From your recent posts here, it seems that there are many misunderstandings about what forgiving is. Why do you think there are so many misunderstandings out there?
I agree that there are many misunderstandings of forgiveness in the general public, in mental health professionals who are trying to help people to heal, and in scholars who publish articles on forgiveness. I think this is the case because most people, including mental health professionals and scholars, have never examined the term forgiveness from a philosophical perspective. This often results in a failure of understanding what Aristotle called “the specific difference” between forgiveness and other related ideas such as “just moving on” or reconciling or even just engaging in a few psychological techniques such as writing a letter that is not sent to the offending person. Forgiveness as a moral virtue takes time and practice. It includes thinking in new ways about the offending person, waiting for softer emotions to emerge, and deciding whether or not to reconcile. So often people miss some or even all of these important points, thus distorting what forgiving actually is.
Forgiveness Education Is Peace Education
A 10-week forgiveness education curriculum can be an important component of peace education for students according to a newly published study by Dr. Suzanne Freedman, a Professor of Educational Psychology at the University of Northern Iowa.
Dr. Freedman, a long-time research associate of International Forgiveness Institute co-founder Dr. Robert Enright, conducted the project with three classes of fifth graders. The resulting study was published in the April issue of Peace and Conflict: Journal of Peace Psychology, an American Psychology Association (APA) publication.
The forgiveness education curriculum used for the project was jointly developed by Drs. Freedman and Enright and employed the Process Model of Forgiveness developed by Dr. Enright. The project incorporated Social-Emotional Learning (SEL) approaches that taught students healthy ways to express anger and other feelings, understand the perspective of others, and practice empathy and kindness.
This article illustrates how forgiveness education can be infused into the curriculum and the importance and benefits of doing so. Readers will learn more about forgiveness as well as how promoting forgiveness as a virtue to students can reward the forgiver, the forgiven, and society at large.
Dr. Suzanne Freedman
“Results from this study illustrate that a 10-week forgiveness education curriculum can be an important component of peace education for fifth grade students,” according to the published report. “Students showed increased forgiveness toward a specific offender and increased knowledge about forgiveness after receiving the education, and students’ verbal reports illustrate that they enjoyed and benefited from this specific curriculum using children’s literature.”
Read the full study – “Forgiveness education as a form of peace education with fifth-grade students: A pilot study with implications for educators.”
The Value of Forgiveness – An article outlining the benefits of forgiveness and the forgiveness education work of Dr. Suzanne Freedman at the University of Northern Iowa.
It’s Okay to Not Be Okay – A guest blog by Dr. Freedman on the importance of helping teens understand the role forgiveness plays in their psychological health.
Greater Good in Education Promotes Forgiveness/Character Education – An internationally-acclaimed organization has created an entire “best practices” forgiveness component for educators based on Dr. Freedman’s 5th grade curriculum guide.
The Psychology of Interpersonal Forgiveness – In this article written for SEL in Action, a publication for educators, Dr. Freedman debunks several misconceptions about forgiveness.
The sixth of 15 criticisms I see regarding forgiveness is this: When traumatized by others, avoid forgiveness because it is a sign of disrespect toward the self.
When traumatized, it is your choice to forgive or not. If you forgive well, you offer yourself the opportunity of deep psychological healing. This is hardly disrespecting yourself.
The eighth of 15 criticisms I see about forgiveness is this: To forgive is to cancel the debt the other owes you and so you never get back what is due.
When you forgive, as stated several times now, you do not cancel justice. Yes, you can cancel any obligation the other person has in helping to heal your wounds, but even here your forgiving, to be more complete, involves kindness and even love (on its highest level) which goes way beyond canceling the other’s obligation to help you to heal.
The twelfth of 15 criticisms about forgiveness that I so frequently see is that it is impossible to even understand or define forgiveness because there are so many different definitions of it in the published literature.
This problem is not inherent in forgiveness itself, but instead is a problem with those who write about forgiveness without deeply understanding what it is. As the ancient Greeks, such as Socrates, Plato, and Aristotle, remind us, there is an objective essence (or an unchanging set of characteristics) which typifies each moral virtue. Forgiveness is what it is across historical time and across cultures and, yes, there can be individual and cultural variations in how this essence is expressed. Just because there is a ritual, for example, in Sierra Leone on the West Coast of Africa, in which a community gathers at night around a large bonfire as people forgive one another, does not mean that what forgiveness is there differs in essence from what forgiveness is in a one-on-one forgiveness therapy session in the United States. Those who think about and then write about forgiveness, according to Aristotle, can use their rational faculties to understand, even if imperfectly, what forgiveness is and is not. To forgive is to be good to those who are not good to the forgiver and this goodness includes the motivation to be good to the offending person, the cognitions of goodness toward the person, positive affect, and, when possible, positive behaviors toward that person.