One Reason Why We Need Forgiveness Education: People Misunderstand What Forgiveness Is

Too often in society the word forgiveness is used casually: “Please forgive me for being 10 minutes late.” Forgiveness is used in place of many other words, such as excusing, distorting the intended meaning. People so often try to forgive with misperceptions; each may have a different meaning of forgiveness, unaware of any error in his or her thinking.

Freedman and Chang (2010, in the Journal of Mental Health Counseling, volume 32, pages 5-34) interviewed 49 university students on their ideas of the meaning of forgiveness and found that the most frequent understanding (by 53% of the respondents) was to “let go” of the offense.  This seems to be similar to either condoning or excusing.  Of course, one can let go of the offense and still be fuming with the offender.  The second most common understanding of forgiveness (20%) was that it is a “moving on” from the offense.  Third most common was to equate forgiveness with not blaming the offender, which could be justifying, condoning, or excusing, followed by forgetting about what happened.  Only 8% of the respondents understood forgiveness as seeing the humanity in the other, not because of what was done but in spite of it.

If we start forgiveness education early, when students are 5 or 6 years old, they will have a much firmer grasp of what forgiveness is…..and therefore likely will be successful in their forgiveness efforts, especially if these students are schooled not only in what forgiveness is but also in how to go about forgiving.


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Categories: Barriers to Forgiveness, Education, Misconceptions, Our Forgiveness Blog, What Forgiveness is


  1. Samantha says:

    Confession: I used to be one of those who did not “get it” regarding forgiveness. It really is a challenge and doing the work to understand what it is and how to go about it can open up a whole new vista for a person. I recommend the study and practice of forgiveness.

  2. Chris says:

    I wonder how one moves people away from false learning that they may have picked up in childhood. My mom used to ask my sister and me to “say sorry” and then the other was supposed to say, “It’s ok.” And that was to be that…..instant forgiveness. Such patterns are not so easy to break.

  3. Marta says:

    Is it even possible to just “let go” when someone is cruel? I think it involves more than a pinch of denial to claim that one has “moved on” under this kind of circumstance.

  4. Neva says:

    The misunderstandings identified in this blog post center on the situation, on what happened. Real forgiveness is person-centered where the focus is on the one who did wrong. If we keep this in mind then this barrier of misunderstanding can be overcome.


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