Take on the big and meaningful work

The ideas and viewpoints expressed in the posts on the Ideas and Creations blog are solely the view of the author(s). Luther College's mission statement calls us to "embrace diversity and challenge one another to learn in community," and to be "enlivened and transformed by encounters with one another, by the exchange of ideas, and by the life of faith and learning." Alumni, faculty, staff, students and friends of the college are encouraged to express their views, model "good disagreement" and engage in respectful dialogue.

Opening my email one morning a couple of years ago I found an invite to submit a book proposal. This seemed like an interesting idea, but why did the publisher ask me? I thought about it, lost track of the email, and forgot about it.

A few weeks later came a follow-up email. Oh! That's right. What had I decided to do about this? I thought about it some more and decided it couldn't hurt to at least learn more about the process. I corresponded with the editor about what was involved and slowly, and a bit nervously, decided I'd go for it. Then things got interesting…

I panicked for a bit and wondered what sane person would agree to something like this. I worried that I was in over my head, not qualified or that there must have been some type of mistake and the invitation was actually meant to go to one of my highly-esteemed and world-renowned colleagues. How will I ever accomplish this seemingly Herculean feat?

You see, the book I agreed to do was a science book on forgiveness. To be specific, I was the editor of this book, and co-author of several chapters, but others scientists would need to contribute chapters for other sections of the book. The sections deal with things like the philosophy of forgiveness, its definition, its connection to religion and spirituality, connections to mental and physical health, and sex, age and cultural differences in forgiveness and its benefits.

Though I have studied forgiveness for about 15 years, I am certainly not an expert on all these topics as they relate to forgiveness. At best, I'm familiar with these areas, but by no means equipped to write authoritatively on them. So, that is the point of an edited, scientific book. You get the field's best scholars to contribute to a state-of-the-science compendium. The book can then serve as a reference for folks who are casually interested in the topic and also for scientists and practitioners who need guidance on issues of forgiveness for research or clinical applications. Edited collections line the shelves of our library and the libraries of most colleges and universities. It's a great collaborative model of scholarship, and one that I was thrilled and honored to lead. But, how am I going to pull this off?

The answer, for me, lie in faith, commitment and mentorship. No matter what your particular religious or spiritual leanings are, a central part of our existence is faith. We have faith that a college education will support a stronger, more enlightened, and successful society. We have faith that when we cross a bridge it will hold and we will reach the other side. We have faith that those who love us will support us when we need it. And, I simply had to have faith that I could accomplish this task. I had to have faith that I could lead this project, that my domestic and international colleagues would support me and contribute, and that the publisher would continue to support the project and bring it to its completion.

The commitment piece of this came pretty quickly. I was committed to doing this and really wanted it to happen. But, my commitment was challenged at times when faced with reviewing several hundred manuscript pages for the third and fourth time. Or, when deadlines loomed and it seemed that we would never get all the moving parts to come together on time. But, overall I wanted this, bad, and when you want something it's a bit easier to remain committed.

The final piece of the answer to getting something like this to work out successfully is in seeking good advice and mentorship. This part of the equation is bigger than I could have possibly imagined. Fortunately, Everett L. Worthington, Jr. and David R. Williams agreed to act as co-editors on the project and provided incalculable amounts of time, energy, and wisdom. Everett L. Worthington, Jr. is a professor of psychology at Virginia Commonwealth University, and David R. Williams is a professor of public health, African studies, African American studies, and sociology at Harvard University. Over the years, these two mentors have provided endless support, guidance and resources for me to pursue my passion in the study of forgiveness. It's funny how in the life it's often the simple truths that are so important, like "get good guidance" and "choose your mentors well."

I hope my experience with editing a science book offers some parallels for thought and reflection on the part of current and prospective students. Luther College offers perhaps some of the best opportunities in academe for close interaction between students and faculty. In my Laboratory for the Investigation of Mind, Body, and Spirit, we hold weekly lab meetings, discuss ongoing student and student-faculty research, and develop a sense of comradery and joint ownership in the scientific process. I don't think I'd know how to be a mentor to students of the science of psychology if it were not for the mentors that I have been so fortunate to know and get to work with. My hope is that some of my interactions with students will reflect the same level of thoughtfulness, passion and deeply engaged thinking that I have felt from my mentors.

In the end, the book worked out. We published it! As of this January, the book is available online. We're certainly hoping folks find the book interesting and useful. But, equally important is that some students might consider this blog and relate to the challenges they face every day in the classroom, recital hall or competitive arena and know that their faculty and coaches aren't all that different from them. We too struggle with challenges, time-constraints and having enough self-confidence to take on the really big and meaningful work. For me, faith, commitment, and mentorship are key. It works for me. What works for you? Keep the faith, work hard and find good mentors—Luther College has an abundance of them.

Loren Toussaint

Loren Toussaint

Loren Toussaint, Luther professor of psychology and associate director of the Sierra Leone Forgiveness Project, is conducting research to broadly understand religious and spiritual factors, especially forgiveness, and how they are related to mental and physical health and wellbeing. Toussaint's research has been featured in a number of print, online and radio outlets, including The New York Times, the Los Angeles Times, Des Moines Register, Greater Good, Miller-McCune, Ladies Home Journal, Scotland on Sunday, Men's Health, Psychology Today and the Associated Press. Toussaint was interviewed on Georgia Public Broadcasting on the science behind forgiveness.

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Comments

  • March 12 2016 at 3:32 am
    Amy C
    This is why I made my donation yesterday in your honor! You are such a source of inspiration to me and certainly current students. Great stuff!!

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