Education

The School as Forgiving Community

How can we pass forgiveness to subsequent generations? We began asking that question in our blog post The Ripple Effect on April 10, 2012. We answered in part through our post about the ‘family as a forgiving community’ (April 14, 2012). We continue here with a focus on schools as transmitters of forgiveness knowledge and practice.

Our group began forgiveness education in Belfast, Northern Ireland in 2002, as a preventive approach to emotional and relational healing for people in contentious regions of the world. Our intent in the short-run is to reduce resentment, which can build up in children who are faced with continual injustices in their immediate environments. Our intent in the long-run is to equip students with such a deep knowledge and practice of forgiveness that they can and will effectively implement forgiveness in their homes, places of worship, jobs, communities, and even the wider community which includes those with whom they are experiencing conflict. It is our expectation that such deep knowledge and practice of forgiveness will go far in mending conflicts, even those which have been entrenched in communities for centuries.

We began with first grade (Primary 3 in Belfast) classrooms because from a developmental perspective it is here that children begin to think logically, in terms of causes and consequences, and simple deductions. We have the classroom teacher spend about one hour per week for about 12 weeks in teaching forgiveness through stories, such as Dr. Seuss’ Horton Hears a Who in which a kindly elephant saves an entire village of tiny Whos because, as Horton knows and constantly proclaims throughout the book, “A person’s a person, no matter how small.”

We decided to extend the development of the teacher guides through the end of post-primary school, a 12-year project. Perhaps the students who grow into adulthood with forgiveness as a continual companion will develop an ability to dialogue more deeply and effectively with “the other side.” Forgiveness, properly understood and practiced by some heroic adults, could change the face of Ireland and Northern Ireland.

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The Good Old School Days

OK, everyone, it is time to reflect on those good old school days of yore, those care-free days when everyone thought we did not have a care in the world. Yet, sometimes we carry burdens from those days and we do so in the silence of our own hearts. When was the last time that you, as an adult, had a discussion about your days in elementary, middle, or high school? When was the last time you had such a discussion with an emphasis on the emotional wounds you received back then? I am guessing that such discussion-times have been quite rare.

I wonder how many of you reading this still have some unresolved issues from the good-old-days. It is in school, within the peer group, at recess, on the sports team that our current sense of self is shaped, at least to a degree. Sometimes we are influenced by those days to a greater extent than we realize.

So, it is time for a little quiz. Please think about your days in school and see if you can identify one person who was unjust to you, so unjust that when you think about the person now, it hurts. This person is a candidate for your forgiveness. I have an important question for you: How has this person inadvertently influenced your own view of yourself? How has this person’s actions made you feel less than who you really are? Do you see that it is time to change that?

My challenge to you today is to take steps to forgive him or her for those behaviors long ago that have influenced you up to this very moment. It is time to take a better look at what happened, to forgive, and then to ask the question after you forgive: Who am I now as I admit to the injustice, admit to it negatively influencing how I have seen myself all these years, and who am I now as I stand in forgiveness?

Perhaps the good old days will seem a little brighter once you forgive. You will have lifted a silent burden.

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Schools Need Forgiveness Education to Combat Bullying

It was reported in the Huffington Post that a student who shot five other students at Chardon High School in Ohio yesterday had been bullied in the past by others. Full story here.

Being bullied, of course, in no way condones murder. At the same time, we need to be more aware of this silent torture that students undergo in being bullied. It is possible that if he could have begun forgiving those who had hurt him, he would not have turned that rage onto others.

The International Forgiveness Institute, Inc. recommends two kinds of forgiveness interventions in schools:

1) For those who have been bullied in schools so that their anger will not turn to rage, depression, or even self-hatred.  We were talking with a student from Korea recently and she related to us that there are many suicides in Korea by those who have been bullied in school.

2) For those who bully in school. These students usually have been treated cruelly by others (outside of school or in school) and this is one reason why they bully. If they can forgive those who have been deeply unjust to them, their motivation to bully will reduce or be eliminated.

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