Published this month in Child Development1 (Volume 93, Issue 2, March/April 2022), the critique analyzed 20 randomized intervention studies of forgiveness education programs that were implemented during school years 1996 through 2021. These studies spanned demographically diverse geographic areas including North America, Europe, Asia, and the Middle East.
The research, “A meta‐analysis of forgiveness education interventions’ effects on forgiveness and anger in children and adolescents,” was conducted by University of Wisconsin-Madison researchers Hannah Rapp and Jiahe Wang Xu (both graduate students in the Dept. of Educational Psychology), and Dr. Robert Enright, educational psychology professor and co-founder of the International Forgiveness Institute (IFI).
Other significant observations and findings in the just-published report include:
- Children and adolescents inexplicably experience hurt and conflict in their interpersonal relationships and can “benefit from learning more about what forgiveness is and the process of how to forgive.”
- Forgiveness education interventions “are effective regardless of whether participants have experienced severe or mild offenses or attend schools in economically disadvantaged areas.”
- Programs of both short and long durations “can lead to significant positive change in anger and forgiveness outcomes.”
- Children who forgive are more accepted by their peers.
- Positive results for students “echoed findings from previous reviews of forgiveness interventions with primarily adult populations.”
- Forgiveness education interventions are “significantly effective” whether they are facilitated by schoolteachers or by researchers.
- The forgiveness education curriculum and process developed by Dr. Enright2 and the IFI “yielded significant effects.”
Overall, the analysis presents strong evidence that “children and adolescents can benefit from forgiveness education interventions.” Read the full meta-analysis report.
1 Child Development is a 92-year-old bimonthly scientific journal published by the Society for Research in Child Development (SRCD). It is a vital source of information not only for researchers and theoreticians, but for a broad range of psychiatrists and psychologists, educators, and social workers in more than 60 countries around the world.
2 The Forgiveness Education curricula developed by Dr. Enright and the IFI for pre-k through 12th grade students is based on children’s story books. Those stories teach about forgiveness and other moral virtues and equip children with the knowledge of how to forgive a specific person who offends if they choose to do so. Lessons begin by educating participants about the five concepts that underlay forgiveness: inherent worth, kindness, respect, generosity, and agape love. During the program, participants read and discuss several age and culture-appropriate stories that display forgiveness between characters such as in The Tale of Despereaux by Kate DiCamillo and in Horton Hears a Who! by Dr. Seuss.
I have a concern about forgiveness. As you know, there is a new political movement of giving oppressed people their due. For example, a school district in the United States had a ceremony with indigenous people, acknowledging that the school actually is on land that was taken from this oppressed group. If forgiveness is injected into this movement, I fear that the indigenous people will once again be persecuted as they give in to the oppression, gaining nothing.
I think you are misunderstanding what forgiveness is and what it is not. To forgive is not to excuse or to condone injustices. Instead, forgiveness is goodness offered to those who have not been good to the forgiver. This moral virtue can exist side-by-side with the quest for justice. In fact, forgiving, when people choose to do so, can rid the heart of resentment that can deeply compromise the well-being of individuals, families, and communities.
The answer depends on how the other will respond. If that person is not ready to hear those words or to seek forgiveness, then rejection of your overture can happen. If the other sees no wrong in the actions, then rejection of your overture again can happen. In other words, it depends on the circumstances between the two of you. You certainly can say within yourself about the other, “I forgive you,” and this is reasonable if proclaiming those words to the other will create more tension between the two of you.
My partner and I have different political views. I try to be respectful of his views, but he definitely is not respectful of my views or of me in particular. Help! How can I forgive him and start a productive dialogue about this?
I think you need to talk with your partner about what it means to be a person. Are people more than their political positions? If so, what is this “more” that goes beyond the political? Does he see these other important qualities in you? I think he needs to broaden his perspective that human beings, in their importance, transcend politics. This is not easy to learn and so he and you will have to work on this more transcendent perspective. As you forgive, try to see these larger human qualities in your partner. Such a wider perspective likely will help you in the forgiveness process.
I am doing research on forgiveness as an idea in the heart of humanity. In your own studies, what do you see as the earliest, ancient work that describes person-to-person forgiveness?
The oldest account of person-to-person forgiving that I have found is in the Hebrew Scriptures, in Genesis 37-45 in which Joseph forgives his 10 half-brothers for attempted murder and then selling him into slavery in Egypt. Joseph ends up unconditionally forgiving them and providing provisions for the Hebrew nation that was suffering from famine.