Suppose that over time, a culture began to see forgiveness as simply moving on with a sense of tolerance. Have the people in that culture then changed what forgiveness is? After all, the current thinking in psychology and philosophy is that forgiveness is a moral virtue of goodness toward those who have been unjust.
I think it is impossible to alter the essence of forgiveness, no matter what happens in a particular culture or in a particular historical moment. We could, I suppose, see forgiveness as a relative concept, flexible in its meaning depending on the consensus of a group at a certain point in time, but that would be to invite error.
Here is what I mean: To label forgiveness as “moving on with a sense of tolerance” will mean that forgiveness is now equated with other terms, such as acquiescence and, as part of this definition, tolerance. Yet, forgiveness never gives in or acquiesces to wrong doing, but instead labels the wrong as wrong. Forgiveness never tolerates injustice but instead labels the injustice as unjust.
When it appears that a given group is defining forgiveness in an odd way, ask yourself this question: What else might this definition represent other than forgiveness? If you come up with a sound answer, then I urge you to stand firm in the truth of what forgiveness is, despite protests and even ad hominem attacks on you as a person.
Forgiveness is what it has been, what it is currently, and what it will be long after each one of us reading this post is gone from this world.
My challenges to you today are these: Your response of forgiveness now to the one who hurt you can set you free from a past influence that has been toxic. Try to measure your happiness by what you will do next (not by what is past). Your next move can be this–to love regardless of what others do to you.
2002…. That is the year the International Forgiveness Institute began writing forgiveness education curriculum guides for teachers. We started with first grade classrooms in Belfast, Northern Ireland. When we started knocking on principals’ doors to discuss this life-giving project, we were met with skepticism.
“You will not last more than three years,” was what we heard consistently. Three years? Why three in particular?
“Because when people come from foreign lands to help Belfast, those well-meaning people never stay more than three years,” was the retort.
It became apparent that people go to Belfast with high expectations, great enthusiasm, and lots of adrenaline as they embark on their new adventure. Then the reality strikes. By year three the fatigue sets in, the streets of Belfast are all too familiar. It is now work and not adventure. Goodbye, Belfast!
The IFI has had a presence in Belfast for over 14 years now. So far, we have beaten the odds by staying, to date, almost five times longer than expected.
This issue of perseverance and endurance has me thinking. How can one preserve the idea of forgiveness in families, schools, places of worship, and places of employment? That seems easy……for about three years, but what about the next 10 or 20 or even 40 years?
How can forgiveness endure when there are so many diversions in life, so many new and good and novel ways to introduce new curricula to schools or new programs to businesses?
It takes a team and at least one person with an iron-clad will in the short-run. Forgiveness can too easily fade from the scene without this.
How will you preserve forgiveness in your own heart and in your most important relationships? How will you keep it from drifting out to sea, almost unnoticed as it fades? The first step is to realize that this can happen….and then not let it happen.
“I was too busy trying to survive. I did not have room to bring forgiveness into my world.”
These two sentences, spoken by someone who lived with an abusive partner for decades, is one of the strongest rationales I have ever read for forgiveness education, starting with 4-year-olds or 5-year-olds.
Do you see that the person, as an adult, did not have the energy and focus to add something new to her arsenal of survival?
What if forgiveness was a natural part of her survival arsenal starting at an early age?
We do this for learning how to speak and write coherent sentences.
We do this for learning how to add so that a budget can be maintained.
We do this for learning how to be just or fair as corrections and punishments are swift to come once one enters the school door and then misbehaves in the school setting.
I think it is tragic that educational institutions and societies fail to make forgiveness a natural part of life through early education. Isn’t a central point about education to help people make their way in society? And isn’t a central point of making one’s way in society having the capacity to confront grave injustices and not be defeated by them? And isn’t a central point of confronting grave injustices the knowledge of how to forgive? And isn’t a central point of knowing how to forgive the thinking about forgiveness and the practice of it in safety, before the storm of evil hits?
And isn’t a central point of knowing forgiveness and practicing forgiveness to aid in the survival of people who could be crushed by others’ cruelty?
Education in its essence will be fundamentally incomplete until educators fold into it the basic strategies for overcoming grave injustice and cruelty so that students, once they are adults, never have to say, “I was too busy trying to survive. I did not have room to bring forgiveness into my world.”
And the tragedy of this incompleteness is this: We now know scientifically-supported pathways to forgive. We have scientifically-tested forgiveness curricula for children and adolescents.
It is time to make “room to bring forgiveness into my world.”
My world travels are bearing fruit and I am glad this is the case. Forgiveness deserves this. For the very latest news, see my recent update: “Forgiveness Education Around the World.“