveness? and The Forgiving Life.

Kenny, Kindness, and Forgiveness from Edinburgh to Rome

Editor’s Note: Dr. Robert Enright, founder of the International Forgiveness Institute, sent this communiqué today while overseeing forgiveness education projects in western Europe.

It was time to go from Edinburgh, Scotland to Rome, Italy to continue the forgiveness work. While going to the Edinburgh airport, Kenny, the driver, engaged me in conversation.

“Were you here to see the sights of this beautiful city?” he asked me.

“I do admire the beauty of the city, but I was not here for sightseeing,” I replied.

As he inquired further, I explained that I had been doing research with people who are homeless. It is our hope to be able to research whether forgiveness interventions can help with this population. I explained that we have found that about two-thirds of people without homes, who take our surveys, show the following pattern:

a) They have been deeply hurt by others’ injustices against them prior to their becoming homeless;

b) they have not yet forgiven, but have significant resentment toward those who treated them unfairly; and

c) they have psychological compromise in the form of anger, anxiety, and depression.

If we can help the people to forgive, perhaps they will have sufficient energy and psychological health to change their life circumstance.

Kenny had wise insights for me regarding the situation of homelessness in Edinburgh.

As we continued the conversation, I told him how, while in Edinburgh, I had visited men in what is called, in the United States, a maximum security prison because one of the professionals in the prison invited me to discuss Forgiveness Therapy. The talk was well-received and so he now is planning to implement a forgiveness intervention soon in that facility.

Again, Kenny seemed to have uncommon insights for me about how to proceed with forgiveness interventions in the prison of Edinburgh.

By then, we were at the airport. After Kenny lifted my suitcase from the boot (trunk in USA talk), I handed him the 55 Great Britain Pounds Sterling as payment. He refused to take it. As I did not want him to work for me for nothing, I again handed the money to him and he said, “You have come a long way to enter my city to help the homeless and the imprisoned. I cannot take money from you. I want you to give that money to the poor when you are in Rome this coming week.” I was almost speechless, but I did manage a heart-felt thank you.

In Rome, there are many people who hold out paper or plastic cups in the hope of help. I met Andrea, a woman with a kind smile. She walks daily through the streets of Rome. She uses crutches because she has one leg. She manages, as she walks on crutches, to hold a white plastic cup in her right hand as she maneuvers the crutches. Much of the funds, meant for Kenny, went to Andrea over the coming days. We got to know one another, as I spoke a little Italian and she spoke a little English. Her eyes brighten each time we come toward one another and she expresses a genuine gratitude, meant, of course, for Kenny, whom she likely will never meet. She, though, has met Kenny’s kindness through me.

Kindness went from Edinburgh to Rome, 1549.7 miles away from each other. Forgiveness work followed the same route. Kindness and forgiveness can spread across hearts and across countries. Long live kindness and forgiveness.

Football, Family and Forgiveness. . .

Profootballtalk.com, New York, NY The Atlanta Falcons chose former University of Pittsburgh running back Qadree Ollison in the fifth round of this year’s National Football League (NFL) draft. Ollison is no stranger to news headlines not only because of his all-star performance at Pitt and his entry into the NFL, but also because of his personal story of forgiveness.

Qadree Ollison, left, and his late brother Rome Harris at the opening game of Pitt’s 2017 season. It was the last time Ollison saw his brother, who was fatally shot Oct. 14, 2017. (Photo by Wayne Ollison)

On Oct.14, 2017, a Saturday when Ollison was playing in a football game at Pitt, his 35-year-old brother Lerowne “Rome” Harris was shot and killed outside a gas station in Niagara Falls, NY. Police soon arrested Denzel Lewis for the murder based on security camera footage that clearly showed Lewis shooting Harris three times.

Lewis later pleaded guilty and at his sentencing hearing last August he was shocked, as was the entire courtroom, to learn that Ollison forgave him for killing his brother. Since he was unable to personally attend the hearing, Ollison wrote a letter that was read aloud at the hearing by his father:

“When I heard what happened, I was devastated like most would be when they hear that their brother’s life was taken. During that time, though, I didn’t feel an ounce of hate for whoever had did it.

Every single life is precious, no matter what they’ve done. I truly believe that. I truly believe that God hand-crafted and molded each one of us and gave us this life. We are all his children. We are all sons, and we are all daughters….

Now here I am, and I have this choice to hate you or not. I choose not to. I don’t hate you, Denzel. I hate what you did, most certainly. But I still think your life is just as precious as the next person’s. No life means more than another’s. None of us are perfect.

I can’t hate one of God’s children. I truly hope and pray that you get better from this. I hope that this time is what you need and what makes you love and not hate.”

Qadree Ollison became the 14th Pitt running back to reach the 2,000-yard milestone in his career. (University of Pittsburgh Athletics)

At Canisius High School in Buffalo, NY, a Catholic college-preparatory school, Ollison set school records for rushing yards (4,117) and touchdowns (57) during his football career there. He was a two-time Class AA all-state selection and shared Buffalo News Player of the Year honors with teammate Ryan Hunter (now an offensive lineman for the NFL’s Kansas City Chiefs) after Canisius went undefeated and won the state championship his junior year.

Regarded as the top running back prospect in the state as a senior, Ollison had 14 Division I college scholarship offers when he committed to Pitt. After redshirting his first season, Ollison continued his success as soon as he hit the field for the Panthers. Coming in for an injured starter, Ollison, ran for 207 yards on 16 carries (all in the second half), a record for a Pitt freshman in a season opener.

Ollison was named Atlantic Coast Conference Rookie of the Year and became the fifth Pitt freshman to achieve a 1,000-yard season. In an effort to pay tribute to his brother, Ollison switched to a No. 30 jersey for his final year of eligibility at Pitt. No. 30 was the number Harris used to wear as a youth football player. Ollison gained 1,213 yards and scored 11 touchdowns on 194 carries in that jersey.

Yet perhaps even more impressive than Ollison’s ability as a 6-foot-1, 232-pound  running back, now at the professional level, is his willingness to make forgiveness a priority.


Following a May 8, 2019 news article about Ollison’s act of forgiveness on the website Profootballtalk.com, an NBC Sports affiliate, a reader identified only as “mjtn” commented:

“Having forgiveness in one’s heart instead of hatred is a rare and highly admirable occurrence. The world would clearly be a better place if we could all live in such a way. This young man is wise beyond his years and already a role model. I thank him for showing the rest of us that it can be done.”


Even in Death, Coptic Christians Forgive

With mid-morning temperatures approaching 86° on Palm Sunday in April 2017, the security guard at St. Mark’s Cathedral in the seaside Mediterranean city of Alexandria, Egypt, approached and redirected a young man rushing for the church’s main entrance. Seconds later, the bomb strapped to the man’s body detonated, killing both him and the guard while dozens inside the church were spared harm by the guard’s quick actions.

Just days later, after the bomber had been identified as an ISIS (Islamic State in Iraq and Syria) terrorist, the widow of that security guard was interviewed by an Egyptian television station. As she pulled her young children close to her side she announced:

“I’m not angry at the one who did this. I’m telling him, ‘May God forgive you, and we also forgive you. Believe me, we forgive you.’

“You put my husband in a place I couldn’t have dreamed of.”

While millions of Egyptians across the country marveled at what the grieving woman said, it was far from the first time in recent history that Coptic Christians have expressed forgiveness rather than revenge.

This 2015 photo is from a video released by the Islamic State showing the beheading of 21 Egyptian Coptic Christians. A  scrolling caption in the video mocked the hostages as “People of the cross, followers of the hostile Egyptian Church.

A 2011 New Year’s Eve attack in Alexandria’s Church of Two Saints killed 23 Coptics, for example. In February 2015, the Islamic State in Libya kidnapped and beheaded 21 mostly Coptic Christians on the shores of Tripoli.

A December 2016 attack at a chapel of the flagship St. Mark’s cathedral in Cairo killed 29 mostly women and children–the deadliest terrorism attack against Egyptian Christians until attacks at two Coptic Orthodox churches in Egypt’s Nile Delta killed more than 45 people and injured more than 100 others during Palm Sunday services in 2017. 

Men mourn over the Egyptian Coptic Christians who were captured in Libya and killed by militants affiliated with the Islamic State group, at the Virgin Mary church in the village of el-Aour, near Minya, south of Cairo, Egypt. Photo by Hassan Ammar

But even in death, the Copts forgive. While Egypt’s president pledged retaliation following those tragedies, Coptic Christians continued to spread their message of forgiveness and love.
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On the night of the Palm Sunday bombings, for example, Coptic priest Fr. Boules George said he thanks and loves those who did this crime. Speaking to a congregation in Cairo’s Cleopatra neighborhood, he first addressed the terrorists and said:

“I long to talk to you about our Christ, and tell you how wonderful he is.” But then he asked those in the church, “How about we make a commitment today to pray for them? If they know that God is love and they experience his love, they could not do these things—never, never, never.”

(Watch Fr. George’s entire sermon including his explanation of why he thanks the terrorists, at this video link with subtitles.)

The Coptic Orthodox Church is one of the most ancient churches in the world, founded in the first century in Egypt by Saint Mark the Apostle during the reign of the Roman emperor Nero. A conservative Church that shares many beliefs and practices with both the Roman Catholic Church and the Eastern Orthodox Church, it has carefully preserved the Orthodox Christian faith in its earliest form. Today the Church has 18-22 million members worldwide with more than 75% of them in Egypt–the country’s largest Christian denomination.

Learn more at:
    •  Forgiveness: Muslims Moved as Coptic Christians Do the Unimaginable
    •  Libya’s 21 Christian Martyrs: “With Their Blood, They Are Unifying Egypt”
    •  ISIS Church Bombings Kill Dozens at Palm Sunday Services in Egypt 


This article was inspired by a blog post titled “The Scandal of Forgiveness in a Time of Terror” by R. H. (Rusty) Foerger on his website More Enigma Than Dogma. In his post, Foerger asks if forgiveness is ever wasted. He answers his own question with this: “On the surface I suppose forgiveness is a losing game; so is terrorism and retaliation. But go deeper and you will find forgiveness comes from a endless well – available for an ocean of need.”


 

I have heard the term “false forgiveness,” but I am not sure what it is and how can I make a clear distinction between the false variety and the real thing?

False forgiveness in essence is not about a moral response to someone who has hurt you. It is more about power than leveling the moral playing field (seeing the other and the self as precious, unique, special, and irreplaceable). There are two kinds of power-plays that someone practicing false forgiveness might show: 1) dominating the other person by constantly reminding him or her that, indeed, you have forgiven….and plan to do so tomorrow…and the next day…and the day after that. You keep the other under your thumb by reminding them of how noble you are and how ignoble they are; 2) being dominated by the other person by giving in to unreasonable demands, hastily reconciling, letting the other have power over you. True forgiveness is gentle and kind, honoring the humanity of the other person and the self. It does not dominate or allow others to dominate in a relationship.

For additional information, see What is Forgiveness?