The Risk of Throwing It All Over the Cliff……..and Then Learning How to Fly

1984. The Orwellian year of change, but in the novel by the same name it was a year of forced conformity, the chaining of ideas to the Big Brother agenda. It was the worst of times in the mind of George Orwell.

In my own case, 1984 was a time of finally breaking free of conformity, unlocking the chains of imprisoned ideas and learning for the first time how to fly. I am an academic and academics live and die by ideas, ones that they research and publish and try to spread to others.

I had a sabbatical in that fated year at the University of Wisconsin-Madison where my ideas centered on moral development, which was centered on how youth     become fair, which was centered on two thinkers, Jean Piaget of Switzerland and Lawrence Kohlberg of Harvard. Like sheep, the rest of us fell into line behind these thinkers’ ideas and we bleated out the same old story: there are stages of development in how youth think about justice and the more complex their thinking, the better off the youth are. And when I studied the progression of ideas on this theme during my 1984 sabbatical I faced a frightening reality: We are all recycling the same old story decade after decade after decade…..from 1932 to the present. 1984. Yes, I was horrified that I was about to spend the rest of my career in the pasture of old ideas, following shepherds who had brilliant original ideas. Yet, why should I keep going to that same pasture again and again…….and again?

I decided to get out of the line and flee that pasture. I threw over the academic cliff all of my writing and research on these two luminaries’ ideas…….and I never have gone back, over 30 years now, to read even one of my journal articles on youths’ justice-thinking that helped me receive both grants and tenure. I did not go back because the ideas were choking the life out of me. Why live in the shadow of luminaries when their ideas already have been brought to pasture so often by so many?

So, here I was in a publish-or-perish university without an idea……and academics live and die by ideas. So, I asked myself this question: What in the area of moral development might impact — — — truly impact on a deep level — — every person on the planet? Well, I thought, everyone who has ever lived and in the future will live on this planet must confront the opposite of Piaget’s and Kohlberg’s life-callings: injustice. How do people respond to injustice so that they can emotionally heal from the effect of cruel, undeserved injustice? Forgiveness. Yes, forgiveness. If people can learn to forgive, perhaps this could aid people in casting off resentment and unhealthy anger and discouragement. Yes, forgiveness is worth studying even though it seems so….so… unreasonable, being good to those who are not good to you.

Yet, when I went to the library and asked the librarian to do a literature search (there were no Google searches back then) for all studies in all of the social sciences focused expressly on people forgiving other people, she came back with a blank piece of paper. Sorry, but there are no such studies on the planet. A friend of mine, at the same time, did such a search in the library at a Kansas university and he, too, was met with a blank sheet. No published studies on forgiving existed.

I decided to start a think-tank at the University of Wisconsin-Madison to begin asking these questions: What does it mean to forgive others? What is the pathway that people typically walk when they decide to forgive? What outcomes can we measure when people choose to forgive? The Friday Forgiveness Seminar was born in the spring semester of 1985 (and continues to this day) and consisted of a wide range of cultures and faiths and no-faiths, people from Saudi Arabia, Greece, Taiwan, Korea, and the United States…….Muslims, Jewish, Christian, agnostics, and the religiously indifferent. We all sat around a table every Friday, discussed the questions, did the research, and found very good things in that research. When people forgive, even when hurt gravely such as by incest or emotional abuse, there is a tendency for the forgivers to reduce in anger and anxiety and even in depression. They get their lives back.

Nonetheless, academia is not so forgiving as to forgive me for stepping out of the sheep line and thinking independently. Academia talks the talk of academic freedom, but offers its support only within the parameters of what is considered acceptable at that point in time in that cultural context. I now like to say that academia, if we are not careful, grooms us for the sheep’s meadow where we can live out our lives under the careful watch of the academic shepherds who will tell us what is and what is not an acceptable thought. And the study of forgiveness in 1985 was not one of those ideas.

A firestorm erupted about our studying forgiving. It is unacceptable, I was told. It is too soft an idea for hard-headed academia, I was told. You are ruining your career and so you will ruin the career of your unsuspecting graduate students. Desist! Desist with your ideas! 1984.

I did not listen, nor did my brave graduate students, so many of whom now are in solid and tenured academic positions…….because the original nay-sayers were wrong. As soon as we started to publish work on Forgiveness Therapy, showing the reduction of depression, and even its elimination in people who had suffered for years, many academics began to change their ideas about our ideas. The American Psychological Association played a large part in this turn around, as the Editor of APA Books, Mary Lynn Skutley, took her own risk by publishing one of my books, Helping Clients Forgive with the psychiatrist Richard Fitzgibbons, then another and then another. 5 books in all at APA and this helped to put the social scientific study of forgiving on the map of acceptability.

We were able to fly with our ideas, but only after not accepting the chains in the pasture of the sheep. And I will never go back to that pasture.                          

The risks continue. My colleagues and I have given talks in war-torn areas, areas where governmental overseers warn us not to go. Yet, the ideas beckon. We are planning the Jerusalem Conference on Forgiveness for July 12 and 13, 2017 because, well, Jerusalem is a very hurting city and so it is a symbol of the need for forgiving, so off we go.

Within the past month, the Rotary Club of New York has taken the risk with us. We now have created the joint Declaration for Peace and Community Renewal, centered on bringing forgiveness education to as many war-torn communities across the world as we can over the next 24 years. That Declaration is on the Rotary Club of New York’s website as I write this. We are planning a conference on forgiveness education at the United Nations. We are taking a risk together.

Risk. Without it, my ideas die in the academic pasture. With it, I fly because forgiveness flies…..into broken hearts, into broken families, into broken communities. APA and Rotary are risk-takers. We have flown and are flying together……and the world is better off. Taking that risk has allowed many researchers to fly with us and has allowed hurting people to cast off the chains of resentment in their own hearts. Risk can save lives.

This blog first appeared on Thrive Global, June 15, 2017.
Go to the profile of Robert Enright

Robert Enright

Professor of Educational Psychology, UW-Madison, licensed psychologist, and IFI board member was the first to research forgiveness in the social sciences.

New Study: Forgiveness Makes Kids Happier

It might be worth our while to move beyond “I’m sorry” as the be-all and end-all goal of conflict resolution for children. To raise happier children, we should take steps that lead to a lot more “I forgive you’s.”

That’s one of the dramatic take-aways of a just-completed study by three researchers9-13 at Radboud University Nijmegen in the Netherlands. In a sample of 275 nine- to 13-year-olds who completed self-reported and behavioral measures of forgiveness and various indicators of psychological well-being, the study found that forgiveness can help children maintain strong relationships and improve psychological well-being.

According to the authors, it’s long been known that peer and friendship relations in late childhood play an essential role in children’s social, emotional, and cognitive development. The research shows that friendships are associated with a greater sense of well-being, better self-esteem, and fewer social problems, both concurrently and later in life.

In contrast, children and adolescents who lack close friendships are more likely to manifest behavioral and emotional problems during childhood and even adulthood. Children who are less forgiving have lower self-esteem, are more socially anxious, and are more likely to engage in deviant behaviors.

The study also emphasized the need for 9-13 3early childhood forgiveness education, particularly during stages in which friendships are most important, such as in early childhood when children start to untie their parental bonds and increasingly focus on relationships with peers. In late adolescence, when the emphasis shifts from friendships to partner relationships, or during adulthood, when individuals spend less time with their friends, the association between forgiving friends and well-being may be weaker.

Read more:
Does Forgiveness Make Kids Happier?
⇒ An article in Greater Good, the Science of a Meaningful Life
 

Interpersonal Forgiveness and Psychological Well-being in Late Childhood   Access to the complete study

Why We Need Forgiveness Education. . .NOW
⇒ A blog post by Dr. Robert Enright

Forgiveness Research Tool Being Translated into Urdu Language

The Enright Forgiveness Inventory (EFI) and the Enright Forgiveness Inventory for Children (EFI-C), both developed by researcher and psychologist Robert Enright, have become the measurement tools of choice in forgiveness research and have been used around the world. Now, thanks to a Masters Degree student in Pakistan, the children’s version of the EFI is being translated into the Urdu language.

Affaf Rahman, who is pursuing his Masters in Clinical Psychology, is translating the Enright Forgiveness Inventory for Children (EFI-C) as part of his research work on sexually-abused children. Rahman is working under the supervision of Ms. Rabia Iftikhar, Lecturer, Government College University Lahore in Lahore, Pakistan. Lahore is on the country’s eastern border with India. South Asia 3

“This is an exciting development that will make the EFI-C available to
Urdu-speaking researchers in South Asia as well as many other countries around the world,” according to Dr. Enright. “The International Forgiveness Institute will retain the copyright and distribution rights to this new version that will significantly expand usability of the tool.”

Consistent with the definition of interpersonal forgiveness, the EFI is an objective measure of the degree to which one person forgives another who has hurt him or her deeply and unfairly. The EFI-C is a 30-item scale similar to the 60-item adult version. The Children’s Inventory assesses a child’s degree of forgiveness toward one person for one hurtful event. It is presented orally to the child.

Urdu (or Modern Standard Urdu) is a variety of the Hindustani language. It is the national language and one of the two official languages of Pakistan, along with English, and is spoken and understood throughout the country. Urdu is also an official language of six states of India.

PakistanChildrenUrdu is historically associated with the Muslims of the region of Hindustan. Apart from specialized vocabulary, Urdu is mutually intelligible with Standard Hindi, which is associated with the Hindu community in South Asia. It evolved during medieval times (6th to 13th century).

There are between 60 and 70 million native speakers of Urdu: 52 million in India (according to the 2001 census); approximately 10 million in Pakistan; and several hundred thousand in the United Kingdom, Saudi Arabia, United States, and Bangladesh (where it is called “Bihari”). However, a knowledge of Urdu allows one to speak with far more people than that, because Hindustani, of which Urdu is one variety, is the fourth most commonly spoken language in the world, after Mandarin, English, and Spanish.

Here is a sample text in Urdu – the beginning of Article 1 of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights (by the United Nations):

Urdu text

دفعہ ۱: تمام انسان آزاد اور حقوق و عزت کے اعتبار سے برابر پیدا ہوئے ہیں۔ انہیں ضمیر اور عقل ودیعت ہوئی ہے۔ اس لئے انہیں ایک دوسرے کے ساتھ بھائی چارے کا س

English Translation (grammatical)

Article 1: All human beings are born free and equal in dignity and rights. They are endowed with reason and conscience. Therefore, they should act towards one another in a spirit of brotherhood.

Urdu is written right-to left in an extension of the Persian alphabet, which is itself an extension of the Arabic alphabet. Urdu has been one of the premier languages of poetry in South Asia for two centuries, and has developed a rich tradition in a variety of poetic genres.