Forgiveness Education: Example of the Second-Grade (Primary 4 in Belfast) Curriculum

A 17-lesson curriculum guide was written by a licensed psychologist and a developmental psychologist for the teachers’ use. Each lesson takes approximately 45 minutes or less and each occurs approximately once per week for the entire class.  Additional activities in the guide are provided if a teacher wishes to extend the learning.

In the early years of the program, the teachers were introduced to the ideas of forgiveness and the curricular materials in a workshop directed by the authors of the curriculum or others associated with the project.  We envision other methods as the work expands.  Audios of the workshop, for example, may become available for download.

Forgiveness is taught by the classroom teachers primarily through the medium of story.  Through stories such as Disney’s The Fox and the Hound, Cinderella, Dumbo, and Snow White, the children learn that conflicts arise and that we have a wide range of options to unfair treatment.

The curriculum guide is divided into three parts:

  • First, the teacher introduces certain concepts that underlie forgiveness (the inherent worth of all people, kindness, respect, generosity, and moral love), without mentioning the word forgiveness.
  • In Part Two, the children hear stories in which the story characters display instances of inherent worth, kindness, respect, generosity, and moral love (or their opposites of unkindness, disrespect, and stinginess), toward another story character who was unjust.
  • In Part Three, the teacher helps the children, if they choose, to apply the five principles toward a person who has hurt them.

Throughout the implementation of this program, teachers make the important distinction between learning about forgiveness and choosing to practice it in certain contexts.  The program is careful to emphasize the distinction between forgiveness and reconciliation.  A child does not reconcile with someone who is potentially harmful, for example.  The teachers impress upon the children that the exercises in Part Three of forgiving are not mandatory, but completely optional.

The first-grade curriculum is similar to this one with the exception of the choice of stories.  In first grade, the centerpiece stories are from Dr. Seuss.

Robert


From Enright, R.D., Knutson, J, & Holter, A. (2006).Turning from hatred to community friendship: Forgiveness education in post-accord Belfast” – Presented at the 20th Anniversary Conference of the Joan B. Kroc Institute for International Peace Studies, University of Notre Dame, November 7, 2006.

The Eight Principles Underlying Forgiveness Education

We considered eight principles when devising forgiveness education:

  1. The learning should take place in a non-stressful environment, such as a family setting or a classroom.
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  2. What is discussed initially does not center personally on the child but instead on story characters. The child sees first that story characters have conflicts. Next, the child sees that there are many ways to solve and deal with conflicts and that forgiveness is one of those ways. Next, the child sees that forgiveness does not directly solve a situation of injustice. Instead, forgiveness is one way of dealing with the consequences of injustice.
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  3. Once a child understands what forgiveness is and what it is not and understands the nature of interpersonal conflict (when one person acts badly, others can be hurt), he or she is ready to explore the pathway of forgiveness, the “how to” of forgiveness. This, again, is best taught by having the child first see others (story characters) go through forgiveness as a way to model it.
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  4. Then it is time for a child to start trying to forgive someone for a real offense against the child. This is best accomplished initially by choosing a small offense (e.g., being pushed on the playground) and only later building up to more serious injustices.
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  5. As children learn about forgiveness, the instruction should be developmental.
    Forgiveness students at Hazelwood Integrated Primary School in Belfast, Northern Ireland.

    By this we mean that at first the child can see a story character forgiving one other story character for one offense. Then the child should begin to reason that if a story character can forgive one person for one offense, maybe that story character can forgive that same other person again and again, learning to generalize forgiveness across situations.
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  6. Next in the developmental sequence, the child learns that the generalization can occur across divergent other people so that he or she can forgive a variety of people for a variety of offenses.
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  7. Then in adolescence comes the more mature idea that “I can be a
    Students at Mar Elias Educational Institutions in Ibillin, Galilee (Israel) learn about forgiveness.

    forgiving person.” In other words, forgiveness is not just something that one does in a behavioral sense, but instead forgiveness can go beyond actions to an internalized response that is part of the self, part of one’s identity as a person. It is here that the desire to forgive becomes more stable and enthusiasm for this moral virtue begins to develop. It is what Aristotle called “the love of the virtues.”
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  8. Finally, the developmental pathway leads to a motivation of giving forgiveness away to other people in the community. The adolescent, as part of a class assignment, might, for example, consider talking with counselors or families to introduce them to what forgiveness is, how people forgive, and the benefits for self and others when forgiveness is properly understood and practiced.

Robert


Enright, Robert D.; Fitzgibbons, Richard P.. Forgiveness Therapy (Kindle Locations 4377-4399). American Psychological Association (APA). Kindle Edition.

How can you create a forgiving community for oppressed people? Don’t you first have to validate the injustices by solving them? Forgiveness without such validity seems weak.

One can validate oppression by acknowledging it and calling it what it is: unfair.  One can own one’s legitimate anger over the oppression.  Yet, if one waits to actually solve the injustice before forgiving, then those who are oppressing win twice: once with original and ongoing oppression and second by having the oppressed people living under a constant state of unhealthy anger or resentment. That resentment, over time, might be so strong as to destroy individuals and families within that oppressed community.  Forgiveness without a correction of the injustice at the very least solves that one problem of destructive resentment.

Learn more at Healing Hearts, Building Peace.

I have noticed that some of my friends just are angrier than others. They do not seem to show this anger only when recently treated unfairly by others. They are just angry people. Why do you think this would be?

Without knowing the person’s history, it is not possible to know for certain why one of your friends is consistently showing anger.  I suspect two issues.  First, the display of anger in the home, when your friend was growing up, might have been high.  In other words, angry behavior was demonstrated in the home and implicitly approved as a norm.  In other words, the friend learned anger by observing it being modeled in the home.  Second, the friend may have been hurt by the anger displays in the home and so there is resentment from the past that is affecting the person now, in the present.  If this second scenario is correct, then the friend might benefit from forgiving one of the parents who might have displaced the anger onto your friend while growing up.

Learn more at Family Forgiveness Guidelines.

Do children really understand what forgiveness is?  If they do not, then can they really forgive?

We have been helping teachers set up forgiveness education programs since 2002.  In our experience, children as young as age 6 can understand the worth of people, including the built-in worth of all people.  This is a foundational step in forgiving.  Even though young children may not understand the moral virtue of love (serving others for the others’ sake), they nonetheless can see that to forgive is to see the worth in the other and to offer kindness of some kind to the one who offended.  As forgiveness education occurs on higher grade levels, then students’ understanding of forgiving as an expression of mercy can become more sophisticated.

Learn more about Forgiveness Education for Children at: Curriculum

Forgiveness gives you a second chance for a meaningful and happy life

Editor’s Note: We asked a recent graduate of our Online Forgiveness Education Course to tell us about her experience with the course. Here is the response from life coach Emily Atallah:

Through my work as an existential logotherapeutic coach, I help people find meaning in everything in their life, including work, family relationships, and in situations where they face insurmountable suffering. I do this mainly by working with the power of forgiveness.

In my home country, Colombia, forgiveness seems like an impossible task for many. With a history of more than 60 years marked by war, drug trafficking and constant conflict, entire populations have now had to confront a hard question: will they forgive those who horribly hurt them even if they never asked for forgiveness?

This made me look for ways I could help those clients who had to leave their home behind, fearing for their safety, and who came to a city that in more than one occasion, receives them with a hostile environment and not much help. Many people with deep wounds derived from the conflict and a past of violence, resentment and vengeance.

As I looked for ways to help, I researched many therapies, but with time, I found them temporary or incomplete. I also looked into the initiatives of religious groups, and though they were having some admirable results, they did not appeal to non-believers.

Then I heard about the International Forgiveness Institute, and all their research on how forgiveness is a psychological matter, not only a religious one. I was personally impressed by their focus on forgiveness’ impact on psychological issues such as anxiety, depression, and others as measurable variables. For me, it meant that now we can present evidence that forgiveness works and can in fact change hearts!

Finding meaning and forgiveness in a life full of resentments is crucial to heal.  To see the offender as a human being and giving them what they deserve in dignity and love, changes your life and theirs.  It restores justice even without reconciliation.

Emily Atallah, Existential well being and Logotherapeutic Coach, with her “Helping Clients Forgive” Certificate of Completion.

Forgiveness gives you a second chance for a meaningful and happy life, an opportunity to live a better, healthier, fulfilling life where people reach for their dreams without the weight of resentful thoughts.

As a life coach, I found particularly reassuring and helpful to learn that forgiveness has a measurable impact on the people I treat despite what the offense was. My time studying at the Forgiveness Institute gave me more tools to better treat my clients, to measure their progress and to encourage them to strive for a better and more meaningful life.

I encourage you to give yourself the opportunity to see forgiveness in a new light and learn about its healing power, by taking the online “Forgiveness Therapy” course through the International Forgiveness Institute.

To learn more about the writer please visit her website: Emily Atallah Coach de vida

Is Forgiveness Transcending the Past…..or Is It More than That?

Recently, I have been hearing people say that forgiveness is transcendence.  By this they seem to mean that as people forgive, then the past injustices do not affect them any more.  They have risenabove the pain, the anguish, the sadness, and the anger.  They have moved on.

If this is all that forgiveness is, then forgiveness is not a moral virtue.  A moral virtue, such as justice or patience, is for people.  It reaches out to people.  It aids and supports people by putting the particular virtue into action and that action points toward people. When I exercise justice, for example, I honor the agreement that is part of a contract into which we both have entered.  I am patient by restraining from harsh words when in a long line or when those who are my teammates at work are slowing things down.

Moral virtues are concerned with goodness expressed toward other people.

If forgiveness is part of love—a moral virtue—then it cannot be only about transcending the past because one can transcend that past by being neutral toward those who have been unfair, who were responsible for the hurt.  The forgiver need not enter into a direct relationship with the injuring person if he or she continues to cause harm.

Yet, the forgiver wishes the other well, as Lewis Smedes in his 1984 book, Forgive and Forget has said.  The forgiver is willing to do good toward the other, if the other changes abusive behavior.  Being neutral might be part of the pathway toward forgiving, but it is not its end point.


 The end point of forgiving is to express love, as best one can, toward those who have not loved the forgiver.  Even if a person cannot develop that love for whatever reason, loving the other nonetheless is the endpoint of true forgiveness.
                                                                                                        – Robert Enright


Transcending the past might be a consequence of forgiving, but it is not forgiving itself…..if forgiveness is a moral virtue.

Robert


Learn more about the definition of forgiveness at Forgiveness Defined  then read Dr. Enright’s best-selling book Forgiveness is a Choice: A Step-by-Step Process for Resolving Anger and Restoring Hope. This self-help book is for people who have been deeply hurt by another and who are caught in a vortex of anger, depression, and resentment. It walks readers through the forgiveness process Dr. Enright developed to reduce anxiety and depression while increasing self-esteem and hopefulness.