Study in Greece and Saudi Arabia Reveals Teacher Attitudes on Forgiveness and Cross-Cultural Differences
Because school-based Forgiveness Education programs have been rigorously and repeatedly tested, there is little question about the effectiveness of such programs to provide significant reductions in student anger and depression as well as meaningful increases in tendency to forgive.
What is less certain—and, to date, barely studied—is what role a teacher’s personal understanding of forgiveness plays in influencing those outcomes. A just-completed scientific analysis, conducted by an international team of forgiveness researchers under the direction of Dr. Robert Enright, is providing some answers to that question.
“Teachers’ Views of Forgiveness Education: A Cross-Cultural Examination in Greece and Saudi Arabia” was published this month in the journal FIRE: Forum for International Research in Education (Vol. 7, Issue 3, 2023, pp. 99-116). FIRE publishes “internationally comparative education data and evidence-based achievement studies.”
The new study not only analyzed teachers’ views of forgiveness education but also explored cross-cultural similarities and differences with a total of 134 teachers participating—76 Greek and 58 Saudi. The two countries have unique and rich cultural histories and influences: Greece is part of the Eurozone and Eastern Orthodoxy is its main religion; Saudi Arabia is an Arab state, and its main religion is Islam.
Study participants completed a comprehensive online survey asking about the meaning of forgiveness, topics they felt should be included in forgiveness education, and their perceptions of the benefits and challenges of teaching forgiveness education. The questionnaires were then analyzed using a variety of assessment tools including two-tailed proportional testing.
Comparing Greek and Saudi Arabian teachers’ perspectives resulted in these findings:
- More Saudi than Greek teachers viewed forgiveness as reconciliation.
- More Saudi than Greek teachers viewed forgiveness as excusing an unjust act.
- More Greek than Saudi teachers viewed forgiveness as a merciful act.
- More Greek than Saudi teachers viewed calmer students as a benefit of forgiveness education.
- More Greek than Saudi teachers viewed conflict resolution skills to be a benefit of forgiveness education.
- More Saudi than Greek teachers thought students would take advantage of forgiveness.
“Those results reflect not only the cultural differences of the participants but also the fact that 31 of the Greek teachers had previously received several hours of forgiveness education training while none of the Saudi teachers had specific training or forgiveness teaching experience,” Dr. Enright observed. “This ground-breaking study is important because it emphasizes the influence teachers’ views can have on forgiveness education.”
Dr. Enright, co-founder of the International Forgiveness Institute (IFI), added that studies like this one can help him and other forgiveness researchers tailor teacher training and customize curricula to better reflect effective implementation techniques.
In 2002, Dr. Enright initiated a forgiveness education program in Belfast, Northern Ireland that has now been in operation for over 20 consecutive years. His Belfast work is featured in the award-winning documentary The Power of Forgiveness.
Dr. Enright started similar programs in Liberia, West Africa in 2011 and in Israel-Palestine in 2013. He now has such programs in more than 30 regions around the world and an IFI Branch Office in Pakistan at the Government College University Lahore (GCU-Lahore, Pakistan).
In addition to Dr. Enright, the cross-cultural study was conducted by Peli Galiti, John Klatt, Nahlah Mandurah, and Lai Wong—all affiliated with the University of Wisconsin-Madison. Author bios and the complete teacher survey instrument are included in the study document.
Read the full study: Teachers’ Views of Forgiveness Education.
Dr. Enright’s Book Named One of “Best Children’s Books About Forgiveness”
As it nears its 20th anniversary of publication, Dr. Robert Enright’s only children’s book, Rising Above the Storm Clouds: What It’s Like to Forgive, has been selected for inclusion in an exclusive list of “the best children’s books about forgiveness.”
The honor was bestowed on Dr. Enright’s book by Bookroo—the world’s largest website platform dedicated entirely to children’s books. The website, with more than 30,000 children’s books in its curated digital collection, says its goal is “to make it convenient for parents and magical for kids to fall in love with reading!”
Rising Above the Storm Clouds was written by Dr. Enright in 2003 and was published the following year by Magination Press, the publishing arm of the American Psychological Association. It is a 32-page book crammed with colorful full-page illustrations by Kathryn Kunz Finney, a popular artist and portraitist specializing in children and pets.
In the book, a brother and sister who are angry with each other learn from their father the benefits of forgiveness through a series of symbolic images. Together they see what it’s like to forgive and discover that forgiveness can feel good to the forgiver, perhaps even more so than to the one forgiven.
The book also includes a note to parents from Dr. Enright, co-founder of the International Forgiveness Institute (IFI), in which he defines forgiveness, differentiates it from reconciliation, and guides parents in helping their children learn how to forgive. He also highlights in that note why children should learn to forgive:
“Forgiveness has a way of cutting through our angers and resentments to give all involved a fresh start. As you forgive, you are set free from the prison of resentment. As you offer forgiveness to another person, he or she has the chance to begin anew with you, trying to be more civil, more respectful, more kind. Those around you benefit because you are less likely to carry your anger into other situations. You are less likely to displace your anger onto those who don’t deserve it.”
According to Bookroo, children’s literature offers an ideal medium for helping children develop the ability to forgive their friends, family members, and others. That sentiment is echoed by another children’s book website called the Third Hour which is funded by the More Good Foundation. Third Hour has Rising Above the Storm Clouds listed 3rd on its top ten checklist of “books that teach children—from toddlers to tweens—the importance of forgiveness.”
Both the Bookroo and Third Hour websites include these other popular children’s books on their “Best Forgiveness Books” list:
- The Year the Swallows Came Early, Kathryn Fitzmaurice
- I am Extremely Absolutely Boiling, Lauren Child
- Will You Forgive Me?, Sally Grindley and Penny Dann
- Enemy Pie, Derek Munson
- The Forgiveness Garden, Lauren Thompson
All those children’s forgiveness books are not only on the best books lists but have also been recognized for their positive moral values by Dr. Enright. Because of that, they are all included as supplemental reference materials in one or more of his Forgiveness Education Curriculum Guides that are available for pre-kindergarten through grade 12 students.
Rising Above the Storm Clouds is incorporated into both the 3rd and 4th grade curriculum guides as part of that IFI Forgiveness Education Program. The book is available in both hard cover and paperback versions for as little as $3.01 (used condition) on various websites including amazon.com, amazon.com.uk, ThriftBooks.com, and ebay.com. It is also available in a 10-minute online video version produced and narrated by Mary Lou Coons, founder of the Puppets for Peace Foundation.
Expert Forgiveness Advice from Media Giants
The 6th-largest newspaper in the US and the country’s most popular weekly supermarket magazine have highlighted the importance of forgiveness in the past few days. The Washington Post and Woman’s World recently ran articles offering advice on how to forgive from forgiveness experts including Dr. Robert Enright, co-founder of the International Forgiveness Institute.
“Moving lessons on forgiveness out of religious spaces and into schools”
This full-length article is featured in the Jan. 27 issue of The Washington Post (a 146-year-old daily newspaper with average weekday circulation of nearly half a million). The article highlights the benefits of forgiveness education work being done by Dr. Enright, one of his research associates Dr. Suzanne Freedman (University of Northern Iowa), and Dr. Frederic Luskin (director of the Stanford University Forgiveness Project).
“. . .people who forgive are less anxious and angry and have lower blood pressure, improved cholesterol levels and a better quality of sleep,” the article states, citing the published literature. “Studies also show that children who learn how to forgive are better adjusted socially and have higher levels of self-esteem than those who don’t. They even perform better academically.”
Much of the article focuses on Dr. Enright’s forgiveness education work in Northern Ireland, where both public and private schools have been teaching his forgiveness curriculum for the past 21 years. One school, Mount St. Michael’s Primary School, a Catholic school in Randalstown, 23 miles from Belfast, recently paired up with a Protestant school in the same town to offer forgiveness education to a joint class of 7-to-9-year-olds.
“We really need this over here,” St. Michael’s Principal Philip Lavery said. “We teach children how to read and write, but we have to spend more time teaching them how to live, how to be members of a society.”
At Stranmillis University College in Belfast, forgiveness education is a required subject for all students in its teacher training program, where they learn the protocol developed by Dr. Enright and his team at the University of Wisconsin. In a country that has been torn for decades by religious violence, the article concludes, it is only through forgiveness and unselfish love that “we can leave the past behind us.”
Read the full article in The Washington Post.
“Expert Advice: How Can I Stop Beating Myself Up?”
This article appears in the January 26 issue of Woman’s World magazine (circulation 1.6 million). Subtitled “Sometimes it’s harder to forgive yourself than to forgive others,” the article presents “easy ways to silence the self-blame and welcome self-love.”
The article is based on interviews with three mental health specialists the publication calls its Expert Panel:
- Robert Enright, Ph.D., educational psychologist and professor at the University of Wisconsin-Madison;
- Everett Worthington, Ph.D., Commonwealth Professor Emeritus at Virginia Commonwealth University; and,
- Kathryn J. Norlock, Ph.D., author of The Moral Psychology of Forgiveness and an ethics professor at Trent University in Ontario, Canada.
The first (and, arguably, the most important) bit of advice offered in the Woman’s World article is:
Remember You’re Worthy – The very first step to self-forgiveness is simply knowing you deserve it, says expert Robert Enright, PhD. “This doesn’t mean letting yourself off the hook without reflecting on what’s happened; rather, it’s reminding yourself that you’re worthy when you’ve started believing the lie that you’re not.” Just reminding yourself that you deserve this nurturing will begin to transform guilt into self-compassion.
Read the full article in Woman’s World.
I am a parent with a child who is angry. This started when my husband divorced me. I say my child is angry because of rather quick temper tantrums. Yet, when I talk with him about his anger, he is in denial, telling me that he has no anger. What advice do you have for me to begin helping him to see that, indeed, he is angry, actually quite angry?
First, I think you need patience with your child. He is deeply hurt because of the divorce. I say that because you say his temper tantrums began in the context of the divorce. Rather than discussing his anger, I recommend that you gently talk with him about his wounded heart. Give him time to see that he is deeply hurt by his father leaving. Once he can see this, then talking about forgiveness is a next step. Once your child has the safety-net of forgiveness (that can lessen hurt and anger), he then likely will be open to seeing that he is angry and that there is a solution to it–forgiveness.
Partnership Achievement Award Presented to Mary Lou Coons
Mary Lou Coons, founder of the Puppets For Peace Foundation, has been recognized with the “Healing Hearts Hero Award” by the International Forgiveness Institute (IFI). The award recognizes exceptional efforts by individuals who have partnered with the IFI and its co-founder, Dr. Robert Enright, to advance the broader understanding and application of the virtue of forgiveness.
An always-cheerful optimist, Mary Lou excels at using every tool available to her to overcome life’s adversities–like the brain and spinal cord maladies that have caused her to endure years of debilitating pain as well as repeated life-threatening (and life-saving) surgeries.
In fact, just days after her second Chiari Malformation brain surgery (technically known as posterior fossa decompression surgery) in 2012, Mary Lou made her first call to the IFI after learning that Dr. Enright was pioneering Forgiveness Education work with children. She was convinced that her passion for ventriloquism and puppets could somehow supplement those efforts so she volunteered her services.
In the ten years since then, Mary Lou has become a self-appointed “forgiveness ambassador” on a mission to teach as many others as she can about the benefits of forgiveness. Her efforts have included:
- Single-handedly convincing her parish elementary school (Holy Family School, Syracuse, NY) to adopt and teach Forgiveness Education in all of its classrooms from pre-kindergarten through 6th grade;
- Organizing and setting up a display booth to promote forgiveness to the more than 1,000 attendees at a Women’s Conference in Syracuse – resulting in more of the state’s schools considering the use of Forgiveness Education Curriculum Guides;
- Creating and producing three video recordings featuring her red-haired puppet Lily that are used by elementary school teachers to help illustrate Forgiveness Education principles to students;
- Introducing IFI staff to teacher-missionaries in Rwanda in order to add that country to the list of more than 30 around the world where Forgiveness Education is being taught;
- Producing a 10-minute online video version of Rising Above the Storm Clouds, Dr. Enright’s storybook for children, that is used in the 3rd and 4th grade programs.
“Despite all that activity, Mary Lou never asked for a penny of payment or reimbursement,” Dr. Enright said in recognizing her with the Healing Hearts Hero Award. “Through the Puppets for Peace Foundation she set up 15 years ago, she continues to make important contributions that focus particularly on the lives of one of our most important assets—our children.”
According to Mary Lou, the mission of her foundation is “to help spread peace, love and forgiveness. One of the best ways I’ve found to do that is by working with Forgiveness Education programs because it brings happiness to my heart as well as to the hearts of so many others.”
Visit the Puppets for Peace Foundation website.