Reflections on Three Young Men and Their Recent Suicides

I am sitting here in a workshop far from my home in the United States. All of the participants are in small groups discussing themes of forgiveness for the self, for home, and for school. The place will remain anonymous to keep the information here private.

Suicide 3I just recently had a meeting in a school and the principal was unsettled about three recent suicides by young men just out of high school. They attended school in that very area of the city where this principal works.

“The community is rocking from this,” the principal said. “It is taking us time to adjust and the helping professionals are being kept quite busy with those who are mourning the loss.”

It is important that we not stand in judgement of the three men who took their lives. And so the point of this essay is not to judge the act of suicide or to judge the young men. Instead, the point is to ask a central question: What was in each of their hearts as theySuicide decided that this life is not worth living? What misfortunes or even injustices came to visit them so that their hearts were broken? Could the pain in their hearts have been healed?

I write with a sense of urgency because, where I currently am in the world, the suicide rate is high for young men such as these. Too many of the young men in this community are thinking and feeling that this life is not worth it. There is too much pain, too much alienation.

My urgency centers on this: There is a cure for hopelessness borne out of alienation and unjust treatment and that cure is forgiveness. Forgiveness can cure a shattered heart. Forgiveness can cure a sense of hopelessness and a sense that life holds no meaning or purpose.

Forgiveness can reduce resentment and give a person the meaning that life can be about loving….even when others are not loving you. Forgiveness can give a person purpose as he School Picor she strives to put more love into the world today than there was yesterday. A person who is alienated and broken, if introduced to forgiveness, can begin to reduce pain and to love more……and to see that life, indeed, is worth living.

I am perplexed by this question: What if each of these three hurting young men had sound forgiveness education in their elementary and high school education?

Would they not only be alive today but also be alive with hope and love and purpose?

We need forgiveness education…………


Is anger a primary emotion that emerges when a person is treated unjustly or are there are other emotions more central such as sadness?

There are many emotions that can emerge when a person is treated unfairly: sadness, shock, and anger are three of the central ones. In our book, Forgiveness Therapy, Dr. Richard Fitzgibbons and I make the case that deep and abiding anger is the central emotion that can put a person at-risk for psychological challenges such as low self-esteem, anxiety, and depression. In other words, even though there are several or even many emotions one can experience following injustice, deep anger in the form of resentment can be dangerous to one’s psychological and physical health if this continues for a long time. Forgiveness therapy can cure the resentment.

Will I be a better forgiver if I seek forgiveness from others?

If you are ready to seek forgiveness from others, and are willing to give them time to forgive on their terms without pressure to forgive, then yes, I think this will aid your forgiving others. As you ask for forgiveness, you might  become more sympathetic to what an injuring person goes through. Yes, he or she was unfair, but the person may be hurting inside and truly need to be forgiven……and be very thankful to be forgiven. You are not a monster when you are unjust. After you seek forgiveness, you may realize, in now forgiving, that those who hurt you are not monsters either. They need mercy, as you need mercy when you hurt others.

How Evil Works

There seems to be a pattern with evil that is so patient, so long-term that many people will miss just how it works. The short-range effects of evil seem to take on two patterns.  First, many people freeze when evil comes. They are numbed by the contrast between living life without that evil and now dealing with its stark contrast. Evil can so shake people to their core that they deny evil’s existence.

A case in point: I recently saw a photograph of workers at a German concentration camp German Camp 6of World War II. The workers were all sitting together smiling as a musician entertained them with his accordion, fun times being had by all….except by those experiencing the brunt of the evil. Even in the more recent evil of the mass shootings in Paris, many people in the theater froze when the gunmen entered. It was as if the freezing is showing us that those affected are not really sure that the horror is happening. The people at first do not react and this freezing and denial allow evil to have its way in the short-run.

After the initial denial by those who are indirectly affected (as in the accordion playing within the concentration camp example) or directly affected (as in the Paris murders), many people see and react to the evil by calling it by its name, by labeling it, understanding it, and trying to defeat it. This can take a long time, even decades. An example of this is people’s awakening to human trafficking, the using of others for the more powerful people’s own selfish ends. I still am not convinced that the world is seeing this evil in all of its fullness and ferocity. It sometimes takes great lengths of time to see and to act, yet act some people do.

Once the current evil is contained or even defeated (as in the Nazi example or the Paris German Camp 5shooting example), I have come to realize that the defeat is only a first-wave of the war on evil. Hitler’s Third Reich demise was not the end of that evil because the poison of that evil took up residence within those affected and within their loved ones born after the first-wave of evil was gone. Here is where the subtlety of evil is missed by so many. The evil itself, the killings, the exploitation, the hatred, may die, but the effects of these live on in those directly affected and those now affected by those who were directly affected. And this kind of evil—the secondary effects, or second-wave, of the first-wave—-are just as dangerous or even more so because they are unseen, missed. If we do not see that the evil lives on in this second-wave, then we cannot defeat it.

Yet, we must begin to see that the second-wave of evil can lead to discouragement, hopelessness, hatred, depression, substance abuse, child and spousal abuse, indifference and even hatred toward the divine (because the problem of evil cannot be fully comprehended), and the passing on to generations to come of a cynicism that robs people of inner vitality and thriving.

Beware of the second-wave of evil. See it. Know it. Defeat it through the Heartspractice of forgiving—within hearts, within families, and within communities.  Physical combat is the recourse to defeating some kinds of physically-present first-wave evils. Seeking help is another. Forgiveness-combat is the recourse to defeating the psychologically-present second-wave evils. Forgiveness-combat gives the gift to new generations of reduced skepticism, reduced hopelessness, and an increase in psychologically thriving. Forgiveness gives people their lives back.

If we are to defeat this second-wave of evil, wherever it is, then we need forgiveness education………


In your experience, have you found that there is a particular kind of person who is hardest for most people to forgive, for example, a romantic partner or a father?

Yes, in my experience the hardest person to forgive for many people is—–the self. We tend to be harder on ourselves than on other people. So, if you have broken your own standards of right and wrong, consider self-forgiving and please be patient with yourself.  Whatever you have offered to others in forgiving them, please offer to yourself, and please make amends with (ask for forgiveness from) those you may have injured in breaking your own standards.

Forgiveness and Helplessness

Psychologists tell us that the thoughts and feelings of helplessness can devastate a person. When we think we are trapped with no way out, then we start to feel hopeless, which can lead to anxiety and depression.

The thought that there is no way out is the big lie.

Yes, you may not be able to do much about the current behavioral situation.
ChangeOnTheInsideThe actions in which you engage may be limited.  This does not at all mean that your inner world is trapped with no way out.  You can overcome the inner sense of helplessness by forgiving those who have contributed to your limited actions.

You are free inside to forgive, to reduce resentment, and even to cure this disease of resentment, which can be much worse than reduced behavioral options.

You are much freer than you think. When all around you are mean and unrealistic and hurtful, your inner world can be filled with a forgiveness that gives you joy and confidence and hope.

Am I being unrealistic?  Put me to the test.  Try to forgive and see how your inner world transforms.

And then never be trapped in that inner world ever again.


Bearing the pain of the other person’s injustice seems so difficult to me. Have you ever encountered a person who could not bear the pain of what happened to them so that they could not forgive well?

Yes, I have met many people who do not even think of bearing the pain of what happened to them. When that pain persists, too often I see that they either take that pain out on themselves (neglecting good health habits, for example) or they displace their pain onto other people, trying to make those other people miserable. These ultimately are self-defeating ways. For those who truly want to forgive, who are patient and persevere in their forgiving, I have not seen anyone who was overcome by the pain and was unable to bear it, at least to some degree. We do not have to bear the pain perfectly or be rid of the pain entirely to find thriving and joy in this life. We can learn to live with some pain, knowing that by forgiving we have diminished that pain to a manageable level. It is here that we have triumphed over the pain.