Forgiveness - Reflection & Resources for Families

Children are often told, “Say you’re sorry.” The offended person is expected to accept the apology and “forgive.” Sometimes the words are meant sincerely and felt by the other person; sometimes they are not, but there is still the expectation to forget the offense. However, true forgiveness is an internal process that relates more to a shift in perspective than a relationship outcome. If we can help children accept human fallibility and process the hurt they have felt or witnessed in another person, then they develop a deeper emotional intelligence and life-changing tool.

The lesson on forgiveness in the Unitarian Universalist Religious Education curriculum Moral Tales, which the CUC fourth-grade class is using this year, begins by asking the children to think about acts of goodness that they and others have done. The children are then asked to name the virtues behind the acts, e.g., generosity, courage, honesty. Before they think about what it means to forgive themselves and others for hurts that have occurred, they need to be holding the sense of goodness that exists in all of us. In order to process hurts in a healthy way, we need to remember that goodness abounds and we hold virtues within us, despite our foibles.

The session then focuses on an old Middle-eastern story about two friends who travel together. The friend who is slapped by the other in an argument writes the hurt in sand and it is blown away by the winds of forgiveness. The same friend is then saved from drowning by the friend who had slapped him. He etches that act in stone and when asked about the difference replies, "When someone hurts us, we should write it down in sand where the winds of forgiveness can erase it away. This way our hearts are free from bitterness, and we can renew our friendships. But, when someone does something kind for us, we must engrave it in stone and in our hearts so that we will never forget.” 

The curriculum tells the children that

the act of forgiveness is one of the most important choices we can make. Forgiveness can help us keep our relationships with others. It can help us have hearts full of love rather than bitterness.
It is pointed out that the word forgiving is made up of “for” and “giving.”
Forgiveness means giving kindness, empathy, and love to another person, even if they have hurt us. When we are angry at ourselves and forgive ourselves, we are giving kindness, empathy, and love to ourselves.
It is stressed to the children that this does not mean we forget the hurtful act or excuse it. The interaction may still affect the choices we make, e.g., not lending a personal possession to someone who has destroyed one, but we make efforts to let go of the resentment.

Similarly, psychological studies on forgiveness have defined it as a
freely made choice to give up revenge, resentment, or harsh judgments toward a person who caused a hurt, and to strive to respond with generosity, compassion, and kindness toward that person. It is a process that involves reducing negative responses and increasing positive responses toward the person who caused the hurt, across the realms of affect, cognition, and behavior. Importantly, forgiveness is not condoning, excusing, denying, minimizing, or forgetting the wrong. It can occur without reconciliation, which requires the participation of both parties, if the person who caused the hurt is absent, deceased, or remains unsafe.
Forgiving is not forgetting, but it is changing our perspective toward the incident. The key is that forgiveness is an internal process that helps us shift how we feel and determines our relationship to ourselves, as well as others. It may or may not change the interaction with the person who caused the hurt or who we hurt, but it changes the way we move forward on our life paths. The studies have shown that this choice of forgiveness directly affects health outcomes and mortality rates.

In teaching our children what it means to forgive, we are empowering them with a tool that will positively affect their health and their ability to relate to the people around them. In helping children accept our human imperfections, we enable them to give understanding, empathy, and kindness to themselves and others. They are freed to act boldly in transformative ways because they have let go of burdensome resentments and unhealthy self-criticism. Learning the process of forgiveness is vital to personal well-being and the continuation of peace-making in the world.


Moral Tales, Session 5: Forgiveness http://www.uua.org/re/tapestry/children/tales/session5/index.shtml

Study on Forgiveness and Health Outcomes http://www.academia.edu/1007805/Forgive_to_Live_Forgiveness_Health_and_Longevity

The Forgiveness Toolbox: A skills-based toolbox enabling individuals and groups to transform the impact of harm and violence and nurture peaceful co-existence http://www.theforgivenesstoolbox.com/

Barbara Marshman, What If Nobody Forgave? A story about letting go of grudges. http://www.uua.org/worship/words/readings/5955.shtml

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