Today I had the privilege of giving a forgiveness education workshop for faculty in a school in the Czech Republic. They have decided to implement a forgiveness curriculum for children from age 4 through about age 10.
This is not an easy endeavor for them. They have had to hire someone to translate teacher guides from English into the Czech language, and these guides are rather extensive as you can see in our online Store.
One impression I had that is quite important is this: Some of the faculty came into the workshop equating forgiveness with reconciliation. In other words, the thought was that if I forgive, I have to go back for more abuse. Seeing that this is not the case was freeing for those who misunderstood what forgiveness is.
Another impression I had was their surprise to hear that forgiveness education can boost academic performance in those students who are excessively angry. After all, if you are fuming inside, it is difficult to learn. As the resentments melt, there is more energy and focus for the academic tasks of school.
You can read a scientific paper, published in 2008 in the Journal of Research in Education, showing this boost in academic performance for a small group of middle school students who were at-risk for academic failure. They went from a D+ average to a C+ average the next academic year: Can School-Based Forgiveness Counseling Improve Conduct and Academic Achievement in Academically At-Risk Students?
We at the International Forgiveness Institute wish the administrators, faculty, and students well in this Czech school as they embark on the exciting new journey of forgiveness education.
For the past 11 months, we have been tracking the number of unique visitors to this website and the tally to date is approximately 90,500 and counting. That is a large army.
You did not know you were in an army, particularly a forgiveness army, did you? Well, now is your chance to make war against war by introducing at least one person to the concept of forgiveness. It is not easy to do that. It requires courage.
May courage be yours in 2013.
It is not easy to introduce one person to forgiveness because it is not always clear when and how and what to present to someone who needs to know about forgiveness. It is not easy to do that. It requires wisdom.
May wisdom be yours in 2013.
It is not easy to introduce one person to forgiveness because it takes energy and perseverance and then more energy and perseverance as he or she criticizes or shows indifference or even insults you. It is not easy to “hang in there” when this happens. It requires love.
May love be yours in 2013.
Courage, wisdom, and love in the service of forgiveness. These are our weapons for making war against war.
May 2013 be a year of peace because we, each of us, each of our 90,500 soldiers-for-peace, have taken the time to introduce at least one person to the topic of forgiveness.
A person wrote to us recently to ask: Should I wait for the other person’s apology (repentance) before I forgive? Some philosophers such as Haber and Griswold argue that forgiveness is only legitimate if there first is an apology. And isn’t there a Bible verse saying that if your brother repents then you forgive him?
We are addressing the question here in the Blog (rather than in our Ask Dr. Forgiveness section) because of the lengthy reply and because we wish to give as many people as possible the chance to see and respond to the answer.
Some people reason that it is in the best interest of an unjustly-treated person to wait for an apology. Some reason that this is best even for forgiveness itself because it preserves the moral quality of forgiveness, by demanding something of the other, by trying to bring out the best in the offender.
While this latter point, waiting for the good of the other, is noble because the focus is on the betterment of that other person, I do not think that reason allows us to insist that this occur prior to our forgiving our offenders. I make three points in defense of unconditional forgiveness:
1. Forgiveness is a moral virtue and there is no other moral virtue in existence that requires a prior response from another person before one can exercise that virtue. For example, if you wish to be kind, does someone first have to do something before you engage in kindness? Does someone have to do something before you can exercise justice? No. So, why are we changing the rules of the moral virtues for this one virtue of forgiveness?
2. If our forgiving others is contingent on an apology (a prior response from another before we can act), then we are trapped in unforgiveness until the other acts. This would seem to violate the principle of justice: We cannot exercise a particular virtue, in this case forgiveness, even if we so choose. How fair is that?
3. You fall back to a supposed Biblical mandate in your defense of the conditional nature of forgiveness (the required apology). Of course, those who reject faith will have no interest in this third point (and I hope that my first two points are sufficient to convince them of the philosophical flaws in arguing for the necessity of repentance prior to forgiving). You refer to Luke 17:3, “”Be on your guard! If your brother sins, rebuke him; and if he repents, forgive him.” Yet, this is not setting up a necessary condition for a person to forgive. Instead, it is setting up a sufficient condition for the forgiveness to occur. In other words, when you see your brother has repented, this is a morally adequate act for you to go ahead and forgive. Yet, there are other ways for a person to forgive, including the unconditional approach (no repentance has occurred). The context does not imply that one must–out of necessity–refrain from offering forgiveness until the other repents. This, in logic, is a confusion of necessary and sufficient conditions.
So, waiting for an apology is a moral good in only one sense: It challenges the other to change. I would like to clarify even this by making a distinction between internal and external aspects of forgiveness. It is not morally good to refrain from the inner work of forgiveness (struggling to see the inherent worth of your offender) prior to the apology/repentance. Why? Because goodness (in this case the moral virtue of forgiveness) is thwarted and cannot occur. It is only morally good if the verbal act of forgiveness (“I forgive you”) is delayed until the other changes (and in a genuine way) and at the same time is not delayed out of necessity.
On the other hand, unconditional forgiveness is morally good in at least three ways: 1) The one offended begins to see the inherent worth of the other as soon as the forgiver is ready; 2) unconditional forgiveness does not lead to the trap of unforgiveness based on another’s actions, and 3) the offer of forgiveness even verbally prior to the other’s change of heart may lead to such a change of heart. In other words, some people will repent when they experience the forgiver’s unconditional love. And even if they do not, forgiveness does not link automatically to reconciliation with the person. In other words, an unconditional act of forgiveness does not open the forgiver to further injustice.
The Forgiveness Education Programme is celebrating its 10-Year Anniversary of working with children, schools and communities in Northern Ireland to make the virtue of forgiveness more understandable and accessible.
“Forgiveness is an important aspect in the emotional and moral development of any individual,” states Gary Trainor, Vice Principal at Mercy Primary School, “and if we can sow those seeds at an early age, we are increasing the chances of them bearing fruit throughout their lives.” It was with this long term goal in mind that the Forgiveness Education Programme first began to take shape..
In 2002, Dr. Robert Enright, Educational Psychologist at the University of Wisconsin – Madison, USA began to establish relationships with a couple of principals and schools in North Belfast. With the help of Anne Gallagher of Seeds of Hope, Dr. Enright was able to introduce Forgiveness Education to the first classroom of Primary 3 pupils in Ligoniel Primary School.
Ten years on, Claire Hillman, Principal at Ligoniel PS says, “At the time we started we had very few personal development resources in the primary school and no coherent programme of work. The Forgiveness (Education) Programme helped us to formulate a whole school approach to building personal qualities such as empathy, respect and trust. The programme now sits alongside the PDMU (Personal Development for Mutual Understanding) programme of work developed by the curriculum council. 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.”
This same perspective is echoed by Mr. Trainor from Mercy PS who says, “During our daily interactions with our pupils, 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 through story, discussion, art and role play. The children’s ability to communicate their feelings also improved, they began to develop a vocabulary that was both respectful of others and of themselves.” Mercy Primary School first began teaching Forgiveness Education in 2005.
Over the years, the Forgiveness Education Programme has developed and grown from that first Primary 3 classroom. Overseen locally by Padraig O’Tuama and then Becki Fulmer, in cooperation with Youth with a Mission, Peacelines, and now The Corrymeela Community since 2009, the programme has grown throughout the years from one classroom in one school to the curriculum being taught in over 100 classrooms in 20 schools across Northern Ireland.
One school in particular who has been involved with Forgiveness Education since 2004 is Holy Family Primary School. Dinah McManus, Principal, always refers to Holy Family as a “Forgiving School” because they have imbedded the virtue of forgiveness in to 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.”
She goes on to say, “As the Forgiveness Education Programme has developed in Holy Family we, as teachers, have explored the messages within the programme and have come to appreciate their value to us in our efforts to create a strong, cohesive team. We acknowledge that we are all human and, as such, flawed. We now take time, for example on our ethos day, to remind ourselves of the power of forgiveness. To forgive another does not mean to forget what happened or to negate the other person’s responsibility for their actions. It simply means that we no longer allow another’s actions or words to cause us anger or resentment. By understanding the other person’s humanity, by forgiving without expecting anything in return, we are the ones who are healed. There is no doubt that we are, as a result, much more understanding of each other’s foibles and less inclined to find fault or to take offence at others’ comments or actions.”
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. We look forward to what the next ten years have to offer.
If you would like more information on how to bring the Forgiveness Education Programme to your school in Northern Ireland please contact Becki Fulmer, Forgiveness Education Programme Coordinator, at email@example.com. If you are in the Republic of Ireland or anywhere else in the world and would like to bring Forgiveness Education to your school, please contact the Director of our International Forgiveness Institute at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Becki Fulmer, Director
Northern Ireland Forgiveness Education Program
In the heart of Belfast, Northern Ireland, is a school that wants to live in such a way as to heal the wounds caused by misunderstanding and disrespect over the centuries.
Holy Family Primary School proclaims, “We Are a Forgiving School.”
What does that proclamation mean?
Here are some examples:
The school principal, Mrs. Dinah MacManus, values the virtue of forgiveness and makes that explicit to teachers and parents.
The teachers commit to teaching a forgiveness curriculum for about one hour a week for about 12-15 weeks each year. The curriculum guides are from the International Forgiveness Institute.
The curricula use popular stories to engage the students as they see injustices in the stories and discuss how the characters forgive or could forgive and what the outcomes are. The students are then challenged to bring this learning into their own lives and families.
Teachers meet to mutually support one another as they learn from the innovations of the other teachers.
Forgiveness also can be one more addition to the discipline of a school. For example, suppose two boys are in a heated argument that could escalate into actual fighting. A teacher’s reminder that they know what forgiveness is can work wonders for quelling the battle. Because the students are being taught about forgiveness in the classroom, the adult intervening in the argument need not take a lot of time to explain the concept. They already know it and now it is time to apply it.
“We Are a Forgiving School.” Are there others anywhere in the world who would like to proclaim the same?
We are here to make that possible.