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…………..now.

Robert

The Dilemma of Cyberbullying: What Is the Solution?

CyberbullyingA teenage girl received a series of texts allegedly from her boyfriend in which she is severely demeaned. Her reaction is to take her own life. The boyfriend never wrote the texts. His account was hacked for the purpose of cyberbullying.

Cyberbulling is a relatively new term to signify aggressive communication through the electronic media of cell phone texting, email, and social networking sites on the Internet. It is an insidious problem because it is too often anonymous, goes viral (spread to many others), and the victim feels powerless. Those who engage in cyberbullying are less easily identified than those who punch someone in the face.

So, what can we do about all of this? Of course, we can warn our children as StopCyberbullying does (the first cyberbullying prevention program in North America). We can call for more vigilance so that those who engage in this behavior are more easily identified, as is suggested in the film Submit the Documentary.

Cyberbullying MapJustice is a vital part of cleaning up this problem. Yet, this is insufficient. The seeking of justice (punishment, arrest, or other form of fairness) is a temporary protection, but it is not a solution. We need to get to the heart of the matter which is the heart of those who engage in such destructive behavior.

Those who cyberbully have enraged hearts. They are displacing their anger onto others. They are wounded. If we only see their behavior, then we are missing the punchline that they are wounded inside. We can constrain behavior through justice and we can cure wounded hearts through forgiveness.

In previously posted blogs, we already have discussed the necessity of our forgiveness education anti-bullying guide for teachers, school counselors, psychologists, and social workers being in as many schools as possible. The uniqueness of this guide is that it deliberately targets the anger in the heart of those who bully. The principle behind the guide is this: Emotionally-wounded people wound others. We have a way to help bind up these emotional wounds through forgiveness education. We help those who wound others to heal from the wounds inflicted previously on them, thus reducing their motivation to wound others. The information for this guide is available in the IFI Education Store.

Yet, what do we do in the case of cyberbullying? We must recall that those who do this are not easily identified. Oh, yes they are. Although we do not catch them in the act of punching someone in the face, we can identify them because the overly-angry tend to wear that attitude on their face, in their words, in the trouble they find in school….over and over. Of course, not all who are excessively angry engage in cyberbullying. Yet, those who cyberbully likely come from this group of the excessively angry. We have to cast our intervention-net widely in this age of cyber-anonymity.Wounded Heart

School counselors, psychologists, and social workers please take note: When you have in front of you a student who is entrenched in rebellion, in verbal aggression, in indifference to school itself, please presume that this person of inherent worth has a wounded heart. Consider presenting the contents of our anti-bullying curriculum to him or her individually or in a group for those showing such symptoms. You are indirectly covering cyberbullying if you do this. The more you can target the angry students, the more you may be either preventing or remediating cyberbullying behavior.

The stakes are way too high to ignore this advice. Your “yes” to mending the wounded hearts of students in your school through helping them to forgive could, quite literally, save lives.

Robert

Should We Talk about Forgiveness in the Context of a Loved-One’s Suicide?

While in Northern Ireland last week, I gave two invited talks on the topic of forgiveness in the context of a loved-one’s suicide. Suicide, especially among young-adult males, is a serious and growing problem there. I made the point that there are at least four scenarios with moral import surrounding this issue:

1) Some people who have lost loved ones in this way will reason that suicide is not immoral. Therefore, they will see no need to forgive because no injustice occurred;

2) Some people who have lost loved ones in this way will say that suicide is not immoral, but they are most likely in denial because their reasoning is not clear and their emotions are raw and angry;

3) Some will say that suicide is always wrong because it is always wrong to take an innocent life, including one’s own;

4) Some will say that the act of suicide itself is not morally wrong, but the consequences of doing so are wrong because those left behind have had love taken from them.

My linking forgiveness with suicide will have direct relevance for those in situations 2-4, but not in situation 1 above. Those in situation 2 might get very angry at me (and some did) for even mentioning the issue of morality and forgiveness in the context of suicide because they harbor worry (about the loved one’s eternal salvation, as an example) and they may harbor some guilt (in that they did not do enough to prevent it). People in this situation 2 want to distance themselves from the worry and/or the guilt. A talk on forgiveness and suicide does not help them to distance from these issues.

Those in situations 3 and 4 tend to seek relief for their own bitterness and anger. They are often angry at the deceased and they can be angry at others who did not do more to help. They also can be angry with themselves for a number of reasons, including their extreme emotions such as hatred or their reasoning that they could have done more. In these cases, it seems that it is worth hypothesizing that forgiveness education and therapy could be helpful in restoring emotional well-being.

What I found interesting is that some (a rare few) in situation 2 were adamant against my speaking at all about this topic. They were offended by the talk. It is as if I have no right to speak about a link between suicide and forgiveness and no one else has a right to hear about it or to work in a psychological sense on their own emotions.

So, here is my recommendation. Let us respect each person as a person and let us respect each one’s choice to hear or not to hear such information. Some will choose not to hear, but they should not condemn those who do. Some will choose to hear, but they should not condemn those who wish not to hear.

This is an important and sensitive area. We must move forward to help those who seek help through forgiveness and we must do so with gentleness and respect for all.

R.E.