Interview With Robert D. Enright About The Forgiving Life

In this video, recorded at the 2011 APA Convention in Washington, DC, author Robert D. Enright talks about his book, The Forgiving Life: A Pathway to Overcoming Resentment and Creating a Legacy of Love. (5 minutes, 32 seconds)


Interviewer [Male Voice]: Your new book is entitled The Forgiving Life. What does it mean to live a forgiving life and how does one begin?

Robert Enright: Well first, to lead a forgiving life, you must take one forgiveness step at a time and forgive a particular person for a particular event, and then realize that this could be more than just a one time event that makes you feel good. It can be a way of practicing goodness toward others who have been unfair to us starting from childhood, through adolescence, into adulthood and beyond. So that this practice of goodness in the face of injustice can help one psychologically and enliven one's relationships, and in fact give a meaning to life; a sense of hope that a person didn't think possible until saying yes to leading this forgiving life.

Interviewer: Why is it important to forgive?

Robert Enright: A lot of times, even though we're just going about our everyday business of life, injustices can slam us and slam us very hard. We were innocent and yet slammed like that. My question is - what can we do about that to heal in a psychological sense? It's very difficult to heal from grave injustices against us, and after 26 years of research on the topic, I'm thoroughly convinced that the one primary way to heal from such grave injustices is to actually take the time and go through the process of forgiving the person who has hurt us. And basically what I mean by that is to have a goodness toward that person that is even stronger than the injustice against us. And when we do that, we realize how strong we are. We can actually stand in goodness and love when we're being slammed by the injustices of life. It helps us stand up and move forward in life with a wonderful meaning that life will not defeat us.

Interviewer: What common misunderstandings about forgiveness have you encountered?

Robert Enright: When people first hear the word "forgiveness," they don't understand that it's a moral virtue like justice or patience or kindness that must be cultivated from continual practice. Instead they throw up their hands and say, "Forgiveness - what a weak thing to do! I will never forgive, I will fight." They don't realize that a person can seek this goodness in the face of injustice and seek justice together at the same time. And when one can quell one's anger through forgiveness, there's likely to be a better justice meted out anyway.

People also think that when they forgive they are excusing what the other person did, saying, "It's okay." Forgiveness is stronger than that. Forgiveness stands on the truth that what happened to me was unfair, it is unfair, and it will always be unfair, but I will have a new response to it.

And another misunderstanding is that people acquaint forgiving and reconciling. They say "Because I have a response of goodness towards the other, a sense of mercy and compassion towards another who has hurt me, I must now go into an unhealthy relationship again." No - forgiveness is a moral virtue like justice. Reconciliation is not a moral virtue - it takes two people or more to come together again in mutual trust. One can forgive without reconciling; one does forgive without ever excusing; when one forgives it is never from a position of weakness and when one forgives one also seeks justice at the same time. It's a very strong position.

Interviewer: What benefits can a person expect to gain from reading The Forgiving Life?

Robert Enright: If a person reads The Forgiving Life first of all they are in for, I think, an exciting challenge. Can you incorporate forgiveness into your everyday interactions so that you can become more compassionate? I call it becoming forgivingly fit. In other words you're going to have to get up off the couch, put the bag of potato chips away and do some work. And if a person is willing to do that, my experience is they find that thrilling. And the psychological results — we have over 12 empirically published studies to show this — people can expect lower anxiety, lower anger, lower depression if there is any, and a greater sense of self esteem and hopefulness and healthier relationships because you are not bringing those wounds into your relationships with others.

And if you think about it, if you've been wounded by continual injustices from others, what are you going to do with the pent up anger? We have to do something with it. What I find is people tend to displace that anger onto the less powerful in their lives, like their own children or their co-workers. And forgiveness can unburden us of those wounds so we have healthier, friendlier, more just interactions with the innocent among us.