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Tydskrif vir Geesteswetenskappe

On-line version ISSN 2224-7912
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VAN DER WALT, Johannes L. Forgiveness education in schools as a possible measure to prevent future social and emotional pain. Tydskr. geesteswet. [online]. 2018, vol.58, n.2, pp.344-360. ISSN 2224-7912.

It was assumed for purposes of this article that many of the cases ofpeople seeking counselling as a result of social and emotional pain due to social injustice inflicted upon them could have been prevented if they had been taught how to ask for and to extend forgiveness. (This of course does not imply that forgiveness education will remove all such social and emotional pain.) Children need to be taught how to deal with social injustices such as bullying, thereby saving them social and emotional pain later in their lives. Literature abounds with incidents that require forgiveness. The record of incidents underlines the need for incorporating forgiveness education in formal school programs. As far as could be established, forgiveness education has not yet been incorporated anywhere as a formal school subject. However, provision has been made in many education systems for its inclusion in, for instance, Citizenship Education and other formative subjects. In South Africa it could form part of the Life Orientation and Life Skills programs currently taught in schools. The purpose of this article is to provide school educators (teachers) with guidelines for teaching forgiveness education in schools, if (and when) it is incorporated in the formal curriculum. The rationale for including forgiveness education in the formal school curriculum can be explicated in terms of the social space and ethical function theory. Forgiveness and forgiveness education should occur in the social space resulting from the infliction of a social injury upon a person or group. Forgiveness education in turn should occur in the educational space provided by schools and other pedagogical settings. According to the principle of sovereignty in own sphere, schools are unique in that they embody pedagogical and didactical spaces. The school is firstly pedagogically focused upon the guiding, unfolding, nurturing, forming and developing of the learners to prepare them for a future as mature and responsible adults who understand the process of forgiveness. In this process, schools will secondly typically employ the didactical art and skill of teaching how and when to forgive. The theory also encapsulates the notion that the space in which forgiveness education is to occur should be ethical in that it displays and promotes love, patience and empathy, responsible and accountable interaction with the learners and a deeper understanding among learners as a caring community. According to this perspective, the school approaches forgiveness and forgiveness education as part of the moral development of the learners. Against the backdrop outlined above, the following is suggested as a "syllabus" or "subject curriculum" for forgiveness education: 1. Thefirst step of the forgiveness process to be taught is that a person should understand the context in which the apparent injustice has taken place. Children should be able to distinguish between a no-harm situation and one in which genuine injustice has been inflicted. Actions are always context-sensitive. This is the uncovering phase in which the person becomes aware ofpersonal emotions and of the pain brought about by the actions of another. 2. The second step is to gain insight into the function of anger, dissatisfaction and resentment. The forgiveness process begins with anger and resentment. It is important, however, to distinguish between productive, and sinful and senseless anger. Anger is productive if it helps one understand what has occurred, if one remains in charge of the anger, if the anger does not deteriorate into childish self-centredness, does not destroy the other person and if it helps one in choosing to forgive. The injured person should abjure all forms of reactive anger, that is anger that insists on revenge and retribution, and rather opt for transitional anger, i.e. forward-looking anger rooted in thoughts of well-being for both the injured and the injurer, in empathy for both the self and the other. 3. The third step in the forgiveness process is to realise that the injustice or injury is of a permanent nature. The injury will never disappear and will never be forgotten, and therefore has to be dealt with. 4. The fourth step is to realise that forgiveness begins with oneself and not with the injurer. To forgive is not a token of weakness; forgiveness is always granted from a position of strength because it ultimately results in healing of the self and the other. It liberates one from unhappiness and resentment and is an act of mercy to the self. It now becomes important to distinguish between two kinds of forgiveness: conditional and unconditional, and to realise that it is by far better to forgive unconditionally. 5. The fifth step is an active decision to forgive, a step inspired by empathy for the perpetrator. To forgive is not just to forget or to pardon but rather to set the perpetrator and oneself free. An unforgiving attitude deprives one from opportunities of becoming what one could have been, namely a healed person. This is the decision-making phase in the forgiveness process. 6. The sixth step is the workphase. The injured person invokes various cognitive and affective forgiveness strategies. One of the most important tasks in this phase is to reframe the perpetrator, in other words to attempt to view him or her in a more favourable light. Reframing ideally results in greater empathy with the injurer. 7. The seventh step entails viewing forgiveness as a gift. It is only once one has forgiven the other that one is set free completely. 8. The process ends with the outcome phase.The injured person begins reaping benefits from the process in the sense of beginning to grow spiritually after the dissipation of anger and the liberation from feelings of injustice. The way is now paved for a conflict-free future. The previously injured person can now become more pro-social, more morally responsible and develop a stronger sense of belonging. Enmity and alienation are replaced by a sense ofpeace. Empirical evidence has shown that people and groups who have successfully forgiven tend to display lower stress and anxiety levels, more positive relationships, gain more hope for the future and for life in general, and have a more positive view of the self. This is because they have successfully liberated themselves as well as the injurer from the burden of an unforgiving attitude. Only people who have been instructed in the process of forgiving during their formative years, who have been taught and as a result have learned what it means to forgive even the unforgiveable will be able to comply with the dictum of doing unto others what you would want them do unto you, able to care for their interests as if those interests were your own. Not many people are able to do what one of the mothers of the Gugulethu 7 spontaneously did when she unconditionally forgave one of the murderers of her son during the apartheid era. In doing so, she demonstrated that she had mastered the steps of the forgiveness process outlined above. Most other people require instruction in the forgiveness process to be able to emulate her example.

Keywords : forgiveness; forgiveness education; school; schooling; social injustice; emotional pain; social pain; citizenship education; life orientation; life skills.

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