Boy, 14, Kills Mother, Family Offers Forgiveness

Detroit Free Press -??As a 14-year-old boy was given 25-50 years for shooting his mother in the night, his uncle and grandmother were offering him forgiveness. His uncle, Leshaun Roberts, hugged the boy before he was taken away and said, “I forgive you and I love you. Please get him some help.”

Smith is accused of fatally shooting his mother, Tamika Robinson of Detroit, over a fight stemming from her telling the teen not to bring girls home or hang out with boys she regarded as thugs. On Feb. 27, Smith broke into a home office, where Robinson???s fianc?? kept his gun, and shot her in the middle of the night, police said. He later pleaded guilty to second-degree murder.

Smith apologized in letters he wrote from jail,??his grandmother said, claiming he was tired of seeing his mother suffer from debilitating bouts of the effects of lupus as well as kidney failure.

Read the full story:??Family offers forgiveness to Detroit boy, 14, sentenced in mother’s shooting.

“When Forgiveness Isn’t a Virtue:” A Response

Virtue 2On October 29, 2012, the Wall Street Journal published an article entitled, “When Forgiveness Isn’t a Virtue.” It centered, in part, on research by Dr. James McNulty of the University of Tennessee. The newspaper author makes the claim that once a person forgives another for a transgression, then the act of forgiving “may encourage the transgressor to do it again.”

For example, in one of Dr. McNulty’s studies of newlywed couples, “He found that the day after forgiving a partner, people were 6.5 times more likely to report that the partner had again done something negative, compared with when there was no forgiveness.” A similar finding was reported in another study that examined these outcomes over a six month period. Forgiving partners were the recipient of continued transgressions. Yet, the critical question is this: Is forgiveness the culprit here?

The conclusions reached in the article have at least one major philosophical flaw and one major psychological flaw worth noting. First, the philosophical flaw is this: We have known for at least 3,500 years that we are not to practice any one virtue in isolation of the other virtues. Aristotle taught us that. Otherwise, for example, a courageous non-swimmer who practices only courage and not wisdom might jump into a raging river to save a drowning dog, only to lose his own life. It is the same with forgiveness. It must not be practiced in isolation from justice, otherwise other people will take advantage of us. This is not the fault of forgiveness itself. It is the fault of the one appropriating it in isolation from justice.

The major psychological flaw is this: Dr. McNulty, when asking research participants about forgiveness, presumed that each was using thatForgive Dictionary
word correctly. It is an assumption that should not have been made.Researchers Freedman and Chang in 2010 did a study in which they found that most people misunderstand what forgiveness is, equating it with letting a transgression go or “moving on.” Philosophers and psychologists who make the study of forgiveness their life’s work will tell us that these are misconceptions because “letting go” and “moving on” are not virtues.

Instead, forgiveness is offering goodness to another in spite of what he or she has done. Forgiveness then comes alongside justice, which asks something of the transgressor. To avoid any misunderstanding of what forgiveness is, I suggest using the definition I developed from more than 25 years of forgiveness research: Forgiveness Defined.

Forgiveness need not get a black eye from Dr. McNulty’s research when we realize that participants can misunderstand and therefore misappropriate this virtue. If anything, his research calls for careful forgiveness education for anyone who wishes to practice the virtue of forgiveness in important situations with important people in their lives.

Dr. Bob

Children Sharing Forgiveness Across the Divide in Belfast, Northern Ireland

the-troubles5[1]For the past four years, The Corrymeela Community, in partnership with The International Forgiveness Institute, has facilitated a cross-community Forgiveness Education Schools Programme in Northern Ireland. The Shared Learning Programme with Forgiveness Education brings together children from across the sectarian divide to participate in activities such as story telling, art, discussion and other activities. Through this programme children are taught about the virtue of Forgiveness which encourages them to view “the other” through kind, generous and forgiving eyes. In Northern Ireland, where communities are quite often separated because of political allegiances and faith traditions, most children are educated in separate schools with their families mostly living in separate areas. By bringing children together through Shared Learning, we are able to encourage them to see that all people, no matter where they live or what they believe, are valuable and have deep worth.

The Shared Learning Programme runs in tandem with the Forgiveness Education Curriculum. The teachers in both partner classrooms teach the Forgiveness Education lessons to their pupils and the partner classrooms also meet together up to 3-times for Shared Learning activities. Then, at the end of the programme, a final Celebration Event occurs where parents are invited along to hear what their children have been learning about forgiveness. At the Celebration Events that occurred in March 2012, a few pupils were interviewed about the programme and here’s what they had to say:

When asked what forgiveness means to them, Alex, a P4 pupil (2nd forgiveness_drawinggrade) stated,“When you forgive you show that you are a true friend. When you forgive it is like sunshine coming back in to your life. You need to forgive otherwise your friend could become like an enemy and you would always feel sad. It would be like having a dark, gloomy cloud in your life.”

Niall, a P5 pupil (3rd grade) said, “Sometimes it is hard to forgive someone straight away if they really hurt your feelings. It might take longer to see their worth and show them real forgiveness. But it is worth it in the end.”

Darragh, a P3 pupil (1st grade) also responded by saying, “If someone hurts you and they say sorry, but they have to mean it, then you can forgive them and be friends again. If you didn’t forgive you would lose your friends.”

While Northern Ireland has made progress over the past 14 years since the signing of the Good Friday Agreement in 1998 there is still much to be learned, much to be discussed and much to be healed. Programmes such as Shared Learning with Forgiveness Education definitely have their role to play in this process and as Niall said above, “Sometimes it is hard to forgive someone straight away if they really hurt your feelings. It might take longer to see their worth and show them real forgiveness. But it is worth it in the end.”

Becki Fulmer
The Corrymeela Community

Hello sir? i am a student and doing research on the topic of forgiveness that how forgiveness will increase healthy i am in search of a tool that can help me to measure relationship and how it can be modified through forgiving.I request you to please answer me is there any test or tool to measure the strength of a relation after forgiving?.Hoping for your reply

By “relationship,” do you mean a romantic relationship between two people? If so, please consider the Experiences in Close Relationship Scale. A 2007 peer-reviewed??article from the Journal of Personality Assessment,??has the items of that scale in it.

We wish you the best in your research.

Has research suggested (or ruled out) any link between unforgiveness and Alzheimers?

To date, there is no study showing a link between unforgiveness and Alzheimers, but there are indications that this could be the case in an indirect sense. Consider this article, “The Healing Power of Forgiveness,” written by a board-certified psychiatrist and neurologist, from the Fortanasce-Barton Neurology Center in California.

The article presents evidence that high levels of anger can lead to more toxins going to the brain (the study was done on mice and so we must be careful in extrapolating this to humans). In this same article above, a study on humans showed that when presented with very disturbing stimuli, the research participants’ brains showed signs of agitation “and exhaustion of the neurons, therefore increasing their stress and cortisol levels that will interfere with good neuronal transmission.”

So, your intuition of a link between unforgiveness (agitation, anger) and brain function has merit as a hypothesis.

In closing, I want to mention one prevalent issue on the Internet between forgiveness and Alzheimers and that is the need for caretakers to forgive the patient and to forgive the self.

Here is one article on forgiving the one with the disease: “Forgiveness Toward an Alzheimer’s Victim.”

Here is one from the Mayo Clinic on forgiving the self when caring for someone with the disease: “Forgive yourself as a caregiver, and relieve anger.”

Dr. Bob

What Is Your Story?

When a person misbehaves, we so often focus only on the misbehavior and we want it stopped—now. Yet, when someone misbehaves there may be so much more to it than the undesirable behavior. Consider Jane’s story. At work she was not being productive, becoming passive toward some of the co-workers, and becoming sharply critical of others. Her unjust behavior was becoming a disruption. The manager was considering firing her. Someone in the Human Relations office decided, instead, to simply ask her: What is the recent story of your life, Jane? She started to cry because, quite frankly, no one had asked her to that point. As it turns out, her partner recently left her, her mother was suffering from dementia, and her son had a drinking problem. These are not an excuse to hurt others at work. Yet, without knowing her story, who at work could offer help? Knowing the story, the Human Relations person began a systematic forgiveness program for her, focused first on the partner’s injustice. It all started, and all began to fall into place, with one simple question: What is your story, Jane? The next time someone is annoying you, you might want to ask a similar question.

Dr. Bob

Is Self-Forgiveness a Contradiction Unto Itself?

Some say that self-forgiveness cannot exist because we cannot be our own judge and the defendant at the same time.

Yet, it seems to me that when we forgive we are never in a court of law. Instead we are in a non-judgmental area of love. If we can offer other moral virtues to the self, such as patience and kindness, then why cannot we also offer forgiveness to ourselves, a gentle loving acceptance of self, not because of the injustice we have done, but in spite of this? The “how to” of self-forgiveness is discussed briefly in this blog post: “The Toughest of All–Forgiving Oneself.”

At the same time, the critics of self-forgiveness do have a good point. We both are the victim and the offender. Therefore, we must do more in self-forgiveness than we do in forgiving others. If we have hurt others by our actions requiring self-forgiveness, then we need to go to those others and seek their forgiveness.

Dr. Bob

Does Communism Mention Forgiveness?

This is one of the few questions (received in our Ask Dr. Forgiveness section of this website) I had never considered until it was asked of us at the IFI this week. I am presuming that the question-asker is focusing on the concept of forgiving (not apologizing and seeking forgiveness). I spent some time “googling” forgiveness in communist literature, including excerpts from the writings Karl Marx, Vladimir Lenin, Leon Trotsky, and Mao Zedong. I further examined the work of Louis Althusser, an influential French Marxist philosopher. Finally, I consulted the literature on liberation theology, which has roots in the Marxist notion of freeing the poor from oppression though class struggle.

The short answer is that forgiveness is rarely mentioned in the above literature, whether it concerns political, philosophical, or theological writings. I found no mention of forgiveness in Marx, Lenin, Trotsky, Mao, or Althusser. Of course, this does not mean that the word is completely absent in their writings or in other authors’ works that I did not consult. It only means that I did not find it and that it appears not to be highly emphasized.

This is not surprising, given that the origins of the word “forgiveness,” at least in a focused and repeated sense, is in the monotheistic traditions of both Hebrew and Christian ancient writings. Marx, for example, decried religion as an excuse to remain oppressed: “Religion is the sigh of the oppressed creature, the heart of a heartless world, and the soul of soulless conditions. It is the opium of the people.”

For Leon Trotsky, the moral virtues might be placed on the table, not as ends in and of themselves but as means to the end of victory: “There are no absolute rules of conduct in peace or war. Everything depends on circumstances.”

Mao Zadong’s writings are similar: “Classes struggle, some classes triumph, others are eliminated. Such is history. Such is the history of civilization for thousands of years.” The struggle for justice, or in this case the ascent to power, supersedes the mercy of forgiveness.

Even in liberation theology, emerging in a Christian context in Latin America as a strategy for reducing poverty and oppression, the emphasis is on justice rather than forgiveness. There is one central exception, that of Daniel Bell in his book, Liberation Theology After the End of History. New York: Routledge, 2001. Bell refers to the oppressed poor of Latin America as the “crucified people.” For him forgiveness was a political way of standing against oppressive government. Forgiveness for Bell is a kind of radical political move to remain alive in the face of severe stress. Yet, such an idea does not lead to a clear strategy of how forgiveness will liberate the poor from their material poverty and thus seems to be contrary to the major tenets of liberation theology.

In response to liberation theology in Latin America, there has been a more recent movement known as “the theology of reconciliation” (Edward Lynch, The retreat of liberation theology, Homiletic & Pastoral Review, 1994). To quote Lynch: “For the liberationists, unity will come when economic and social divisions are eliminated, and they are willing to use violence to achieve this end. For their opponents, the unity that matters is cultural, spiritual, and far removed from economics.” This new theology in Latin America centers on “the reality of the reconciliation of man with God, with himself, with others and with all that is created” (Paul Sigmund, Liberation Theology at the Crossroads: Democracy or Revolution? New York: Oxford University Press, 1990). This new theology as a response to liberation theology is not at all Marxist, but instead is orthodox in its Catholicism. I only mention it as counterpoint to the ideas underlying liberation theology.

As one quick point regarding apology and the seeking of forgiveness, there are statements in the news and other writings that communist rulers, such as Ho Chi Minh in North Vietnam, have used a political strategy of confessing “errors of thought.” This appears to be a political strategy of acquiescence (getting dissenters to agree to the party’s ideology) rather than the exercise of a moral virtue toward the goal of genuine reconciliation of persons. As one work for the general public, please see the Reader’s Digest, November, 1968 on the example used here. As a more scholarly work, focused on Stalin in the Soviet Union, please see Igal Halfin’s work, Stalinist Confessions: Messianism and Terror at the Leningrad Communist University. University of Pittsburgh Press, 2009.

In sum, if the concept of forgiveness in any legitimate sense is in communist literature, it is not obvious and not emphasized. The quest for justice reigns, and a philosophical examination of just what constitutes justice in this context would require another essay. As Aristotle reminded us over 3,500 years ago, we should never exercise any one moral virtue in isolation of the other moral virtues, for to do so is to invite distortion even of this one, prized virtue.

Dr. Bob

Widow of Killed Cyclist Offers Forgiveness to Errant Driver

KRQE News,??Albuquerque, NM– It was something you don’t expect to see at a sentencing — an emotional widow telling the woman who killed her husband that she forgives her and that the woman should forgive herself.

Sherri Anderson, whose husband Dave was killed as their family was on a bicycle ride two years ago, spoke to a packed courtroom prior to the sentencing of Miranda Pacheco who was driving the car that veered off the road and crashed into Dave Anderson on a bike path.

“Miranda, Miranda, I forgive you! I really forgive you,” Sherri Anderson said. “This doesn’t mean I excuse what you did but forgiveness is not foolishness, Miranda!”

Anderson said she hoped Pacheco would teach others the difficult lesson she learned from the tragedy. Then she showed a video of Dave Anderson through the years before playin a song about forgiveness for Pacheco.

Read the full story and watch the KRQE News video:??Family of Cyclist Killed Offers Forgiveness.