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.
Yesterday was July 12, the day in which Loyalists in Northern Ireland celebrate the victory of King William of Orange against King James II at the Battle of the Boyne in 1690. The fight was for control of at least a part of Ireland either by British Protestants or Irish Catholics. The island has been politically divided in various ways since that time.
Each July 12 there are parades which commemorate this event in Belfast, Northern Ireland and other communities. Some of the Loyalists (British) this year wanted to march through a Catholic neighborhood in north Belfast. They were denied. The result? Anger and rioting with more than 30 police officers hurt as reported by the BBC.
I am doing the math here. That is 323 years ago. And there seems to be a replay of animosity that likely took place near the River Boyne at the time of the battle.
Anger has a way of living on. It is like a virus, continually jumping to new hosts to stay alive.
Through forgiveness. Forgiveness stops the spread of anger and puts compassion, patience, and mercy into the situation where there was hatred, dissension, and violence before.
Let us reflect on that one number for a while—–1690.
With good forgiveness education and a will to stop the virus, where will Belfast be in 2090?
A teenage girl received a series of texts allegedly from her boyfriend in which she is severely demeaned. Her reaction is to take her own life. The boyfriend never wrote the texts. His account was hacked for the purpose of cyberbullying.
Cyberbulling is a relatively new term to signify aggressive communication through the electronic media of cell phone texting, email, and social networking sites on the Internet. It is an insidious problem because it is too often anonymous, goes viral (spread to many others), and the victim feels powerless. Those who engage in cyberbullying are less easily identified than those who punch someone in the face.
So, what can we do about all of this? Of course, we can warn our children as StopCyberbullying does (the first cyberbullying prevention program in North America). We can call for more vigilance so that those who engage in this behavior are more easily identified, as is suggested in the film Submit the Documentary.
Justice is a vital part of cleaning up this problem. Yet, this is insufficient. The seeking of justice (punishment, arrest, or other form of fairness) is a temporary protection, but it is not a solution. We need to get to the heart of the matter which is the heart of those who engage in such destructive behavior.
Those who cyberbully have enraged hearts. They are displacing their anger onto others. They are wounded. If we only see their behavior, then we are missing the punchline that they are wounded inside. We can constrain behavior through justice and we can cure wounded hearts through forgiveness.
In previously posted blogs, we already have discussed the necessity of our forgiveness education anti-bullying guide for teachers, school counselors, psychologists, and social workers being in as many schools as possible. The uniqueness of this guide is that it deliberately targets the anger in the heart of those who bully. The principle behind the guide is this: Emotionally-wounded people wound others. We have a way to help bind up these emotional wounds through forgiveness education. We help those who wound others to heal from the wounds inflicted previously on them, thus reducing their motivation to wound others. The information for this guide is available in the IFI Education Store.
Yet, what do we do in the case of cyberbullying? We must recall that those who do this are not easily identified. Oh, yes they are. Although we do not catch them in the act of punching someone in the face, we can identify them because the overly-angry tend to wear that attitude on their face, in their words, in the trouble they find in school….over and over. Of course, not all who are excessively angry engage in cyberbullying. Yet, those who cyberbully likely come from this group of the excessively angry. We have to cast our intervention-net widely in this age of cyber-anonymity.
School counselors, psychologists, and social workers please take note: When you have in front of you a student who is entrenched in rebellion, in verbal aggression, in indifference to school itself, please presume that this person of inherent worth has a wounded heart. Consider presenting the contents of our anti-bullying curriculum to him or her individually or in a group for those showing such symptoms. You are indirectly covering cyberbullying if you do this. The more you can target the angry students, the more you may be either preventing or remediating cyberbullying behavior.
The stakes are way too high to ignore this advice. Your “yes” to mending the wounded hearts of students in your school through helping them to forgive could, quite literally, save lives.
Do you know the film, Independence Day, from 1996? One of the characters, an alcoholic crop-duster, Russell Casse, played by Randy Quaid, kept insisting that he was abducted by aliens. No one was buying it. Once the aliens landed, he had his day by saying, “What did I tell you?” (Quoted from memory).
It is now our turn. No, we have not been abducted by aliens, but we have been speculating within our institute about Adam Lanza, the tragic figure who turned his own fury onto innocent children in a Connecticut school on December 14, 2012. We have been saying to each other that he himself in all likelihood was a victim of severe bullying.
A recent article in the New York Daily News (April 13, 2013) by Matthew Lysiak and Larry McShane supports the view that Mr. Lanza was a victim of bullying. According to this article not only was Mr. Lanza taunted but also beaten by fellow students when he attended Sandy Hook Elementary School. A relative of Mr. Lanza, who wished for anonymity in that article, gave this evidence of bullying: “Adam would come home with bruises all over his body,” the relative said. “His mom would ask him what was wrong, and he wouldn’t say anything. He would just sit there.” The mother considered suing the school because of this abuse that she suspected.
The one bullied transformed into the one who bullies, and even worse, into the one who kills.
For a moment, let us presume even with this news story that the accusations of bullying toward Adam Lanza are incorrect. Even so, there are thousands of children as I write this being bullied and bullied very abusively in schools.
How many of them will transform into the one who bullies?
We have to do something to protect the victims, yes, but what is rarely emphasized is this: We must find a way to quell the fury within those who bully. Their fury is what is abusing and in some cases contributing to the death of other students.
What did I tell you? We are suggesting this to the world: We strongly urge all school districts in the United States and abroad to develop comprehensive psychological programs to reduce the rage in those who bully. One source for school psychologists, counselors, and social workers is the Anti-Bullying Forgiveness Education Program available in the store section of this website. This curriculum targets the anger within those who bully.
It is time to quell the fury within—-for the sake of the next victim and for the sake of those who harbor the fury. We have the resources. Now let us all pull together and do our part not to let anger have its insistent upper hand. Let us start today and achieve Independence Day for those who bully—-independence from the binding torture of their own anger.