Exploring the Theme of Forgiveness

Help teens explore complex emotions through the true stories of historic and contemporary people.

By Eliana Osborn

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"The weak can never forgive. Forgiveness is the attribute of the strong." - Mahatma Gandhi

No matter your age, you have been hurt by someone you thought you could trust. As adults, we try to work through such feelings productively, but it takes practice. As high school educators, we can be of service to the young people in our classrooms by teaching them about forgiveness and exploring the complex process of healing. Below you will find one website and three inspirational stories that deal with forgiveness in the face of hardship. These stories touch hearts and help adolescents reflect on their own lives.

The Forgiveness Project

This United Kingdom website is an excellent resource, with school specific videos and lesson plans to come in the next few months. Their basic principle is: Exploring the possibilities of forgiveness through real stories. Working with prisons, nations, and now schools, the project emphasizes that forgiveness does not make the crime or mistake ok, but that it is an act of self-healing. 

Project Suggestion: Have students read some of the one page stories listed on the site. Based on these exemplars, have them create their own short story about an event in their life that required forgiveness.

Chris Williams

In 2007, a young drunk driver caused a car accident in which Chris Williams’ pregnant wife and two children were killed. Through his pain, Williams realized that he had to let go of any negative feelings toward the driver. That driver, 17 year old Cameron White, was charged and imprisoned, and Williams has been able to let this young man know of his forgiveness. 

Chris Williams published a book about his journey of healing and forgiveness, Let It Go: A True Story of Tragedy and Forgiveness. A video clip about Williams is also available.

Discussion Question: Who was helped more by Williams’ forgiveness? Cameron White (the driver), or Chris Williams (the victim)?

Amish Community

In October 2006, the milk truck delivery man who served an Amish community in Pennsylvania went into a school and shot ten girls. Five of them died, and he killed himself as well. It was a terrible tragedy for a close-knit community—one that the whole country mourned. 

In a remarkable act of love and forgiveness, the grieving Amish families reached out to the wife and children of the murderer. They donated money to help the confused widow and family, as well as offering condolences for their loss.

There’s a book about these events, Amish Grace: How Forgiveness Transcends Tragedy, as well as several video news clips.

Discussion Question: How could the community have responded, instead of how they did? What would have been the consequences? Would they have been justified in such actions?

Corrie ten Boom

Corrie ten Boom lived in Holland with her family at the start of World War II. They worked to hide and protect Jews from the Nazis because they were being taken away to concentration camps. Eventually, the ten Boom family was caught. Corrie and her sister Betsy were taken to camps in Holland and later Germany, suffering terribly but never forgetting their faith. After surviving the camp, Corrie wrote The Hiding Place, which was also made into a movie. 

Famously, ten Boom said “forgiveness is an act of will,” reminding us all that we have a choice in how we react to the things that come our way. One story of her forgiveness can be found here

Discussion Question: How can you forgive very inhumane actions? What does it mean to forgive? Does forgiveness mean that what they have done is acceptable?