Forgiveness: “Groundbreaking Scientific Discovery”

A cutting-edge organization in California that sponsors groundbreaking scientific discoveries has launched a new service called Greater Good in Action and added forgiveness to its list of practices that can help you improve your social or emotional well-being or the well-being of others including your children.

The Greater Good Science Center (GGSC) at the University of California, Berkeley, not only studies the psychology, sociology, and neuroscience of well-being but also “teaches skills that foster a happier life and a more compassionate society–the science of a meaningful life.”

The Greater Good in Action initiative adds forgiveness to its list of established practices that include compassion, generosity, gratitude, honesty and others. It is a new addition to a service the organization began in July of 2017, called Raising Caring, Courageous Kids that is designed to help parents raise kids of high character who treat others with compassion and respect.

In its inaugural forgiveness practice called Introducing Kids to Forgiveness, Greater Good in Action cites the pioneering forgiveness work of psychologist Robert Enright, Ph.D., and psychiatrist Richard Fitzgibbons, M.D. (co-authors of Forgiveness Therapy, a manual providing instructions for clinicians who want to incorporate forgiveness interventions into their therapy with clients.

Horton Hears a Who teaches kids about self-worth.
This book by Dr. Seuss helps kids learn about        self-worth. It is one of nine children’s books incorporated into Dr. Enright’s 1st Grade Forgiveness Curriculum Guide.

Referencing Dr. Enright’s years of hands-on experience teaching children about forgiveness (he has developed 17 Forgiveness Curriculum Guides for kids in pre-school through 12th grade that are being used in more than 30 countries around the world), Greater Good in Action links readers to a separate dissertation on Dr. Enright’s insights into how to help children and adolescents learn and practice forgiveness.

That work concludes that “a wide range of studies have found that forgiveness programs can help kids of different ages feel better, strengthen their relationships, and improve their academic performance.”


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.

Maryam Abdullah, Ph.D., Parenting Program Director at Greater Good
and a developmental psychologist with expertise in parent-child relationships.


The practices provided by Greater Good in Action are for anyone who wants to improve his or her social and emotional well-being, or the well-being of others, but doesn’t necessarily have the time or money to invest in a formal program.   Through its free online magazine Greater Good, the GGSC provides articles, videos, exercises, quizzes, podcasts, workshops and more for parents and families to help them foster positive attributes like forgiveness in themselves and their children.

How Forgiving Are You? 
When someone does you wrong, are you more likely to turn the other cheek or slash their tires? Take the Greater Good Forgiveness Quiz to find out.

Is wanting to forgive for your own sake selfish?

There is a difference between being selfish and being self-focused. Suppose you have a throbbing knee after a workout. Is going to the sports medicine clinic selfish? No; it is an issue of self-care. Being motivated to be psychologically more healthy upon forgiving is similar. Your motivation of self-focused care may change to a different motivation as you proceed with the forgiveness process. Your motivation may then include the other person, as you develop a concern for this person’s well-being.

For additional information, see Forgiveness for Individuals.

Is it ever too late to forgive? My dad has been angry with his own father now for decades. This anger has become part of his identity, part of who he is. I am worried that he never will be able to forgive and find peace.

You make a good point about anger sometimes becoming part of one’s identity. Also, at times people are fearful of confronting their own anger because they fear an inability to be rid of this. Yet, once a person realizes that forgiveness is a kind of safety net for the unhealthy anger, they tend to go ahead with forgiveness because they have more confidence in their ability to eliminate this excessive anger.

Also, with regard to the theme of identity, people can transform their identity, from resentful persons to persons who are caring and who do not let others’ injustices define who they are. If you see receptivity in your father regarding forgiveness, you might want to talk to him about these two themes: a) forgiving is a safety net for his anger and thus that anger will not overwhelm him if he starts to look at his own father’s behavior; and, b) his identity might change in a positive way.

For additional information, see Learning to Forgive Others.

I hate to admit it, but I have been hating someone for years. How long now will it take me to forgive? I want it all wrapped up this week.

Please do not think of forgiving as a kind of pill one takes for a headache. You do not take a forgiveness pill and then wait a little while for complete relief. Forgiveness, instead, is a process, a challenging process, that takes time to develop. We find that the more severe the injustice against a person, then the longer it may take to forgive. If you work at it, we find that people tend to feel some relief in about 12 weeks; others still may take much longer, but even in this longer process, you might sense that your anger is diminishing, which can motivate you to keep at the forgiveness process. Anger is not necessarily entirely eliminated when a person forgives, but hatred (very deep and abiding anger) does tend to diminish. I am encouraged that you are considering forgiving even with hatred in your heart. This, to me, is a good sign that you will make progress in your forgiving.

 

People forgive for whose sake: the other or the self?

The point of forgiving is to offer goodness toward the one who acted unjustly. Yet, one very common motivation is to forgive to feel better, to rid oneself of resentment. This motivation (relief from suffering in the self) is not the same as what forgiving actually is (a gift to the other).

For additional information, see What Is Forgiveness?

I find it harder to forgive someone who hurt my mother than to forgive those who hurt me. Why is that? Also, is it even legitimate for me to consider forgiving someone who has not directly hurt me?

Let us focus on the second question first. According to the philosopher, Trudy Govier, there are distinctions among primary forgiving (in which you were directly hurt by another), secondary forgiving (in which you are resentful because of injustice toward another person about whom you care), and tertiary forgiving (in which you are resentful toward someone who is quite distant from you or a loved one, such as a politician who behaves badly). You are discussing secondary forgiving because you are resentful of another who behaved badly toward your mother. So, yes, you can legitimately work on forgiving this person.

Why is this one so hard? I think it is because your mother likely is going through much pain because of the person’s offense and you are reacting to this deep pain in your mother. Secondary forgiving is not necessarily always more difficult than primary forgiveness. The difficulty depends on the depth of the injustice and the depth of hurt experienced by your loved one and you.

For additional information, see Can You Forgive an Entire Group?

How does forgiving work in huge issues such as the Holocaust, for example? Can a person forgive an entire group that has followed a misguided ideology?

This idea of forgiving in the context of “huge issues” such as the Holocaust is extremely controversial. Some will say that forgiving is not appropriate in this context for a number of reasons (The vast majority of people in the current generation were not in the Holocaust and so it is not their place to offer forgiving; some injustices are so grave as to eliminate the possibility of offering forgiving). Yet, there are people who are on record as offering their own forgiveness to the Nazis. The late Eva Mozes Kor, in the film Forgiving Dr. Mengele, is one example of this. People can forgive groups because when we forgive we do forgive people; groups are made up of people. Thus, if certain people so choose, they can forgive those who instituted Nazism or slavery, as two examples.

Also, the philosopher, Trudy Govier, makes the distinction among primary, secondary, and tertiary forgiving. Primary forgiving is when someone hurts you directly; secondary forgiving occurs when you are hurt because a loved one was hurt (a grandson, then, who is hurt by the death of a grandparent in the Holocaust, can forgive for his own sake, but not forgive on behalf of the grandparent); tertiary forgiving is when you forgive, for example, a public official who is guilty of corruption in another country. In this case, you are not hurt directly and, let us suppose for the sake of this example, none of your relatives were hurt directly. You feel badly, even resentful, and so tertiary forgiving is appropriate.

We need to remember that forgiving is a person’s own choice. Even if everyone else says that injustice X is too severe for anyone to offer forgiveness, we still might be surprised to see that someone steps up and decides to forgive despite popular opinion to the contrary.

For additional information, see Forgiveness Defined.