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 firstname.lastname@example.org. 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 email@example.com.
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.
Back to school ads. The sun setting so much earlier than in June. A flock of birds getting ready to pack their suitcases and head south. It is time to return to academic pursuits.
As homeschool parents prepare their curricula for this academic year, we at the International Forgiveness Institute (IFI) want to make a suggestion. If one of your goals is strong character in your child, then have you considered a forgiveness curriculum this year? We at the IFI now have guides for homeschooling moms and dads that start at preschool (age 4) and go through grade 10 (age 15).
Each of these guides is available in our Store and we can deliver them electronically to you very quickly.
Each guide helps the parent to present a comprehensive and developmentally-appropriate forgiveness curriculum in about one hour per week for 8 to 15 weeks (depending on the age of the student). The guides suggest specific story books to accompany the curriculum so that the students first sees how story characters solve their interpersonal conflicts. After seeing this, it then is the student’s turn to think about forgiveness for him- or herself.
Many homeschooling websites emphasize the education in virtuous living for the child. For example, at home-school.com there is a family-life books section filled with themes for wholesome living. Forgiveness helps students confront their own anger and to respond with strength and respect.
At homeschool.com, there is anon-line Christian homeschooling section. Our guides come in two forms: a secular version for those parents who wish to teach virtues as moral philosophy and a Christian version for those parents who wish to teach forgiveness as a virtue in the context of Christian love.
At lovetolearn.net, we see a life-skills section. Has anyone cast their net widely regarding life-skills and considered this: Good forgiveness education helps children and adolescents learn how to cope with injustices and disappointments with patience, long-suffering, and respect. Are these not as important and perhaps even more important than learning how to manage money? After all, a balanced check-book without balanced emotions will not make for harmonious family relationships.
Our own research shows that as angry students learn to forgive, then they can increase in academic achievement. It makes sense. What student learns well when emotionally churning inside?
Jon’s Homeschool Resources, one of the largest homeschooling sites on the web, promises “neutrality” in that he is not selling anything to you. We, too, try hard not to influence your teaching of forgiveness by imposing a particular ideology on you or the student. We present forgiveness for what it is: a moral virtue in which the one unjustly treated strives to reduce resentment and to offer goodness to the one who was unfair. This definition of forgiveness is compatible with all of the monotheistic traditions as well as humanistic approaches. Forgiveness, you see, has universal meaning, with the nuances coming from you, the homeschooling parent.
Have a great fall. We hope that your student has a great life by learning to forgive.
In the previous blog, we introduced the possibility of school counselors using some of their time to introduce entire classrooms to the concept of forgiveness. The point of this blog is to discuss what some school counselor blogs are saying that has direct relevance to forgiveness.
Let us first meet Danielle Schultz at schcounselor.com. There is a fascinating two part series on school bullying. Danielle has facilitated discussions in six classrooms and “the students love…..having a conversation about what the bullying issues are in their classroom.” They are asked to assess whether or not they have ever been bullied and then they discuss solutions.
How might forgiveness play a part in this exercise? There are two possibilities. One solution, along with justice, can be the exploration of forgiving the one who bullies while protecting oneself. A second approach is to work indirectly with those who bully by asking these kinds of questions in the classroom: Do you think that those who bully have themselves been bullied in the past by anyone? Might it be the case that those who bully are actually very angry at someone else, and not at the one who is being bullied? Might those who bully become emotionally healthier if they worked on forgiving those who have made them so angry? Then those who show persistent patterns of bullying can be helped one-on-one with the counselor outside of the classroom.
At the Elementary School Counseling blog, we meet Marissa. In the July 26, 2012 posting we hear about building relationships among staff, between staff and students, and among the students themselves. What better way to mend broken relationships than to practice forgiveness directly and deliberately as part of the school environment. Teaching themes of forgiveness in the classroom is one way to establish forgiveness as a positive norm in the school. We at the IFI have a lot of resources for teaching forgiveness from pre-kindergarten through grade 10.
Dr. Hussen has a fascinating news item about a mediation group visiting the school so that the students can find better ways to solve their interpersonal conflicts. We think that a first-step to behavioral reconciliation is the reduction in anger that should accompany attempts to reconcile. Forgiveness is the first step in such anger-reduction and therefore may prove to be an important addition to conflict mediation.
In the Savvy School Counselor blog, we meet Vanessa, who has essays on bullying and character education. Forgiveness, as we can see from the discussion above, fits well into each category and actually bridges them. One can confront bullying through the character education issue of forgiveness.
Finally, we present to you School Counseling by Heart with its wide-ranging discussions including the recent shootings in Colorado. We, too, have addressed the Colorado theatre shooting issue through the lens of forgiveness.
To all of you heroic professionals who give your lives in service to students, we are here to help you add the richness of forgiveness to your life and to the lives of students and staff. As you read teacher evaluations of our forgiveness programs, you might take seriously our encouragement to make forgiveness a part of the school day.