We talk about forgiveness as if it has universal meaning, but should we be talking about early 21st Century forgiveness in Western cultures, rather than a generic “forgiveness?” Should we presume that forgiveness is not the same everywhere and across all time of human history?
Although there are wide cultural and religious differences among the Hawaiian family ritual of Ho-O-Pono-Pono, the discipline of forgiveness in the Jewish customs of Yom Kipper, and the sacrament of Penance within Catholicism, this does not mean that each is dissimilar at the core. The behaviors manifested in these three kinds of forgiveness differ, but all three are concerned about confronting injustice with love. All three acknowledge that there is right and wrong; all three acknowledge resentment or some kind of moral response to wrong; and all three see forgiveness as a merciful response of goodness toward the offender(s). At their core, these three seemingly disparate cultures and/or religions share much in common.
Across time, we have ancient stories of forgiveness that do not differ from the present day. In Hebrew writings, there is Joseph forgiving his brothers, and we see an unconditional, merciful response to their injustices against him. In Christian scripture, there is the father of the prodigal son offering him acceptance and love in the face of injustice. In Muslim writings there is a parallel story to Joseph, also showing mercy in the face of wrongdoing. Hindu, Buddhist, Confucian, and other ancient literature are more alike than different in describing what forgiveness is. The preserved meaning has not changed to this day.
Might we come across a culture that defines forgiveness very differently than those above? Might we come across a culture that condemns forgiveness as unnecessary or unimportant? Perhaps, but it seems just as likely to find a culture that de-values justice and honors cheating and lying and murder. No such culture to date has been found. While it is true that different cultures might give different examples of what constitutes a just action, all cultures honor just action.
Is forgiveness the same thing in all cultures and times? Despite wide cultural nuances, it appears to be so.
OK, everyone, it is time to reflect on those good old school days of yore, those care-free days when everyone thought we did not have a care in the world. Yet, sometimes we carry burdens from those days and we do so in the silence of our own hearts. When was the last time that you, as an adult, had a discussion about your days in elementary, middle, or high school? When was the last time you had such a discussion with an emphasis on the emotional wounds you received back then? I am guessing that such discussion-times have been quite rare.
I wonder how many of you reading this still have some unresolved issues from the good-old-days. It is in school, within the peer group, at recess, on the sports team that our current sense of self is shaped, at least to a degree. Sometimes we are influenced by those days to a greater extent than we realize.
So, it is time for a little quiz. Please think about your days in school and see if you can identify one person who was unjust to you, so unjust that when you think about the person now, it hurts. This person is a candidate for your forgiveness. I have an important question for you: How has this person inadvertently influenced your own view of yourself? How has this person’s actions made you feel less than who you really are? Do you see that it is time to change that?
My challenge to you today is to take steps to forgive the person for those behaviors long ago that have influenced you up to this very moment. It is time to take a better look at what happened, to forgive, and then to ask the question after you forgive: Who am I now as I admit to the injustice, admit to it negatively influencing how I have seen myself all these years, and who am I now as I stand in forgiveness?
Perhaps the good old days will seem a little brighter once you forgive. You will have lifted a silent burden.
A research project focusing on agape love and forgiveness, now underway in three culturally distinct areas of the world, will culminate next summer with an international educational conference to be held in Madison, Wisconsin. The conference will be hosted by the International Forgiveness Institute (IFI)—the nonprofit organization founded in Madison 27 years ago. The research is being conducted by researchers at the University of Wisconsin-Madison.
Working with elementary school children in Northern Ireland, Israel (both Arabic- and Hebrew-speaking schools), and Taiwan, the research is being funded by the John Templeton Foundation which has been supporting research on forgiveness for more than 20 years. The Foundation’s primary goal is “to ignite a global conversation on forgiveness to help everyone experience its benefits and to increase the visibility and funding of forgiveness innovations.”
The 3-year project was developed by and is being conducted under the direction of Dr. Robert Enright, co-founder of the IFI and a professor of educational psychology at the University of Wisconsin-Madison. Its principal focus is on incorporating agape love fundamentals with Dr. Enright’s Forgiveness Curriculum materials for 5th grade students.
“Agape love is drawn from Greek tradition and is the highest expression of forgiveness toward those who caused pain,” Dr. Enright explains. “I call it the ultimate form of love—the kind of love that has never before been scientifically examined as part of forgiveness research.”
The research portion of the agape love and forgiveness education project will continue through most of this school year with 60 teachers and up to 1,200 students at the experimental sites. Some of those educators will outline their experiences and present their findings during the July 19-20, 2022 International Educational Conference on Agape Love and Forgiveness at the University of Wisconsin-Madison campus.
A new website that was created specifically for this Templeton Foundation project was recently launched with an abundance of information about agape love, forgiveness education, and the Conference. The website will serve as an ongoing platform where educators can access curricula and other teaching resources. It will also house all Conference presentations and education materials developed through the project. Visit the website: Agape Love and Forgiveness.
- Learn what agape love is and what makes it unique: Agape Love.
- Learn about the amazing benefits of Forgiveness Education.
An internationally-acclaimed organization that provides research-based tools for professional educators is touting the most recent International Forgiveness Institute (IFI) curriculum guide by creating an entire “best practices” forgiveness component for educators on its website.
Forgiveness for Elementary School is a collection of four practices that provide students with tools to help them understand and begin a journey toward forgiveness. Published on the Greater Good in Education (GGIE) website, the module is dedicated to helping teachers implement learning techniques that focus on forgiveness, mindfulness, and character education.
Those techniques are presented in the new IFI Curriculum Guide The Courage to Forgive: Educating Elementary School Children About Forgiveness. The guide was written by Dr. Suzanne Freedman, forgiveness researcher and Professor of Educational Psychology at the University of Northern Iowa, and Dr. Robert Enright, IFI founder and Professor of Educational Psychology at the University of Wisconsin-Madison.
The Courage to Forgive is a social-emotional learning (SEL)/character education teaching guide that features 16 lessons, each approximately 45 minutes in length. It includes a comprehensive 15-page introduction that explains what forgiveness is (and is not) as well as why forgiveness is such a crucial subject for grade school students. The guide becomes the 15th volume in the IFI’s library of curriculum guides (for students in pre-kindergarten through high school) and the 19th educational training program offered by the IFI.
“Although the new curriculum was written specifically with 4th and 5th grade students in mind, it can be used with younger students as well as those in middle school,” according to Dr. Freedman. “We designed it so that the instructional activities can be modified as necessary for different age groups–even adults.”
The GGIE website component includes these four modules which are based on The Courage to Forgive curriculum:
1. Creating Space for Forgiveness by Letting Go of Anger
In this module, students discuss the negative consequences that anger can have, identify the benefits of letting go of anger after expressing it, and brainstorm ideas for how to cope with anger.
2. Introduction to Forgiveness
Students develop a working definition for what forgiveness is and what it is not, and consider its relationship to justice, revenge, the role of apology, and reconciliation.
3. Understanding Inherent Worth: A Path towards Forgiveness
As a class, students read the book Let’s Talk About Race by Julius Lester to begin a discussion on inherent worth, then think critically about how inherent worth and forgiveness are related. Links to a virtual reading of the book are included.
4. Learning from Courageous Forgivers
Students read The Story of Ruby Bridges by Robert Coles and reflect on the value of being a forgiving person, as exemplified by the story. Again, links to a virtual reading are provided.
“Forgiveness education focuses on recognizing and validating students’ anger, as well as teaching students to express emotions in a healthy way, understand the perspective and humanity of others, and practice empathy and compassion toward others,” Dr. Freedman added. “It is almost impossible to go through life without experiencing hurt, and knowing how to forgive gives students the opportunity to choose love and kindness over anger and hatred.”
Greater Good in Education is produced by the University of California-Berkeley’s award-winning Greater Good Science Center (GGSC). The Greater Good Education Program presents education professionals with practical, scientific insights that help them better understand the roots of kind, helpful–or “prosocial”–behavior and emotional well-being, and how they can build those skills in themselves, their colleagues, and their students.
The 65-page The Courage to Forgive curriculum guide is available in downloadable electronic format on the IFI website for $30. GGIE readers are able to purchase the electronic version at a discounted price of just $15.
As a follow-up, do I have to engage in what you call “deep forgiving” to say that I actually forgive?
Actually, no, you do not have to engage in what I called “deep forgiving” (in my answer to your most recent question) for you to be forgiving. We can forgive to lesser and greater degrees. If you wish the other well, but you still have anger and are not ready to give a gift of some kind to the other person, you still are forgiving. There is room to keep growing in the moral virtue of forgiveness and so more practice may prove to be worthwhile for you.