Archive for May, 2016
For the past week, I have been in a world conflict zone doing workshops on forgiveness education for teachers. In each of the workshops, which now number eight, in this region I invariably get this kind of question:
“We are in a high conflict, oppressive situation. One of my students saw his brother get killed. You tell me how I will have him forgive the murderer.”
The basic point is that the hurt is too large for the student, or anyone else, to consider forgiving in such a context.
A further point is a false assumption: If forgiveness cannot be successfully applied to the enormous injustices of the world, then forgiveness is weak and useless.
I must disagree and do so with an analogy. Suppose a person wants to start to become physically fit after a decade of decadence with no exercise whatsoever. Suppose now that a trainer gives the person one and only one directive: You must start by running a marathon. It just would not work. Does this invalidate the quest for physical fitness, rendering the goal weak and useless?
You see, the questioners start with the marathon of forgiveness and do not see that we should not start there. We need to build the forgiveness fitness one small step at a time. Just because a student cannot forgive the murderer of his brother today does not invalidate his trying to forgive his friend who failed to show up for gathering yesterday.
Small steps first are necessary and they help us build toward bigger forgiveness later. This is why forgiveness education is so important. It helps students explore what forgiveness is and is not in the quiet of a classroom…….before tragedy strikes and the unjustly-treated person now must stumble to ask: What is forgiveness? Should I forgive or not forgive? Am I excusing the one who acted badly? How do I go about forgiving? How long might it take?
We need forgiveness education…………..now.
It might be worth our while to move beyond “I’m sorry” as the be-all and end-all goal of conflict resolution for children. To raise happier children, we should take steps that lead to a lot more “I forgive you’s.”
That’s one of the dramatic take-aways of a just-completed study by three researchers at Radboud University Nijmegen in the Netherlands. In a sample of 275 nine- to 13-year-olds who completed self-reported and behavioral measures of forgiveness and various indicators of psychological well-being, the study found that forgiveness can help children maintain strong relationships and improve psychological well-being.
According to the authors, it’s long been known that peer and friendship relations in late childhood play an essential role in children’s social, emotional, and cognitive development. The research shows that friendships are associated with a greater sense of well-being, better self-esteem, and fewer social problems, both concurrently and later in life.
In contrast, children and adolescents who lack close friendships are more likely to manifest behavioral and emotional problems during childhood and even adulthood. Children who are less forgiving have lower self-esteem, are more socially anxious, and are more likely to engage in deviant behaviors.
The study also emphasized the need for early childhood forgiveness education, particularly during stages in which friendships are most important, such as in early childhood when children start to untie their parental bonds and increasingly focus on relationships with peers. In late adolescence, when the emphasis shifts from friendships to partner relationships, or during adulthood, when individuals spend less time with their friends, the association between forgiving friends and well-being may be weaker.
Does Forgiveness Make Kids Happier?
⇒ An article in Greater Good, the Science of a Meaningful Life
Interpersonal Forgiveness and Psychological Well-being in Late Childhood ⇒ Access to the complete study
Why We Need Forgiveness Education. . .NOW
⇒ A blog post by Dr. Robert Enr
When you self-forgive you are struggling to love yourself when you are not feeling lovable because of your actions. You are offering to yourself what you offer to others who have hurt you: a sense that you have inherent worth, despite your actions, that you are more than your actions, that you can and should honor yourself as a person even if you are imperfect, and that you did wrong and need to correct that wrong done to other people.
In self-forgiveness you never (as far as I have ever seen) offend yourself alone. You also offend others and so part of self-forgiveness is to deliberately engage in seeking forgiveness from those others and righting the wrongs (as best you can under the circumstances) that you did toward others. Thus, we have two differences between forgiving others and forgiving the self. In the latter, you seek forgiveness from those hurt by your actions and you strive for justice toward them.
You use the term “accept” or “bear” the pain of others’ injustices. Does this mean that we handle this ourselves or do we need help?
I think that help of some kind is always good if that help is wise and supportive. In other words, speaking with someone who cares about you can help with the carrying of the pain and the lifting of that pain. So, talking it out is a good thing as long as the other understands, cares, and does not pressure you to forgive.
I was talking recently with someone who works with caretakers of those who are ill. The insight from the conversation is this: Many caretakers have a sense that they did not do enough. They need to forgive themselves. Self-forgiveness implies that you have broken a moral standard; you have offended yourself and perhaps others.
I am not so sure that self-forgiveness is the appropriate response in many of these situations, where the caretaker feels guilty about not doing enough. I say this because we always can do more…..and more…..and more. When is it sufficient to say, “I have tried hard. I have done my best as an imperfect person. It is time to accept my limitations”?
If we move too quickly to self-forgiveness, then we are not giving ourselves sufficient time to ask this: Maybe I have false guilt here. Maybe I was expecting the person whom I am serving to get much better and that did not happen. Maybe I am tying my efforts to the other’s biological challenges, with the incorrect view that I have not done enough if the other does not get better. Sometimes, despite our best efforts, people do not become physically healthy. Sometimes the other does pass away.
It seems to me that many people, who do courageous care-taking of others, need to see this and not self-forgive, but instead challenge their own view that their care-taking was not enough.
Yes, at times, people missed an opportunity to serve well. At these times self-forgiveness is appropriate. Yet, I think this is more prevalent: At even more times, people have done the best they can. The healthy response then is to humbly accept one’s limitations, refrain from self-forgiving, and to say, “I have done enough. It is sufficient.”