Too often in society the word forgiveness is used casually: “Please forgive me for being 10 minutes late.” Forgiveness is used in place of many other words, such as excusing, distorting the intended meaning. People so often try to forgive with misperceptions; each may have a different meaning of forgiveness, unaware of any error in his or her thinking.
Freedman and Chang (2010, in the Journal of Mental Health Counseling, volume 32, pages 5-34) interviewed 49 university students on their ideas of the meaning of forgiveness and found that the most frequent understanding (by 53% of the respondents) was to “let go” of the offense. This seems to be similar to either condoning or excusing. Of course, one can let go of the offense and still be fuming with the offender. The second most common understanding of forgiveness (20%) was that it is a “moving on” from the offense. Third most common was to equate forgiveness with not blaming the offender, which could be justifying, condoning, or excusing, followed by forgetting about what happened. Only 8% of the respondents understood forgiveness as seeing the humanity in the other, not because of what was done but in spite of it.
If we start forgiveness education early, when students are 5 or 6 years old, they will have a much firmer grasp of what forgiveness is…..and therefore likely will be successful in their forgiveness efforts, especially if these students are schooled not only in what forgiveness is but also in how to go about forgiving.
And so we have yet another tragedy.
There is a solution to all of this, you know. I suppose I should be getting weary of saying this, but when I think of this dear boy, somehow the weariness does not materialize and so I will say it again:
When we help our children to forgive, we are providing a protection against fury, the kind of fury that attacks unrelentingly and then seeks its next victim. Forgiveness is a cure for fury. Forgiveness is a protection against a false despair that nothing can be done–an illusion that there is no way out. Forgiveness does not allow the illusion its day.
To be sure that I am not misunderstood: I am not blaming the innocent for this death. I am not blaming parents or the child himself or the teachers or even those who bullied. The intent of those who bullied (don’t you think?) was not to have a classmate no more on the earth.
We need forgiveness education as a way to help children navigate through others’ pain that gets all over the innocent. Forgiveness is an inoculation against this kind of pain that jumps from host to host seeking to create misery. We know pain exists, we know forgiveness is a protection on the innocent from the others’ pain, and we have ways of teaching forgiveness to others.
So, then, what is holding back the “yes” from educators to bring forgiveness into the classroom and into the hearts of students?
A new forgiveness intervention manual for at-risk middle school and high school students is now available from the International Forgiveness Institute (IFI)—at no cost.
Forgiveness Over Revenge: Grief, Insight and Virtue through Education (F.O.R.G.I.V.E.) is a training manual intended to serve as an introduction to the topic of forgiveness, both for school counselors and adolescents. The manual is not meant to serve as a diagnostic or therapeutic tool. Instead, it may be used to introduce the topic of forgiveness and to provide hands-on experience practicing forgiveness-related thought processes and exercises.
Counselors who opt to use the F.O.R.G.I.V.E. manual are provided with ten lessons, each approximately one hour in length. In the first five, students learn the basics of forgiveness, both what it is and what it is not. The remaining five lessons focus on applying the process of forgiveness through targeted activities in a group setting. Instructors may use their observations over the course of the ten sessions to better understand youths’ relationship to forgiveness and to make possible referrals for more directed forgiveness therapy when
The new manual was developed, designed and written by Dayana Kupisk, a current graduate student at the University of Wisconsin – Madison, who spent a semester studying forgiveness under the direction of Dr. Robert Enright, founder of the IFI. She additionally has experience facilitating life skills and employment training to groups of at-risk youth, which greatly informed her approach for translating research-based information on forgiveness into creative activities that may be done with groups of youth.
“This manual is intended for professional counselors with training to do group counseling with middle school and high school students,” according to Kupisk. “Since it contains therapeutic content, in which students focus on forgiving people who have hurt them, it is not for general classroom use, either by teachers or by counselors. Instead, this manual is intended for short-term group counseling with students who have been referred for treatment within the school setting.”
Kupisk said she wants the F.O.R.G.I.V.E. manual distributed to as many potential users as possible. To accomplish that, she decided to allow the IFI to add the manual to its growing compilation of forgiveness intervention manuals and curriculum guides and to offer it at no cost. The manual can be ordered through the IFI website Store.
The International Forgiveness Institute, based in Madison, WI, is the only worldwide organization that focuses exclusively on forgiveness education for students from pre-kindergarten through high school. The Institute’s school forgiveness programs are operating in the U.S. and 30 other countries.
For the past week, I have been in a world conflict zone doing workshops on forgiveness education for teachers. In each of the workshops, which now number eight, in this region I invariably get this kind of question:
The basic point is that the hurt is too large for the student, or anyone else, to consider forgiving in such a context.
A further point is a false assumption: If forgiveness cannot be successfully applied to the enormous injustices of the world, then forgiveness is weak and useless.
I must disagree and do so with an analogy. Suppose a person wants to start to become physically fit after a decade of decadence with no exercise whatsoever. Suppose now that a trainer gives the person one and only one directive: You must start by running a marathon. It just would not work. Does this invalidate the quest for physical fitness, rendering the goal weak and useless?
You see, the questioners start with the marathon of forgiveness and do not see that we should not start there. We need to build the forgiveness fitness one small step at a time. Just because a student cannot forgive the murderer of his brother today does not invalidate his trying to forgive his friend who failed to show up for gathering yesterday.
Small steps first are necessary and they help us build toward bigger forgiveness later. This is why forgiveness education is so important. It helps students explore what forgiveness is and is not in the quiet of a classroom…….before tragedy strikes and the unjustly-treated person now must stumble to ask: What is forgiveness? Should I forgive or not forgive? Am I excusing the one who acted badly? How do I go about forgiving? How long might it take?
We need forgiveness education…………..now.
I go to the local gym frequently because I must stay as fit as I can for world travel centered on forgiveness education presentations. This is a very popular gym that frequently has 100 people working out at any one time. So, you get to see varying levels of fitness by the patrons of the gym.
One thing I have noticed over the past two years is this: there is a particular group of people, in a younger generation (I do not want to specify which generation this is), who can do, at most, about 6 push-ups at any one time. I am talking about the group as a whole; I am not just singling out one or two people…..and I am not doing this to criticize them.
I bring this up for the following reason: Somehow, in this particular generation (because it is common to every one of the gym patrons I have seen over a two-year period) the people (as students growing up) were never challenged in their education to do push-ups. My generation, in contrast, had what they used to call the Marine Corp Physical Fitness challenge during gym class. The challenge consisted of doing 60 push-ups at any one time. It is painfully obvious to me, as I walk through this gym, that the idea of doing 60 push-ups in a row was absent during their educational years…….and the consequence is that they cannot. Their upper bodies are not strong and this seems to hold across the board for all whom I see in this generation.
And this brings me to the point of this blog. If we do not challenge children to learn about forgiveness, to practice it, to stay at it, then when they are adults and are hurt by injustices, they will be weak in their response. They will not know how to forgive, they may not stay at it. Not being able to do push-ups is hardly an inconvenience in modern First-World societies. Not being able to forgive could be deadly.
What we do in schools matters for adulthood. Do educators really know the consequences of not encouraging students to do their forgiveness “push-ups”?
We need forgiveness education…………now.