“I was too busy trying to survive. I did not have room to bring forgiveness into my world.”
These two sentences together, spoken by someone who lived with an abusive partner for decades, is one of the strongest rationales I have ever read for forgiveness education, starting with 4-year-olds or 5-year-olds.
Do you see that the person, as an adult, did not have the energy and focus to add something new to her arsenal of survival?
What if forgiveness was a natural part of her survival arsenal starting at an early age?
We do this all the time in education as we help students learn how to speak and write coherent sentences.
We do this all the time in education as we help students learn how to add so that a budget can be maintained.
We do this all the time in education as we help students learn how to be just or fair. Teacher corrections and punishments are swift to come once students enter the school door and then misbehave in the school setting.
I think it is unfortunate that educational institutions and societies fail to make forgiveness a natural part of life through early education. Isn’t a central point about education to help people make their way in society? And isn’t a central point of making one’s way in society having the capacity to confront grave injustices and not be defeated by them? And isn’t a central point of confronting grave injustices the knowledge of how to forgive? And isn’t a central point of knowing how to forgive the thinking about forgiveness and the practice of it in safety, before the storms of insensitivity and abuse hit? And isn’t a central point of knowing forgiveness and practicing forgiveness to aid in the survival of people who could be crushed by others’ cruelty?
Why do we spend time helping children learn to speak and write, learn essential mathematics skills, and be just, but completely neglect teaching them how to overcome grave injustices?
Education in its essence will be fundamentally incomplete until educators fold into it the basic strategies for overcoming grave injustice and cruelty so that students, once they are adults, never have to say, “I was too busy trying to survive. I did not have room to bring forgiveness into my world.”
And the educational challenge of this incompleteness is this: We now know scientifically-supported pathways to forgive (Enright & Fitzgibbons, 2015; Wade, Hoyt, Kidwell, & Worthington, 2014). We have scientifically-tested forgiveness curricula for children and adolescents (Enright, Knutson, Holter, Baskin, & Knutson, 2007; Enright, Rhody, Litts, & Klatt, 2014). Without forgiveness education, a person who wants to forgive may not be able to do so. Without forgiveness education, another person may too easily equate forgiving and reconciling, thus staying in an abusive relationship. With forgiveness education, a person can forgive, not necessarily reconcile, and heal emotionally.
It is time to make “room to bring forgiveness into my world.”
Enright, R. D., & Fitzgibbons, R. P. (2015). Forgiveness therapy: An empirical guide for resolving anger and restoring hope. Washington, DC: APA Books.
Enright, R.D., Knutson, J.A., Holter, A.C., Baskin, T. & Knutson, C. (2007). Waging peace through forgiveness education in Belfast, Northern Ireland II: Educational programs for mental health improvement of children. Journal of Research in Education, 17, 63-78.
Enright, R.D., Rhody, M., Litts, B., & Klatt (2014). Piloting forgiveness education in a divided community: Comparing electronic pen-pal and journaling activities across two groups of youth. Journal of Moral Education, 43, 1-17.
Wade, N.G., Hoyt, W.T., Kidwell, J.E.M., & Worthington, Jr., E.L. (2014). Efficacy of psychotherapeutic interventions to promote forgiveness: A meta-analysis. Journal of Consulting and Clinical Psychology, 82, 154-170.