I first met Rev. Tutu in March, 1995. Well, I did not exactly meet him….I met his voice. We were holding the first conference on person-to-person forgiveness ever held at any university in the world and we were doing so at the University of Wisconsin-Madison. Rev. Tutu was kind enough to give the opening remarks by recorded audio to what now is an historical event–the first academic forgiveness conference.
I was immediately impressed with his warmth and wisdom. He talked of the African word ubuntu, of how we are all persons because of other persons. He urged us all to try to overcome the animosities that have wounded the world because of a lack of forgiveness. It was a challenge that is still with me, 19 years later.
Rev. Tutu recently has expanded his vision of stopping animosities worldwide by asking all of us to take the bold step of trying to learn to forgive as a global calling—for each of us—now—-for the good of humanity as well as for ourselves as we unburden from resentments that can pollute human interactions.
The new plan, announced recently by Desmond Tutu and his daughter Mpho Tutu, concerns the Tutu Global Forgiveness Challenge, a free online program starting May 4, 2014, designed to teach the world how to forgive.
The 30-day program is based on a systematic process of forgiving that the Tutus present in their new book, The Book of Forgiving: The Fourfold Path for Healing Ourselves and Healing Our World.
We have seen how Rev. Tutu guided the Truth and Reconciliation Commission with such compassion as he absorbed a country’s intense pain borne out of grave injustice. We have read his book, No Future without Forgiveness. He has lived forgiveness. He has embodied it. We can’t wait for his global initiative. We hope you take a look and benefit from a man and his daughter who have known suffering.
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.
“Bullying will not be tolerated in this school.”
“You are entering a no bullying zone.”
Consciousness raising is good precisely because it challenges each of us to be our best self, to do good for others.
Yet, sometimes some students are so emotionally wounded that their anger overwhelms the attempt at consciousness raising. The students are so very wounded that they cannot listen well. Some are so wounded that they refuse to listen. Even others are so mortally wounded that they find a certain pleasure in inflicting pain on others. It is when it gets to that point—others’ pain equals pleasure for the one inflicting it—that we have a stubborn problem on our hands. No signs, no consciousness raising, no rally in the gym, no pressure to be good is going to work…..because the gravely wounded student is now beyond listening.
Yet, we have found a hidden way to reverse the trend in those who are so hurting that they derive pain from hurting others. It is this: Ask the hurting students, those labeled so often as bullies, to tell their story of pain, their story of how others have abused them. You will see this as the rule rather than the exception: Those who inflict pain over and over have stories of abuse toward them that would make you weep. In fact, we have seen the weeping come from the one who has bullied others, the one who has inflicted serious pain onto others. He wept because, as he put it, “No one ever asked me for my story before.” His story was one of cruel child abuse from an alcoholic father who bruised him until he bled. And no one ever asked him about this. And so he struck out at others. Once he told his story, he began to forgive his father and his pain lessened and thus his need to inflict pain on others slowly melted away.
This is what our Anti-Bullying Forgiveness Program does. It aids counselors and teachers in bringing out the stories in the pain-inflictors so that their own pain dramatically decreases. As this happens, through forgiveness, bullying behavior is rendered powerless……because in examining their own hurt they finally realize how much hurt they have inflicted…..and with their own emotional pain gone, they have no desire to live life like this any more.
Come, take our anti-bullying curriculum and save the life of at least one child and help prevent inflicted pain on countless others.
We have given as best we can to schools in Belfast, Northern Ireland since the fall semester, 2002. The journey has been a challenging and delightful one. For us, from the United States, to make our way into the hearts of principals and teachers in an area of the world that has known contention was not easy. We were outsiders and they are looked on with some suspicion. “What is in it for you?” was the question asked of us at the beginning of this journey. We had at our side the wonderful Anne Gallagher, who opened school doors for us. She had been in the peace movement in Belfast for some years before us and so she gave us instant acceptance into the schools. Rest in peace, Anne.
It has been a joy to see principals, teachers, and students grow in their understanding and appreciation of the virtue of forgiveness, so needed to bind up the wounds of literally hundreds of years of strife.
I had the privilege of attending meetings and services in both the “maintained” and “controlled” schools during the Christmas season this year. The word “maintained” refers mostly to private schools that receive some government money. Students attending these schools are primarily Catholic. The word “controlled” refers mostly to what Americans call public schools that receive more government money. Students attending these schools are primarily, but not exclusively, Protestant.
In the Christmas services at the maintained and controlled schools there is a celebration of the deepest meaning of Christmas, not just about presents and good cheer. You see, those in each school share this common heritage, yet they do so separately because they lead separate lives.
Yet, there is something more here. As I walked through the streets of Belfast, especially once the sun would set (about 4:20pm), there was a kind of coziness to the city. “Merry Christmas, Belfast” is seen in blue lights that are strung across a busy street. Shops play Christmas music that is gently piped into the streets. One is surrounded by the Christmas spirit. This is so different from America in which there is a certain self-conscious embarrassment to share this Christmas spirit, as people on occasion mutter, “Happy holidays” in contrast to the exuberance and un-self-conscious joy that unites a city historically divided.
There is much hope for Belfast, I say to myself as I walk along the busy thoroughfares. They share more than a common heritage of conflict and contention. They actually do share the common heritage of peace and love and joy as well. A key now is for each side to begin seeing this common heritage, including the insight that this heritage honors each person as precious, unique, and irreplaceable. The message from forgiveness education is similar: We all have inherent worth no matter what our religion or cultural heritage….or historical contentions.
Merry Christmas, Belfast, no matter what your cultural and religious heritage is. May forgiveness be one of the important common heritages as people in the distant years to come look back on their city.
We have forgiveness education curriculum guides for teachers, parents, and school counselors in our Store. The guides show you, step-by-step, how to implement forgiveness education for about one hour a week or less to children as young as age 4 or as old as age 17. The medium for instructing students on forgiveness is through stories. We have summaries of these stories for your examination and use as you wish.
Our research shows that as students learn about forgiveness, they become less angry and can increase in academic achievement. After all, if someone is fuming internally, it is hard to pay attention to the regular school subjects.
Take a look below at what teachers in Milwaukee’s central-city are saying after teaching forgiveness for 12 to 15 weeks, about one hour a week (4-year averages):
- 91% of the teachers found the forgiveness curriculum materials easy to use.
- 75% of the teachers observed that, as a whole, the students decreased in anger as a result of learning about forgiveness.
- 78% of the teachers observed that the students increased in cooperation as a result of learning about forgiveness.
- 71% of the teachers observed that, as a whole, the students improved in their academic achievement as a result of learning about forgiveness.
- 91% of the teachers thought that they became a better overall instructor as a result of teaching the forgiveness curriculum.
- 93% of the teachers thought that they became a better person as a result of teaching the forgiveness curriculum.
- 84% of the teachers thought that their classrooms as a whole began to function better as a result of the forgiveness curriculum.
- 76% of the teachers thought that the school as a whole began to show improvement because of the forgiveness education program.