What Is a Good Society?

Peter Maurin of the Catholic Worker Movement is alleged to have said that a good society is one in which it is easy to be good. I write this blog post today as I reflect on some recent news stories (posted in our Forgiveness News section of this website. We have the shooting of innocent teenagers in Ohio, we have two Americans shot in the head and killed in Afghanistan as retaliation for burned Korans at a NATO base, and we have the murder of a 4-year-old. Anger can sometimes be deadly for the other guy who just happens to be in the angry person’s way.

I wonder what those outcomes would have been had those with the weapons been bathed in forgiveness education from age 5 though 18. I wonder what those outcomes would have been had each one of the weapon-carriers, as they grew up, practiced forgiveness in the home. I wonder.

The wounds in the world are deep and everlasting, it seems. What we do here at the International Forgiveness Institute, Inc. (helping people if they so choose to learn to forgive and then practice forgiveness) will never be out of date. Yet, my big worry (yes, it is a big worry) is this: Will there be sufficient laborers in the forgiveness vineyard to bring the virtue of forgiveness to children so that they can become fortified against the grave injustices that come to too many too often as adults?

I worry about those 6-year-olds, sitting now in classrooms, learning their mandated ABCs, without also learning the ABCs of how to deal with injustice. You see, society is not emphasizing forgiveness. We are not being taught forgiveness on a regular basis. We are in a society where it is not easy to be a good forgiver. And so too many of those who are bullied in school do not even think to forgive those who perpetrate the bullying. In Ohio this week, one bullied student’s response was a gun and then murder.

So much pain in the world and yet too many societies do not have the vision and the resources to bring forgiveness education far and wide. Liberia has. The Minister of Education has recently approved forgiveness education for every classroom in the country, as it emerges from a devastating 14-year civil war. Yet, at least to date there are not enough resources, there are not enough servants to get this done on the kind of scale required for Liberia to pull itself up from the ravages of anger.

Question for those who are listening: The next time a city wishes to build a $250 million complex for athletics or entertainment or whatever, who has the persuasive skills and accompanying wisdom and courage to ask that one half of one percent of that be siphoned off to forgiveness education? If we could go back and ask the deceased student in Ohio or the two Americans found in their chairs in their Afghan offices or the innocent 4-year-old what is the higher priority….what do you think they would say to us?

Society, what do you think?

My husband of 17 years had an affair. The other person became pregnant in effort to keep him. I reconciled with my husband as we have three children of our own. This other person lives in the same small town as we do, and has no respect for myself or my children. My anger and inability to forgive, move on is eating me alive. I’m becoming desperate for help. I just want to resolve it within myself so I can resume living again.

There is great hope for you to forgive and move on because of your strong motivation to do so. A willingness to forgive is part of the process of healing and you most certainly have that will. Because the other person lives in the same small town as you, it becomes more of a challenge. Note carefully that I am not saying your level of forgiveness will be lower because this is a challenge. I am only saying that you will have to work at the forgiveness every day—-every day.

I recommend that you start with my book,??The Forgiving Life. The exercises for forgiving the person are in Chapter 10, The Forgiveness Pathway. It would be best to start with Chapter 1, which helps you to first explore the love that you have within you. I start there to fortify you, to make you stronger, before you forgive someone who has hurt you so deeply. Please then read Chapter 2, If You Are Traumatized. It may answer some of the tough questions about forgiveness for you. I urge you to then read Chapters 3-7 and then turn directly to Chapter 10.

Elicit help from your husband on this. You say you are reconciled with him. He therefore will be your helpmate on this. Talk with him about what you are experiencing especially with your responses to Chapters 1 and 10. These are the keys for you (learning to let love grow in you and then practicing forgiveness).

Every time you think about or see this person, I strongly recommend that you begin practicing forgiveness (from the material in Chapter 10). Persevere in this and never give up. Your strong will is important in this effort. You will prevail. Please contact me again to let me know how it is going.

A Healthy and Prosperous Heart: The Power of Forgiveness and Letting Go

Nelson Mandela’s words reveal a powerful truth, “Harboring resentment is like drinking poison, expecting if will kill your enemies.” Ongoing studies show that lack of forgiveness has a negative impact on our bodies, resulting in chronic health problems and diminished quality of life.

Rehashing old hurts, past wrongs, regrets can have a negative and toxic effect on all systems in the body, but particularly the heart. We wear down our cardiovascular system by replaying the toxic tapes and stories from our past, wreaking havoc on ourselves, our bodies, in innumerable ways, increasing our heart rate, blood pressure, while flooding our bodies with stress hormones that linger, creating an unhealthy inner environment of discomfort and dis-ease.

Do yourself a favor. Focus your time and energy on cultivating a practice of forgiveness.??Read the full story.

Forgiveness: Finding the Gift in the Wound

Huffington Post. Marina Cantacuzino, founder of The Forgiveness Project in London, reports on a recent talk??by??Azim Khamisa, a Sufi Muslim from Kenya who lost his son to murder on an American street 17 years ago. ??His heart-felt sense of forgiveness has led him to speak “in front of a million young people,” as a way to reduce violence and increase forgiveness.????According to Khamisa, ???I reached the conclusion that there were victims at both ends of the gun.?????The full story is here.

Mr. Khamisa’s story also is featured in the award-winning documentary film,??The Power of Forgiveness. Watch??a short video clip??of Dr. Robert Enright, who was also??featured in that documentary, talking about justice, forgiveness and mercy.

President Obama’s Apology Accepted by Afghan President

Alaskadispatch.com.??An excellent article??in the??Alaska Dispatch??discusses not only President Obama’s recent apology over the burnings of the Koran at a NATO base in Afghanistan but also reviews some of the incidents of apology by other recent American presidents. ??It is worthy of note that when two Americans were killed in the recent violence in Afghanistan, “the Afghan defense minister, Abdul Rahim Wardak, called up Defense Secretary Leon Panetta and apologized. It was heartily accepted.”

Schools Need Forgiveness Education to Combat Bullying

It was reported in the Huffington Post that a student who shot five other students at Chardon High School in Ohio yesterday had been bullied in the past by others. Full story here.

Being bullied, of course, in no way condones murder. At the same time, we need to be more aware of this silent torture that students undergo in being bullied. It is possible that if he could have begun forgiving those who had hurt him, he would not have turned that rage onto others.

The International Forgiveness Institute, Inc. recommends two kinds of forgiveness interventions in schools:
1) For those who have been bullied in schools so that their anger will not turn to rage, depression, or even self-hatred.  We were talking with a student from Korea recently and she related to us that there are many suicides in Korea by those who have been bullied in school.
2) For those who bully in school. These students usually have been treated cruelly by others (outside of school or in school) and this is one reason why they bully. If they can forgive those who have been deeply unjust to them, their motivation to bully will reduce or be eliminated.

When does it become necessary to forgive? What I mean is this: I can let a lot of injustices roll off of me as I forget them or move on. So, how do I know when to start forgiving as opposed to just letting it go? And, when should one take action—stand up for your rights—rather than forgive?

When you ask, “When does it become necessary,” that word *necessary* has at least two connotations. The first connotation centers on the necessity to practice forgiveness simply because it is good to do so; it is virtuous. The second connotation of the word *necessary* centers on your well-being, on your health.

Let us start with the first issue. Because forgiveness is a virtue and because it is always good to practice the virtues (in balance with other virtues), then it follows that whenever you are treated unjustly, and whenever you are motivated to do so, it is then important to forgive. Is it necessary? Yes, if your goal is to grow as a virtuous person (growing in goodness and love, for example). Is it necessary from the viewpoint of society—demanded, in other words? No, society does not demand our forgiveness and so your forgiving is not *necessary* in that you must do so or face some kind of penalty.

Now let us focus on the second meaning of *necessary,* the context in which your health may be compromised. If you are feeling resentment and deep anger is starting to affect your level of energy, your concentration, and your sense of happiness (even a little), then it is time to forgive. Is it necessary? For good health, psychological and physical, yes. We have found no better remedy than forgiveness to the disquiet that can visit us following unjust treatment.

Your final question dichotomizes forgiveness and justice. You seem to assume that you have to choose either forgiveness or justice. You can and should exercise both at the same time. Forgive the person, for example, who is insensitive to you and correct him. As you forgive, the correction is likely to be more gentle than if you approach him as you are deeply angry.

Forgiveness is not the only way to move on from tragedy. Can???t one move on by standing up to life, holding a grudge, and marching forward. Aren???t there hundreds of ways to get over injustices and forgiveness is only one of them?

Forgiveness is one of many ways to deal with tragedy, but some ways are more effective than others. Forgiveness has been shown through scientific investigations to be a particularly effective way to heal from trauma.

As an example, Suzanne Freedman and I published a study in 1996 in which we studied woman who were the victims of incest. All of the women came to us with psychological depression, anxiety, low self-esteem, and a lack of hope for their future. Each one of these women had tried a variety of ways to heal emotionally prior to engaging in forgiveness therapy, yet nothing was particularly effective for them. Following the forgiveness therapy, which was one-on-one with Suzanne for one hour a week for about 14 months, those who had forgiveness therapy improved significantly in their emotional health compared with those who were in the control group (with no forgiveness therapy).

Then the control group participants began forgiveness therapy and after 14 months of forgiveness therapy, they too showed significant emotional improvement. Forgiveness as a way of dealing with deep trauma is worth taking seriously if emotional healing is the goal or one of the goals.

“I Will Not Talk in Class,” 100 Times on the Blackboard

Decades ago, teachers would sometimes demand that a student stand at the blackboard and write with chalk 100 times, “I will not talk in class.” We have always wondered, at the end of the writing, whether the student is humbly repentant or more annoyed than ever. Well, the 2012 version of this punishment is being applied in an Ohio courtroom with an adult, Mark Byron, who is estranged from his wife. He wrote the following on his Facebook page, which is not accessible to his spouse, “If you are an evil, vindictive woman who wants to ruin your husband’s life and take your son’s father away from him completely, all you need to do is say you’re scared of your husband or domestic partner and they’ll take him away.” The full story is here.

Domestic Relations Magistrate Paul Meyers in January found Byron in contempt of a protective order. Byron can avoid a 60-day jail sentence and a fine by posting an apology, composed by Meyers, to Mrs. Byron on the Facebook page. The same apology must be posted every day for 60 days no later than 9 a.m.

The central question for us at the IFI is this: When is an apology sincere and must it be sincere to have an effect on the one who apologizes? It seems to us that the apology will only be effective for Mr. Byron if it comes from the heart, if he actually means it. Otherwise, will this end like it has for so many students, who, after scrawling their statements on the blackboard, do a slow burn because they were forced to comply?