Today I am in the Middle East, in an open-air restaurant, reflecting on the human condition.
The personal water crafts are dancing on the Mediterranean Sea, which looks today like it is a liquid diamond in the sun. Boys are showing their bravado by jumping off of a 50 foot wall into this liquid jewel, a playground for those with imagination and a willingness to take some risks.
All of those at play seem oblivious to the fact that they are in a playground about 20 miles from another country which has sworn retribution.
Now to a nursery where innocent babies are sleeping peacefully as if they are safe. They are in an upper room in a school, in a daycare center. Beneath them are the older children whose classrooms quite literally are bomb shelters with thick metal casings for the windows and heavy concrete to keep the mayhem at bay.
The contrast between the playfulness and peace existing alongside the threats and the bomb shelters is jarring. How can human beings be willing to blow apart those on the water crafts or to tear the limbs off of the sleeping innocents, all in the name of something that is far less important that those at play and rest?
How have human priorities gotten so twisted that the latest “ism” takes precedence over persons? Can we train the minds and hearts of the young to see that limbs are fragile, that the human soul can be wounded in such a way that those who are wounded now go on missions to destroy….even on days in which the Mediterranean Sea dances with delight and babies sleep though an illusion of peace? We need forgiveness education…..now.
An admired colleague of mine lost her child to kidnapping and murder when the child was just entering her teenage years. This event was so shocking, so vicious that it started to enter into the mother’s heart. She said that she would have gladly killed the man if she could and would have done so while she smiled. Yet, in time she realized that her entire being was being transformed by the effects of the resentment living within her….and she did not like at all who she was becoming.
The killer was about to take a second victim, the mother, as she emotionally degenerated because of the stress and monstrous nature of the act. She chose to forgive instead and her life took on great meaning. She became a conduit of good for her other children. She began to show them a new way, one based on goodness instead of the absence of goodness. The children were able to see this new way and to take that goodness into their own hearts. A life of meaning and purpose in service to others grew in the heart of the family.
The killer did not claim them as other victims and there was triumph. The mother came to realize that profound injustice can kill without even touching another–but it did not happen here. There is something so powerful about realizing that forgiveness helps us stand against the chaos of cruelty and triumph over it even when the grave injustice has had its way for a while. It no longer continues to have its way because the absence of good (the chaotic injustice) is met by goodness itself and goodness is the one that seems to win in the long run.
Short answer: Yes.
Some of our latest findings, soon to appear on this website, are these:
A recent study on forgiveness education, published in the Journal of Applied Developmental Psychology, was done with middle school students in Korea who are bullied and who do the bullying. The results showed that our forgiveness program helped these students reduce in anger and hostile attribution, and increase in empathy. Their academic grades improved and they reduced in behavioral aggression and delinquency. Some of these adolescents were in a correctional facility for their aggressive behavior.
And here are some quotations from school administrators and teachers who have used our forgiveness education curricula:
“The work of Professor Enright has helped us develop the life skills of hundreds of children in North Belfast and is continuing to impact on their lives.” Claire Hillman, Principal, Ligoniel Primary School, Belfast, Northern Ireland
“As teachers we are always promoting the positive attributes and virtues we wish those in our care to portray. The Forgiveness (Education) Programme consolidated our aspirations for kindness, generosity, sharing and understanding. It gave us an extra tool to enhance our pupils’ experiences.” Gary Trainor, Vice Principal, Mercy Primary School, Belfast.
Dinah McManus, Principal, Holy Family Primary School, Belfast, has dubbed Holy Family as a ‘Forgiving School’ because they have imbedded the virtue of forgiveness into their school ethos. Mrs. McManus states, “I can say with confidence and some pride that in creating a ‘forgiveness ethos’ in Holy Family we have provided our children with a very nurturing environment which reflects the essential elements of our Mission Statement: We are a living Faith community, centred on the Gospel values of love, justice and forgiveness, within which each member of our school community is valued and respected.”
“The Forgiveness Education Programme has spent the past ten years dedicated to helping children, schools and communities develop a better understanding of what it means to value all people, to understand our own and others’ humanity and to practice respect, kindness, generosity and forgiveness.” Becki Fulmer, The Corrymeela Community, Belfast
“I will continue to teach the program every year until I retire as I only see HUGE positive life-changing behavior changes in the students who are touched by the program. My wish is that all students in Milwaukee Public Schools and other districts could be touched in some way by the powerful message the program delivers.” Amy Domagalski, teacher, Milwaukee Public Schools
Do you see that 6-year-old over there? He lives with his mother. His father abandoned the family two years ago. His mother does not know it, but deep down in his heart, he is saying this about himself, “I’m not much. Dad left me and if I was more than ‘not much,’ he would still be here.”
As he grows to adolescence, this young man deepens his conviction that he is “not much” and now even believes that most people walking around on this planet are “not much.” Deep down in his heart, he is saying this about others, “There is too much hurt in this world. People are just mean. They are out for themselves. Even forgiveness is just an insincere move to keep a false peace….while we all walk around saying ‘no one is much.’”
Forgiveness education helps young children, as young as age 4, to know this truth: We all possess inherent worth. We all have built-in precious value that no one can take away from us….not even those who proclaim to us, “You’re not much.”
Through forgiveness education, the student learns this answer: “Not only am I of precious worth, but so are you, the one who wants to convince me that I am ‘not much.’”
The world needs forgiveness education so that we can rescue the young from these lies….and so that they can pick themselves up…..and others up…….and create a more peaceful world.