A University of Northern Iowa professor is experimenting with teaching what she calls “forgiveness education” in a Cedar Falls high school. Suzanne Freedman, a UNI professor of human development, says some of the 52 juniors at Malcolm Price Laboratory’s N-U High School were initially turned off by the idea, thinking they were about to get a sermon about religion.
“Forgiveness is definitely a part of many religions and people can use their religion to forgive, but you do not need to be a religious person to be able to forgive,” Freedman says. “People can forgive completely from a secular or psychological perpective without bringing any religion in.”
Freedman says the benefit of teaching forgiveness in school is that students will learn how to deal with their anger and resentment after being hurt, while learning lifelong skills like empathy, self-forgiveness and anger management. She says everyone can learn from the lessons she’s teaching. Freedman says if you get cut off by another driver on the highway, don’t react. She suggests trying to envision what led that other driver to take the action. She calls it “reframing.”
“When you can gain a larger perspective or to think about it from someone else’s perspective, maybe they had a really rotten morning, maybe they’re not doing it to you personally but it’s a reaction to something else that’s happening,” Freedman says. “When you can gain a perspective of somebody else, it’s easier to feel empathy and compassion towards them.”
Some people think forgiveness means not getting angry when someone wrongs you, which would be hard to do. Freedman illustrates what she calls a 20-unit model of interpersonal forgiveness, with the second step being anger.
“Before you can forgive, you need to get angry about what happened to you,” Freedman says. “Angry in a healthy way, not angry, punching a hole through the wall or road rage. I’m talking about a healthy expression of anger, whether it’s screaming into your pillow, talking to a friend, stomping it out, having music really loud, writing an angry note and not mailing it.”
She says anger is natural and having a outburst may be healthier than holding that anger in or doing something more dangerous. Still, Freedman says you can’t be controlled by the anger. Get angry and then move on.