Volunteers in Syracuse, New York, Reach Out to Spread the Word About Forgiveness Education

Mary Lou Coons is one of those always-optimistic individuals who uses every tool available to her to overcome life’s adversities–like the brain and spinal cord maladies that have caused her to endure repeated surgeries and years of suffering. Not one to be slowed down by such difficulties, Mary Lou decided to become a self-appointed “forgiveness ambassador” and has been on a mission to teach as many others as she can about the benefits of forgiveness.

This year alone, Mary Lou (who lives in Syracuse, NY) has:

  • Single-handedly convinced her parish elementary school to adopt Forgiveness Education in all of its classrooms from pre-kindergarten
    Mary Lou Coons with her puppet Lily.

    through 6th grade;

  • Organized and set up a booth to promote forgiveness to the more than 1,000 attendees at a Women’s Conference in Syracuse, NY–resulting in more of the state’s schools considering the use of Forgiveness Curriculum Guides; 
  • Developed Forgiveness Education videos featuring her puppet Lily through the Puppets For Peace Foundation she established 13-years-ago; and,
  • Introduced Dr. Enright and his staff to two native-Rwandan missionaries who quickly agreed to teach the IFI Forgiveness Education Program in three grade schools they established following the Rwandan Civil War and Genocide.

Mary Lou first contacted the International Forgiveness Institute (IFI) more than seven years ago just days after her second Chiari Malformation brain surgery (technically known as posterior fossa decompression surgery) at a Milwaukee, WI hospital. She had learned that IFI-founder Dr. Robert Enright was pioneering Forgiveness Education work with children and she thought her passion for ventriloquism and puppets could somehow supplement those efforts.

Surgery after surgery, recovery after recovery, Mary Lou never abandoned her passion for her Puppets For Peace Foundation and its mission of “spreading peace, love and joy to others.” With love and forgiveness at the heart of all her efforts, Mary Lou says she learned “how to suffer well” and how to give hope to others who were struggling, too.

“In order to suffer well, you need to love,” Mary Lou writes in one of her website blog entries. “When suffering is accepted with love, it is no longer suffering, but is changed into joy.”

Earlier this year, Mary Lou decided to talk about Dr. Enright’s forgiveness curriculum with one of the pre-K teachers at Holy Family School–a Roman Catholic elementary school on the west edge of Syracuse. That teacher, Nancy Whelan, was so impressed that she arranged a meeting for Mary Lou with the school’s principal, Sister Christina Marie Luczynski.

Shortly after that meeting, Holy Family School officially joined the scores of other  elementary schools in the state of New York and around the country that teach Forgiveness Education at every grade level. That IFI program uses proven Social Emotional Learning (SEL) techniques to teach students about the five moral qualities most important in forgiving another person–inherent worth, moral love, kindness, respect and generosity–and has been scientifically proven to benefit students by decreasing anger, increasing empathy and cooperation, and improving academic achievement.

Mary Lou Coons and Holy Family School teacher Nancy Whelan distributed forgiveness education materials at the October 26th 10th Annual Syracuse (NY) Catholic Women’s Conference.

Not content to recruit just one school into the program, Mary Lou teamed up with Nancy Whelan again and this time the dynamic duo set up a display booth at the 10th Annual Syracuse Catholic Women’s Conference. Together, the two women staffed a Forgiveness Education booth and tried to get forgiveness materials into the hands of every one of the more than 1,000 attendees crowded into the Convention Center for the Oct. 26 event.

Their on-site efforts and follow-up contacts resulted in several other Syracuse-area schools now considering using the IFI’s Forgiveness Education Curriculum Guides. Equally important, hundreds of New York women learned about the importance of forgiveness with many of them searching online for additional information causing a spike in the number of visitors to the IFI website following the Conference.

As part of her ongoing forgiveness mission, Mary Lou is now planning to develop a series of short videos with her favorite puppet Lily about forgiveness education and love. You can view one of her pilot vignettes called “Forgiveness Education” on her Puppets For Peace website.

Learn More:

Editor’s Note: Details on Forgiveness Education in Rwanda will be posted here shortly.

I was told I have not truly forgiven someone, because I do not trust the person anymore. I thought we can forgive an offense, but have to work on restoring trust. Sometimes trust can be restored and reconciliation occurs, but other times it does not. I thought it was also possible to forgive someone without ever trusting them again. Is this not true? Please advise.

You show wisdom in making the distinction between forgiving and reconciling.

Forgiveness is a moral virtue that can start as an interior response to the one who acted unjustly. In other words, forgiveness starts with an insight that the other person has inherent worth, as you do. It also eventually can include what the philosopher, Joanna North, calls the “softened heart,” or compassion for the other.

In contrast, reconciliation is a negotiation strategy between two or more people who come together again in mutual trust. One can have the forgiving thoughts and feelings toward the other without interacting with the other person if that person continues to act in a harmful way. A goal of forgiving is to reconcile, but this does not always occur. Reconciliation involves trust, which can be difficult to re-establish unless the other shows what I call “the three R’s” of remorse (inner sorrow), repentance (a verbal expression of that sorry), and when possible recompense (making up for the injustice). These three can help re-establish trust, which usually takes time as the offending ones show a little at a time that they can be trusted by their new actions.

Learn more at Forgiving is not. . .

Finding Meaning in Suffering: I Am Someone Who Can Love Despite Hardship

Viktor Frankl, a survivor of the Holocaust and a world renown psychiatrist, made the point that the only ones who survived concentration camp were those who somehow could find Holocaust survivors found meaning in their sufferingmeaning in what they suffered. Those who saw their suffering as meaningless died.

In other words, finding meaning in this case meant to find life. What fascinates me about Dr. Frankl’s observations is that finding any meaning seems to count in staying alive. Whether a person saw the suffering as a way to toughen the self, or as a way to reach out to other suffering people was not the main point.

I wonder now, in reflecting on Dr. Frankl’s broad view of meaning in suffering, whether he had it entirely correct. Yes, it may be the case that any meaning can keep a person alive. Yet, what kind of meaning in suffering actually helps a person to thrive, not just to live? Perhaps people thrive only when they derive particular meaning from suffering. Of course, we do not know for sure, and any comment here is not definitive because it is open to scientific investigation and philosophical analysis. With that said, I think that when people realize that suffering helps them to love others more deeply, this is the avenue toward thriving.

How does suffering help people to love more deeply? I think there are at least three ways this happens: 1) Suffering makes people more aware of the wounds that others carry; 2) Suffering makes people more determined to help those others bind To live is to suffer, to survive, is to fin meaning in the suffering. Viktor E. Franklup their wounds, and 3) Suffering gives the sufferer the courage to put into action these insights and motivations to make a difference in the lives of others.

As people love in this way, there are characteristically two consequences which help them to thrive: 1) Those who deliberately love in the face of suffering grow in character, each becomes a better person; and 2) The recipients of this love-in-action have their well-being enhanced. As those who suffer see the fruit of their loving actions, this increases satisfaction with life, increasing thriving.

When we have been treated unjustly by others, this is an occasion of suffering. Let us cultivate the habit under this circumstance of finding this meaning: I have an opportunity now to love those who have hurt me. The one avenue to loving the unjust is to forgive them. Let us remember this meaning to forgiveness: “In my forgiving, I am someone who can love despite hardship.” As we say this routinely and come to know it is true, we may find that we have been given an opportunity to thrive as persons.

Robert

What Is a Good Heart?

A close friend asked one of us yesterday, “What is a good heart?” We never had been asked this before. Our response is below. What is your response?

A good heart first has suffered. In the suffering, the person knows that all on this planet are subjected to suffering and so his heart is compassionate, patient, supportive, and loving as best he can in this fallen world. The good heart is forgiving, ever forgiving, vigilant in forgiving. The good heart tries to be in service to others. The good heart is no longer afraid of suffering and has joy because of the suffering, not in spite of it. Having suffered and having passed through suffering, the good heart dances. Others do not understand the good, joyous heart. Yet, the one with the good heart does not compromise the goodness and the joy. It is like a valuable gift received and she knows it.

Robert

Does forgiveness work with those who are addicted to drugs?

Yes, and we have a randomized experimental and control study to show this. We did two sessions a week with the book, Forgiveness Is a Choice, for 6 weeks. After the forgiveness sessions, the participants went from clinically depressed to non-depressed. In contrast, those in the drug-treatment program as usual (the control group) went down in depression, but they remained clinically depressed. Here is the reference to that research:

Lin, W.F., Mack, D., Enright, R.D., Krahn, D., & Baskin, T. (2004). Effects of forgiveness therapy on anger, mood, and vulnerability to substance use among inpatient substance-dependent clients. Journal of Consulting and Clinical Psychology, 72(6), 1114-1121.

I am working with clients who had alcoholic parents. These clients, now adults, tend to downplay the seriousness of their parents’ addiction. In other words, the clients tend to say this: “My parents simply did the best that they could.” There is an obvious denial of injustice by the parents. Here is the complication: The clients in so denying any wrongdoing by the parents are taking out their anger on their own children. What do you suggest I do to break this hurtful denial in my clients?

Denial can take time, but I find that emotional pain can break through the denial when you ask about that inner pain. So, to start, I suggest that you ask these questions of your clients: How are your children doing? Are they having any adjustment problems? What is the nature of these problems? Do you feel sad or frustrated or scared when you see the challenges in your children?

Give the clients a chance to see the children’s adjustment challenges and to assess their own (the clients’) pain regarding those challenges. Once the clients can see their own pain with regard to their own children’s struggles, now it is time to ask the clients: Are your children possibly inheriting your own discontent, anger, sadness, or other emotional challenges?

It is at this point that you can begin to explore the family-of-origin hurts that the clients had experienced. In summary, start with the clients’ children’s difficulties which likely are present. Then turn to how the clients’ own challenges are affecting their children. This can serve as motivation for the clients to see how they have inherited pain and now are passing this on to their own children. At this point, the clients may be open to forgiving their own parents.

Learn more at Forgiveness for Couples.

Is it truly forgiveness in its complete sense if the other does not want to reconcile?

True forgiveness (what this moral virtue is at its essence) is different from complete forgiveness (what the end point or goal of forgiveness is). Because forgiving is a moral virtue it is good in and of itself whether or not the other person responds favorably to your forgiving. Complete forgiveness occurs when the end point is reached. A major end point of forgiving is for the other to receive your gesture of good will, to have remorse, repentance, and if possible, recompense for the injustice. This, then, is followed by reconciliation. So, forgiving can take place in one individual as an unconditional outpouring of kindness, respect, generosity, and love toward the other. Complete forgiveness occurs when there is forgiving (on the part of the offended), receiving the forgiving (on the part of the one offending), and then reconciliation between the two.

For additional information, see Forgiveness Defined.