Faculty Member Researching, Teaching About Forgiveness

Associate Professor of Interpersonal Communication Carla Ross is spending the Spring 2009 semester focusing on forgiveness.

During a sabbatical, Ross will be expanding her research on the topic, and presenting a paper at a conference in Austria. Ross was one of 40 scholars chosen to present at the Global Forgiveness Conference in Salzburg, Austria, earlier this month.

She will present a paper titled “Reconciling Irreconcilable Differences Through Forgiveness.” The paper is the result of a pilot study of three couples who married, divorced and remarried the same spouse.

“I am trying to determine what allowed them to reconcile,” Ross said. She plans to expand the study to test her hypothesis that forgiveness is a primary factor that differentiates couples who reconcile following a separation or divorce from those who do not reconcile.

During her sabbatical, Ross will also facilitate an intensive forgiveness retreat for women and speak to survivors at a rape crisis center.

“No one ever tells you how to forgive, or explains that it is a process,” Ross said. “I give them a process to go through, and we brainstorm as a group different ways to let go of things.”

Ross said she has had an interest in the topic of forgiveness for years. She was frustrated that most relational communication courses end with conflict management.

“I always thought there should be something more,” Ross said. “I decided that the next step should be forgiveness.”

Ross developed a course in forgiveness, which was offered at Meredith for the first time in the Spring of 2008 and filled on the first day of registration.

“This is one of the most meaningful courses I’ve taught,” Ross said.

Assignments include a “letter of unfinished business” written to someone who the student feels has hurt her in the past. Like many of the assignments, Ross said the letter “is for the student’s eyes only. It is solely for her benefit, and not to be sent to the other person.”

Ross also asks the students to define forgiveness for themselves. Definitions offered by students include:

“Forgiveness is when you rid yourself of the pain of being mad at someone. You let go of whatever it was that they did to you and make a conscious decision to move on.”

“In order to truly forgive someone you have to accept that they hurt you, but choose to ‘release them of their debt’.”

“Let it go, don’t think about it, talk about it [or] dwell in it. Accept, and move on.”

Ross has found that the students’ input has added to her own understanding of the topic. Her research and interest in forgiveness is ongoing.

“Everywhere I go, I learn something new to add to the course,” Ross said.

Date Submitted: 2009-03-17

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