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Teaching the Art of Forgiveness in War-Torn Places
July 2, 2012
Many of us recall the civil conflict that raged in Northern Ireland during the 1970s through the 1990s. Belfast residents suffered from paramilitary action and violence that led to many deaths.
The survivors still bear the burden of memories, pain, and depression.
It’s difficult to imagine being able to forgive someone for the destruction and killing that occurred during ‘The Troubles.’
But forgiveness is what Bob Enright and colleagues have been teaching for decades, and in Nothern Ireland for the past 10 years. A professor in the Department of Educational Psychology, Enright says that children in contentious regions of the world reduce in anger and depression as a result of one-hour-per week classroom instruction on forgiveness as led by the classroom teacher.
Enright and his colleagues are training classroom teachers in the art of forgiveness education. Enright provides teacher curriculum guides and encourages them in workshops on the art of teaching this subject. He visits schools in some of the areas of Belfast where violence continues to erupt. Educators have asked for these curriculum and training materials from every continent. War-torn areas are particularly interested, such as Bogota and certain regions of Africa and Kosovo.
Enright reasons that if children can grow developmentally in the art of forgiveness, then when the adult storms of life hit them, they will be armed with a scientifically-proven approach to reduce resentment and hatred and to see the people on "the other side" as possessing inherent worth. This could change the climate in many contentious regions of the world, he says, especially those in what are known as "post-accord societies," which have signed formal agreements toward peace.
Enright received a letter from the United Nations saying that his approach is a good one because from their (UN) observations, conflict is cyclical, occurring about every decade. Forgiveness education could alter this cycle.“We have the experience, the research, the curricula, and the technology to implement this peace plan on a large-scale level,” Enright says. “Can you imagine The Wisconsin Idea circumventing war? It can happen if people rally behind our idea here at the UW the way President Sirleaf has.” Liberian President Ellen Sirleaf is a recipient of the Nobel Peace Prize. She has asked Enright’s group into her country as a first-line of defense against further civil war. Enright has permission from the Minister of Education in Liberia to plant forgiveness education in any schools that are interested.
More information is available here.