Can stories allow young people to develop new perspectives of forgiveness?

Our friends at The Forgiveness Project have developed a series of four resources for use within P4C enquiries, or as stand alone activities within lessons or tutor time. Each resource includes a preparation activity, film link to a real life story of forgiveness, a concept mind map and example philosophical questions.

Here, Anna Blackman, Education Co-ordinator at The Forgiveness Project, discusses the new resources.

Promoting stories of compassion, empathy and forgiveness is the essence of what we do at The Forgiveness Project. However, we know that sharing these stories with young people is often challenging because many young people see forgiveness as a sign of weakness. We are also living at a time where personal insults and messages of hate are glorified and magnified on social media and with this blatant disregard of others becoming increasingly the norm in society, no wonder young people are following suit.

Whilst recently gathering feedback from a London school who had worked with our resources, teachers told me that beforehand their students were black and white about forgiveness, stating with absolute clarity what was, and wasn’t forgivable. But in giving young people the opportunity to engage in a conversation about stories of forgiveness, their pre-conceived ideas were challenged, and new perspectives offered.


Clockwise: Natalia Aggiano, Shad Ali, Elizabeth Turner, Andrea Martinez

Our new resources share stories with young people through the Philosophy for Children (P4C) approach. Like the work of The Forgiveness Project, P4C does not provide answers, but opens up discussion to allow different possibilities to be explored. This approach has resonance with many stories from our website for example Cathy Harrington, the mother of a murdered child, who said: ‘Lots of things in life are senseless. There’s so much we can’t explain, but we need to be able to love the questions.’

It is this love of questions that continues to inform our work and has inspired the development of this resource – a series of short films from four individuals sharing a very personal journey of forgiveness. Marina Cantacuzino, Founder of The Forgiveness Project writes:

‘I have come to believe that hardened attitudes and fixed perspectives can only shift when we hear the stories of others.’

The resources allow young people to engage in our stories, challenge their own thinking of forgiveness and be a part of a meaningful dialogue around this complicated subject.

In the development of these resources I visited Broadwater School in Surrey, a Lead School for Philosophy for Children. The Year 10 class explored the story of Shad Ali, who after a brutal and unprovoked attack in Nottingham offered forgiveness to his attacker, even though friends and family initially only wanted retribution.

After watching Shad Ali’s film the students generated questions in small groups and chose to focus on the question ‘Is there a true meaning of forgiveness?’. Students delved into Shad’s story, building on each other’s ideas, with one student reflecting on why Shad chose to forgive his attacker:

‘part of the reason was to be kind to himself…and having respect for the person who did the crime.’

Their careful choice of language and ability to frame his story as one about self-preservation and a shared humanity was enlightening to watch.

Other stories in the resource include Natalia Aggiano, whose mother was brutally murdered by her father after 30 years of bullying and abuse, Elizabeth Turner, who lost her husband in the attack on the World Trade Centre on 11 September 2001, and Andrea Martinez who was seven years old when she was sexually abused by a relative and after many years began to consider forgiveness as a way of healing.

By using real life stories as a stimulus for learning, these resources offer young people examples of alternatives to revenge, and peaceful solutions to conflict.

Please continue the discussion on forgiveness and share widely with your friends, colleagues and most importantly young people. As singer Pete Seeger wrote:
‘The key to the future of the world is finding the optimistic stories and letting them be known.’

The Forgiveness Project Philosophy for Children Resources are available to download for free at

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