How can we get parents interested in teaching their children about forgiveness?
Parents first need to understand that deep-seated resentment can build up in children’s hearts when they are treated unfairly. They need a way of curing that resentment and forgiveness is one vital way to do that. We need to get the word out to parents that forgiveness is a protection of the child’s heart that can be appropriated for the rest of that child’s life, even into adulthood when the storms of life can get more severe.
Has forgiveness education in schools been studied scientifically and found to be useful?
Yes, there is evidence. I actually answered this in another question posed to me here on October 29, 2022. Here is that answer:
Yes, there now are scientifically-based forgiveness programs, many of which focus on stories and story characters who experience conflict and learn to resolve those conflicts. The research shows that children and adolescents, when given a sufficient amount of time (12 or more weeks) to think about forgiveness, actually forgive to a deeper level than before they had these programs. Here is a reference to a journal article showing this to be the case: Rapp, H., Wang Xu, J., & Enright, R.D. (2022). A meta-analysis of forgiveness education interventions’ effects on forgiveness and anger in children and adolescents. Child Development.
Perseverance as the Missing Piece to Family, School, and Community Forgiveness
Having studied the psychology of forgiveness since 1985 and having helped plant forgiveness education in schools since 2002, I have come to realize that there is another moral virtue that needs to exist alongside forgiving if forgiveness is to mature in minds, hearts, and groups. That virtue is perseverance, or the willed decision and action to keep going despite challenges and to not get distracted by other issues. In the ethical treatise, Virtues and Vices (attributed to Aristotle, but possibly written by one of his followers), the virtue of perseverance or endurance is said to exist alongside the virtue of courage and daring. I would add that perseverance will be a moral virtue as long as it is connected to both wisdom and justice (as well as courage) because it is good only if the goal to which people are dedicating a good part of their lives is fair and reasonable. Persevering in bank robbery, for example, is vice not virtuous.
Perseverance is rarely discussed in modern society as we play with our gadgets and move from one forum to another. This kind of quick movement is part of what the 17th century French philosopher, Blaise Pascal, in his masterful work, Pensées, refers to as diversion. He challenged readers by saying that most people cannot endure even one hour alone in their own room without seeking new diversions. If this was the case over four centuries ago, how much more might diversion be weakening our ability to engage in the moral virtue of perseverance now?
In an earlier blog, I related an interaction with Mr. Brian McParland of St. Vincent de Paul Primary School in Belfast, Northern Ireland in the fall semester of 2002. Upon approving forgiveness education in his school, he told me that I would last only 3 years at this task because that is all the time anyone ever seems to give to new classroom initiatives. In other words, people do not persevere. I have seen the same in local groups that start forgiveness education programs with adults only to have them fade over time. Yet, as Aristotle reminds us, and challenges us, it takes time to grow deeply in the moral virtues. We do not become proficient in any moral virtue by giving it a try for a little while any more than we become physically fit by hitting the gym for a month and then going back to the couch and the potato chips. It takes time and effort to become forgivingly fit. It takes time to grow in the moral virtue of perseverance.
So, it seems to me that the first step in growing intra-personally in forgiveness, in aiding families and schools and local community organizations to grow in forgiveness is to openly and boldly and persistently discuss perseverance and the serious challenge all people face as they say, “Let’s hit the forgiveness gym!” Without perseverance, we lose our forgiving fitness very soon.
How much perseverance do we need to change the world? It seems to me that we need to introduce students to forgiveness, without forcing them to forgive, from age 4 to age 18. It seems to me that we need two generations, about 40 years, of forgiveness in communities to change those communities and to change community-to-community conflicts, even brutal conflicts that seem at present to have no end in sight. Forty years? Forty years when there will be new distractions, new shiny diversions? Yes, and it is the teamwork of forgiveness and perseverance, and leaders who will take over for other leaders, that will win in the peace movement. This combination of forgiveness and perseverance never has been tried anywhere in the world at any time in human history. It is time.
With perseverance, we might just be able to bring forgiveness for good to a deeply wounded world. Long live perseverance! Long live forgiveness!
I sometimes lose my temper with my partner. Lately when I ask for forgiveness, he is unwilling to grant it. I have been patient, giving him time to forgive, and then I ask again with no effect. This leaves me with both shame and guilt. What do you recommend to me so that I can be freed from the shame and guilt?
Have you been working on your temper so that it does not get in the way of the relationship? Seeking forgiveness and changing behavior go together. If you are changing that behavior and because you have asked for forgiveness and have been patient, I think you can go in peace knowing that you have done your best for now. Give your partner time for him to work through his own forgiving.
I want to reconcile, but my partner keeps being mean to me. What do I do now?
If you want to forgive, I think you also need to ask for fairness. Then see how receptive your partner is to this call for justice. If you forgive first from your heart, then how you ask for justice likely will be more gentle than if you do so with deep anger. As we both know, it is important that your partner then see your pain and respond in a reasonable way to you.