Pioneering UW-Madison professor teaches forgiveness

Pioneering UW-Madison professor teaches forgiveness

Think back to a time you felt wronged by someone. Does the memory still cause you pain? A professor at University of Wisconsin-Madison is teaching classes in the practice of forgiveness to students at the UW School of Education.

Robert Enright Ph.D. is a licensed psychologist and a professor of educational psychology. He’s considered a pioneer in the scientific study of forgiveness, which claims thousands of researchers worldwide.

Enright defines forgiveness as “being good to those who are not good to you, which means it is quite controversial and people think it’s absurd. When you think about it, forgiveness is a virtue alongside justice and kindness and patience. It is the most heroic virtue because you are struggling to be good to someone who might have hurt you.”

Enright has been researching and teaching forgiveness for three decades. He is a founder of the International Forgiveness Institute and the author of six books on the subject. His latest book is titled “Forgiveness is a Choice: A Step-by-Step Process for Resolving Anger and Restoring Hope.”

Enright said “We find that when people don’t forgive, they often pass their anger to other people especially their own children. When a person stands in the pain, they know they’re being a conduit of good, which strengthens them to give this goodness to the one who isn’t good to you.”

Enright’s work is in demand more than ever following a stream of national tragedies and with issues such as bullying and violence taking center stage in our culture.

“A lot of times, students come in and they are very polite to me but the admit, ‘There’s no way I’m going to forgive the big things in my life.’ Once they give the course a try, they realize there’s something to this forgiveness stuff. It’s not as wacky as it might first appear,” he said

Enright’s building blocks of forgiveness include:

1. Know that you have been treated unfairly by another

2. Recognize your pain and realize you have to do something about it

3. Know what forgiveness is and is not. It is being good to those who are not good to you. You are not excusing, forgetting or abandoning justice.

4. Commit to do no harm to the one who hurt you.

5. Expand your vision of the other. See the person’s worth as a person.

6. Be aware of compassion as it slowly emerges in you.

7. Bear the pain of what happened to you so you do not pass it to innocent others or to the one who hurt you.

Enright is working with the Wisconsin Department of Corrections to expand the forgiveness curriculum in the state prison system.

“Forgiveness is a cure of resentment. It’s a cure of hatred. It’s a cure of unhealthy anger that can just create mayhem,” he said.