Have you ever made a promise to love, honor, and obey outside the covenant of marriage? In a certain way, I have.
That promise, which I made in 2002, has now been fulfilled as we turn the clock to 2022. We at the International Forgiveness Institute had just decided to start forgiveness education programs at the century’s turn. The point was this: If learning to forgive can aid people’s recovery from deep injustices against them, then wouldn’t it be a good idea to help young children learn to forgive so that, once the storms of life hit them as adults, then they would have a tool, forgiveness, to avert confusion, resentment, and even possible abiding anger and anxiety? It seemed to be worth a try and so we looked around the globe with this question: Where is there a society that now is post-conflict, which has suffered, and which might benefit from forgiveness education?
Our team at the International Forgiveness Institute, after much thought and discussion, centered on Belfast, Northern Ireland for four reasons: 1) There had been The Troubles across Northern Ireland, in which Irish Catholics and British Protestants were in an escalated conflict since 1972’s Bloody Sunday in Derry/Londonderry; 2) there was a signed peace accord in 1998, which reduced the conflict, but still there was a post-conflict sense of tension; 3) the two groups were English-speaking and so we would not have to start with interpreters; and 4) Ireland and Northern Ireland are two of the closest ports-of-call from the Eastern United States.
So, off my two sons and I went in July of 2002, landing first on the West Coast of the Emerald Isle and then to Belfast, where we met the esteemed Anne Gallagher, who formed Seeds of Hope to do her best to bring peace to Northern Ireland. Anne was amazing in introducing us to primary school personnel and we had the great honor to start forgiveness education in both St. Vincent de Paul Primary School and Ligoniel Primary School, both on the Ligoniel Road in Belfast.
“Forgiveness isn’t something that’s talked about with reconciliation, but it’s needed to bring closure to the pain and suffering experienced in Northern Ireland. You can’t contemplate hope unless you address despair. To heal the wounds of Northern Ireland I believe you have to see humanity in the face of the enemy. Forgiveness is a journey.”
Anne Gallagher (1953-2013)
Upon my first visit to the principal of St. Vincent de Paul School, Mr. Brian McParland, he heard our proposal for forgiveness education and agreed that this is a vital vision for Northern Ireland. He assented to having this programme pioneered in his school. Yet, he quickly added this: “You will not last more than 3 years here in Belfast.” I was surprised to hear that and asked, “Brian, why do you say that?” He looked at me and said, “No one lasts more than 3 years in Belfast. After that time, people grow weary, the thrill of travel wears off and they quit.” I took a deep breath and answered, “Brian, I will give you 20 years.” He looked at me with kindness, but said nothing.
Well, as I consult Siri on the Apple Watch, I see that the calendar is about to turn to the year 2022. Hold on for a minute. . . I have to do a little bit of quick math. Ahh, yes. . . it has been exactly 20 years now since my promise to Mr. McParland. Our International Forgiveness Institute has successfully implemented forgiveness education now in many schools of Belfast and surrounding communities.
As we end the 20th year, some of us at the University of Wisconsin-Madison are doing a research program with 18 classrooms of primary 7 students (grade 5 in the United States), across Northern Ireland, funded by the John Templeton Foundation. This will culminate in an international conference in Madison, Wisconsin, led by Jacqueline Song of our International Forgiveness Institute, in which these teachers will participate.
As I look around, I see that Mr. Brian McParland now is retired from his educational duties. Mrs. Claire Hilman, the principal at Ligoniel Primary in 2002, also is retired. Dear Anne Gallagher now has passed to eternal life. No other educators who joined us two decades ago are still there. As I look around, I see that I have kept my promise now only to God and me. And that is sufficient for the promise-keeping. I hope that at least some in Northern Ireland are the better for it.
A promise kept may bear fruit of which none of us is aware and this is why we press on with the vision for forgiveness education, started two decades ago.
What do I say to a partner who keeps pressuring me to forgive? I am not a very virtuous person, he keeps telling me, if I will not forgive him.
A key question is this: Are you open to the possibility of forgiving in the future? If so, then you can discuss with your partner that forgiving can take time. You can clarify that your intention is to forgive, but you need a period of processing what happened, of dealing with your emotions (of sadness or anger, for example). You should let him know that forgiveness is a choice which needs to emerge slowly for you in this case. Even asking him for patience may reduce his pressure on you to forgive.
I have an essay at the Psychology Today website that addresses this issue: Is Your Family a Forgiving Community? Here is a link to that essay:
My teenage son is angry, but he is oblivious to this. He does get in trouble in school and with peers, as he bullies them. How can I convince him that he is angry and needs to confront this for his own sake and for the sake of those whom he bullies in school?
A key to breaking the defense mechanism of suppression or repression of the anger is to have a quiet conversation with him in which you go over some of the specific consequences of his anger. Help him to see, in the safety of his relationship with you, that he is getting in trouble in school and is bullying others, making them miserable. Ask him, then, if there is anything inside of him, such as intense anger, that is causing these problems. Eventually, these consequences will have him suffer enough so that he becomes aware of the source of his suffering, which is his anger. From there, you should see if his anger is caused by unjust treatment toward him, in which case his practicing forgiving (specifically toward those who hurt him) may lower that anger.
How can parents recapture a sense of love with their adult children if those parents never showed love as the children were growing up?
This may be an issue of self-forgiveness first so that the parents are seeing their own worth despite their imperfect parenting. Then the parents should consider asking the adult children for forgiveness as the parents now show love (in the parents’ own way and in their own time). This requires both courage and humility and may require much patience on the parents’ part as they wait for the adult children to adjust to the new pattern of love.