If someone breaks your leg, is it inappropriate for you, the victim, to go to the emergency room, endure surgery, and struggle with the physical rehab? It is the same with forgiving. If someone breaks your heart it is reasonable to do the emotional heart surgery that is forgiving.
2002…. That is the year the International Forgiveness Institute began writing forgiveness education curriculum guides for teachers. We started with first grade classrooms in Belfast, Northern Ireland. When we started knocking on principals’ doors to discuss this life-giving project, we were met with skepticism.
“You will not last more than three years,” was what we heard consistently. Three years? Why three in particular?
“Because when people come from foreign lands to help Belfast, those well-meaning people never stay more than three years,” was the retort.
It became apparent that people go to Belfast with high expectations, great enthusiasm, and lots of adrenaline as they embark on their new adventure. Then the reality strikes. By year three the fatigue sets in, the streets of Belfast are all too familiar. It is now work and not adventure. Goodbye, Belfast!
The IFI has had a presence in Belfast for over 14 years now. So far, we have beaten the odds by staying, to date, almost five times longer than expected.
This issue of perseverance and endurance has me thinking. How can one preserve the idea of forgiveness in families, schools, places of worship, and places of employment? That seems easy……for about three years, but what about the next 10 or 20 or even 40 years?
How can forgiveness endure when there are so many diversions in life, so many new and good and novel ways to introduce new curricula to schools or new programs to businesses?
It takes a team and at least one person with an iron-clad will in the short-run. Forgiveness can too easily fade from the scene without this.
How will you preserve forgiveness in your own heart and in your most important relationships? How will you keep it from drifting out to sea, almost unnoticed as it fades? The first step is to realize that this can happen….and then not let it happen.
The first step is to realize that others may be creating this expectation for you, as you are obviously aware. A second step is to realize that most people do not necessarily mean to put pressure on you to forgive. As a third step, if people do put pressure on you to forgive, please realize that they have your best interest at heart but may not be going about it in a way that is helpful for you. When pressured, please realize that to forgive can take time and you cannot always respond positively and quickly to those who have hurt you.
I do not see forgiveness as a natural part of our humanity, at least for the majority of us. To forgive requires effort and patience and practice. We are affected by what we learn about it, by observing others’ attitudes toward forgiveness, and by the models we have of people who forgive or who do not forgive. One issue to note is this: If parents insist that children forgive and that the other say, “Sorry,” then the process can become too mechanical without the depth of knowing what forgiveness is or appreciating it on a deep level. Forgiveness education is important if a child will learn well how to forgive.
Resentment can make us bitter, tired, pessimistic, and unhealthy if it is deep and if it lasts for years and years. Resentment like this is a slow killer and can rob us of our happiness. An original injustice can be severely challenging, but with a right response to it, will not destroy our happiness for the rest of our lives.
One of the paradoxes of forgiveness is that as we give mercy to those who showed no mercy to us, we are doing moral good. Another paradox is this: As we bear the pain of the injustice, that pain does not crush us but instead strengthens us and helps us to heal emotionally.
When we bear the pain of what happened to us, we are not absorbing depression or anger or anxiety. Instead we realize that we have been treated unfairly—-it did happen. We do not run from that and we do not try to hurriedly cast off the emotional pain that is now ours. We quietly live with that pain so that we do not toss it back to the one who hurt us (because we are having mercy on that person). We live with that pain so that we do not displace the anger onto others who were not even part of the injustice (our children or co-workers, for example).
When we bear the pain we begin to see that we are strong, stronger actually than the offense and original pain. We can stand with the pain and in so doing become conduits of good for others.
Today, let us acknowledge our pain and practice a paradox: Let us quietly bear that pain and then watch it lift.
A new forgiveness intervention manual for at-risk middle school and high school students is now available from the International Forgiveness Institute (IFI)—at no cost.
Forgiveness Over Revenge: Grief, Insight and Virtue through Education (F.O.R.G.I.V.E.) is a training manual intended to serve as an introduction to the topic of forgiveness, both for school counselors and adolescents. The manual is not meant to serve as a diagnostic or therapeutic tool. Instead, it may be used to introduce the topic of forgiveness and to provide hands-on experience practicing forgiveness-related thought processes and exercises.
Counselors who opt to use the F.O.R.G.I.V.E. manual are provided with ten lessons, each approximately one hour in length. In the first five, students learn the basics of forgiveness, both what it is and what it is not. The remaining five lessons focus on applying the process of forgiveness through targeted activities in a group setting. Instructors may use their observations over the course of the ten sessions to better understand youths’ relationship to forgiveness and to make possible referrals for more directed forgiveness therapy when
The new manual was developed, designed and written by Dayana Kupisk, a current graduate student at the University of Wisconsin – Madison, who spent a semester studying forgiveness under the direction of Dr. Robert Enright, founder of the IFI. She additionally has experience facilitating life skills and employment training to groups of at-risk youth, which greatly informed her approach for translating research-based information on forgiveness into creative activities that may be done with groups of youth.
“This manual is intended for professional counselors with training to do group counseling with middle school and high school students,” according to Kupisk. “Since it contains therapeutic content, in which students focus on forgiving people who have hurt them, it is not for general classroom use, either by teachers or by counselors. Instead, this manual is intended for short-term group counseling with students who have been referred for treatment within the school setting.”
Kupisk said she wants the F.O.R.G.I.V.E. manual distributed to as many potential users as possible. To accomplish that, she decided to allow the IFI to add the manual to its growing compilation of forgiveness intervention manuals and curriculum guides and to offer it at no cost. The manual can be ordered through the IFI website Store.
The International Forgiveness Institute, based in Madison, WI, is the only worldwide organization that focuses exclusively on forgiveness education for students from pre-kindergarten through high school. The Institute’s school forgiveness programs are operating in the U.S. and 30 other countries.