‘Horton Hears a Who’ fosters forgiveness in Northern Ireland

CRUX Media, Rome, Italy – Horton Hears a Who, the classic tale of the elephant Horton and his struggle to save the invisible “Whos,” is a staple in the forgiveness education programs Dr. Robert Enright has been nurturing in Belfast for the past 16 years. Now, according to one prominent media source, Dr. Enright’s curriculum guides have “proven an effective way to teach forgiveness in a community long torn apart by Catholic and Protestant tensions.”

Calling forgiveness therapy “a relatively new and scarcely-used science aimed at understanding and applying the redeeming quality of forgiveness,” CRUX Media says Dr. Enright’s use of Dr. Seuss stories provides “powerful tools for imparting values, especially to children.”

CRUX, an international, independent Catholic media outlet operated in partnership with the Knights of Columbus, featured Dr. Enright’s work in its Jan. 20 website edition.  

According to the article, Holy Cross Primary School, for girls aged 4 to 11, was one of the first Belfast schools to adopt Dr. Enright’s forgiveness initiative and has used it continuously since 2001. One of the school’s teachers says forgiveness is a crucial concept there because students have first-hand knowledge of abuse, suicide, violence, and family breakdown.

“This program empowers children to solve their own problems and recognize the inherent worth of others,” according to Annette Shannon, a support teacher at Holy Cross who has worked with Dr. Enright and his curriculum guides for the past six years. The concepts they are learning about self-worth and respect, she adds, “are important and powerful enough to be a force to bring change in their community,”

As he watches his work in Northern Ireland flourish, Dr. Enright earnestly believes, as do many others, “that forgiveness can be a path to peace, to be passed down through the generations.”

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I recently read an article about “50 children under the care of the state were victims of substantiated sexual abuse.” I’m tired of reading about the sex abuse happening in our society. Is there a connection to anger, lack of forgiveness to sex offenders? If there is a connection what about forgiveness therapy for sex offenders; can it help in lowering the chance of re-offending? If so, can forgiveness therapy/curriculum in schools, anger management programs, prisons etc possibly lower the incidences of sex abuse?

It has been estimated that about 30% of sex offenders have been sexually abused prior to their crimes. Thus, your point that some sex offenders might benefit from Forgiveness Therapy is valid. It is valid for about a third of this population.  The other 70% may be suffering from narcissism, the failure to see the personhood in others, and other challenges.  Forgiveness Therapy may not be effective in these other cases, but if such therapy could aid a third of this population, that would be significant assistance.

What are the costs of forgiving?

When a person is not used to forgiving, this is not unlike a sedentary person starting a physical fitness program.  It can be uncomfortable thinking kindly about the other.  It takes work.  Bearing the pain that the other caused you also is painful, but as you bear the pain, it lessens and lifts.  The questions of whether or not to return to a relationship can be painful as can the other’s rejection of your forgiving.  All of these might be called “costs,” but they do pay the dividends of emotional healing and possibly relational healing.

Seeing Beyond the Tears

Sometimes when we are caught up in grief and anger, it seems like this is all there will ever be now in our life. Permanent tears. Permanent anger.

Yet, please take a look at two different times in your life in which you were steeped in heartache or rage. The tears came…..and they left.

Today it may seem like these will never end…..but they will.

Take a lesson from your own past. The pains were temporary.

They are temporary even now.

Forgiveness helps them to be temporary.

Robert

I read your book, Forgiveness Is a Choice, and it became a revelation to me just how angry I have been toward my mother when I was growing up.  Is this common, to be angry, to be aware of the anger, but not have a clue about the depth of that anger?

Yes, it is common because of the psychological defense mechanisms of denial, suppression, and repression.  These defenses are not problematic if they keep unpleasant issues from us when we are not ready for the full brunt of those issues.  The defenses can get in the way of emotional healing when they prevent us from seeing the truth: I have been treated unfairly and I am angry about this.  So, in the short run, the psychological defenses can protect us from being overwhelmed.  In the long-run, slowly becoming aware of the depth of anger is a first step to healing from the effects of serious injustices.

Love Never Dies

Think about the love that one person has given to you some time in your life. That love is eternal. Love never dies.

If your mother gave you love 20 years ago, that love is still here and you can appropriate it, experience it, feel it.  If you think about it, the love that your deceased family members gave to you years ago is still right here with you.  Even though they passed on in a physical sense, they have left something of the eternal with you, to draw upon whenever you wish.

Now think about the love you have given to others. That love is eternal. Your love never dies. Your actions have consequences for love that will be on this earth long after you are gone.  If you hug a child today, that love, expressed in that hug, can be with that child 50 years from now. Something of you remains here on earth, something good.

Children should be prepared for this kind of thinking through forgiveness education, where they learn that all people have built-in or inherent worth.  One expression of forgiveness, one of its highest expressions, is to love those who have not loved us.  If we educate children in this way, then they may take the idea more seriously that the love given and received can continue……and continue.  It may help them to take more seriously such giving and receiving of love.

We need forgiveness education……now.

Robert

I sometimes hear that a lack of forgiveness can have physical ramifications.  What is the most common health issue that you see in people who have been treated very unjustly and yet will not forgive?

The most common health issue that I see is fatigue.  It takes a lot of energy to keep resentment in the heart and to keep fueling that resentment by replaying in the mind what happened.  Forgiving can reduce the resentment, reduce the rumination, and increase energy.