Children Forgive Man Who Killed Their Father on Easter Sunday

CNA/EWTN News, Cleveland, Ohio, USA- They had to endure it all on Easter Sunday–grief over their father’s brutal killing, anguish because of a video of the actual killing posted on Facebook by the killer himself, and the agony of an ongoing nation-wide search to find that killer.

But through it all, the children of Robert Godwin Sr. still say they forgive the man who murdered their father.

“Each one of us forgives the killer. The murderer. We want to wrap our arms around him,” said Tonya Godwin Baines, one of Godwin Sr.’s 10 children. She said that it was her slain father who taught her, through the example of his life, how to forgive. “The thing that I would take away the most from my father is he taught us about God. How to fear God. How to love God. And how to forgive.”

On Sunday afternoon, 74-year-old Godwin Sr. was shot and killed in Cleveland while walking home from an Easter dinner with his family. Police said that the suspect, 37-year-old Steve Stephens, apparently chose his victim at random, and then uploaded a video of the murder to Facebook. The social media network removed the video three hours later.

Following a nationwide manhunt, authorities were notified by an alert McDonald’s employee on Tuesday morning that Stephens’ car was in the restaurant’s parking lot near Erie, Pa. After a brief pursuit by police, Stephens shot and killed himself while still in the driver’s seat.

Godwin Sr.’s children agreed to a live interview on CNN Monday night while Stephens was still on the run. Though shocked and deeply pained by their father’s brutal murder, the children said they felt sorry for his killer.

“I honestly can say right now that I hold no animosity in my heart against this man. Because I know that he’s a sick individual,” Debbie Godwin said  about Stephens. “We want him to know that, first of all, we forgive him. We forgive him because it’s the right thing to do. It’s what daddy taught us. It’s the way we was raised…”

“You know what, I believe that God would give me the grace to even embrace this man. And hug him,” Debbie Godwin added. “It’s just the way my heart is, it’s the right thing to do. And so, I just would want him to know that even in his worst state, he’s loved and there’s worth in him.”

Read more:
“Cleveland victim’s family: We forgive killer” – CNN news online.
“Easter in Cleveland” – KTSA Radio, San Antonio, TX.
“Family of Facebook murder victim: We forgive the killer” –   CNA/EWTN News.
How to Forgive – International Forgiveness Institute website.
Forgiveness Is a Choice
 by Robert D. Enright, PhD.

Grateful for Forgiveness

Editor’s Note: This is a Guest Blog written by Elior Nerel, a Holistic Coach and Educator in Indigenous Healing. Her web link is at the end of the blog.

Growing up in one of the most violent regions in the world has taught me that anything I care about can be taken from me at any second. As a child, I recall witnessing horrifically violent images constantly appearing on the television screen, and I still have memories of being confined in a bomb shelter during the 1991 Gulf War. Somehow because we were children, my peers and I accepted this routine –the common ritual of periodically fitting gas masks on our heads in case a chemical attack should occur— as “normal”. We internalized the fact that any time we rode the bus there might be a terrorist attack against it (and many times there was), and we would be left to deal with the turmoil which was the reality into which we were born.  We grew up with friends whose family members were brutally murdered in the middle of the street and who lost body parts or suffered horrific burns in terrorist attacks. Under these conditions, it was, and is, easy to hate and stereotype these “terrorists”, to wish them harm and never to consider what their lives are really like and what kinds of trauma they too have suffered.

But who are these “terrorists”? Do they have a name? A family? A dream for a safe home to return to? Is our pain from their attacks any greater or lesser than their pain? Although comparing pain is a slippery slope, one cannot help but wonder if we would all become “terrorists” if we were living under the same circumstances.  As it is simply expressed in the Native American proverb:


“Great Spirit, help me never to judge another until I have walked in his moccasins.”


We can easily dwell on our personal traumas and forget that violence and loss are universal conditions that people experience every minute all over the world. Perhaps an even greater challenge is to remember which roles each one of us passively plays in the construction of violence and abuse, such as through discrimination, consumption, and unfair trade. We fight and compete for resources, land, jobs, and recognition. The battle is real, and we may even have evidence to justify it to a certain degree, but what does it do to our bodies, our health, and to our past, present and future relationships?

What I have learned from my personal experience and relationships with those families who have lost loved ones is that forgiveness is a practice. In order to move through the trauma of my early years as an Israeli I chose to adopt forgiveness and peace-work as a way of life. I understand how extremely short and fragile our lives are, and how crucial it is to place harmony with our environment as a priority. I have determined that spending our time in bitter punishment instead of restoring balance doesn’t help anyone. Forgiveness is not easy, but when done authentically and with a supportive group of professionals, it is a sustainable alternative to entrenched hatred and violence. A successful practice in forgiveness can become a building block in the joyful and meaningful lives we are all seeking to build. Practicing forgiveness has been restoring lives in many conflict stricken areas around the world such as Northern Ireland and South Africa.

How can we balance our needs to survive in our competitive modern world with the need to be compassionate and forgiving? For me, this juggling act of balancing the fragile scales of justice and mercy became easier once I uncomfortably realized that the capacity to inflict harm dwells in all human beings and that I myself cause harm unintentionally pretty much every single day. This understanding created an overwhelming emotion which left me feeling stuck in some surreal Stanford experiment. But I do believe we have a choice in transcending these animalistic tendencies by daring to embrace forgiveness and compassion, for the lives of all those involved in the conflicts. This path of action is not a quick fix, but nevertheless, it is possible. As my colleague Siobhan Chandler (Ph.D) explains, sometimes the first step in understanding how to move forward in a situation where there are multiple competing interests is to be intentional in asking for an outcome that is for the highest good of everyone involved. I believe that when we compassionately and respectfully consider the needs of others, we open a new gate of communication which re-humanizes our enemies and inches us towards a solution where it is possible that everyone’s needs are met.

My exposure to violence and conflict have opened me to participating in the growing forgiveness movement. More and more groups around the world have formed councils, restorative justice programs and healing circles, and have learned to overcome the trauma of human violence, to sit together, to talk, to listen, to forgive and to co-exist peacefully. These are people who have lost children to murder; who have lost their homes to bombing; who were betrayed and were left penniless. They have still managed to overcome the loss because they have realized that the enemy has a name, and a face, and a family and a story, just like we all do.

When the wounds of human violence are open and bleeding, delicate care and emotional sensitivity is required. The healing process often requires material and verbal reconciliation and restoration, but the foundational step is to recognize that a lack of forgiveness or justification of anger and revenge only destroys us, not our “enemy”, and makes us more physically sick, emotionally lonely and socially isolated. What if this form of “justice” doesn’t work, since whether it is us, or someone else committing a crime, when we place the stereotypical innocent victims against heartless criminals, both sides lose their humanity? As author David Wong said: “But remember, there are two ways to dehumanize someone: by dismissing them, and by idolizing them.”

I believe that deep down we all want to heal from the pains of losing that which we care about, to make sense of the losses we all experience in this hurting world. I wonder if at the heart of healing and forgiveness is the recognition that we all share excruciating moments (whether we admit them or not) of losing the irreplaceable – loved ones, romanticized dreams or unique possessions which we have cherished so deeply. Perhaps through this fundamental human recognition, we can decide to start healing by taking a small step and make forgiveness the topic of discussion over our next meal with those dear to our hearts.

by Elior Nerel

Elior Nerel

Holistic Coach and Educator in Indigenous Healing

http://www.hodaya.org

New Study: Forgiveness Makes Kids Happier

It might be worth our while to move beyond “I’m sorry” as the be-all and end-all goal of conflict resolution for children. To raise happier children, we should take steps that lead to a lot more “I forgive you’s.”

That’s one of the dramatic take-aways of a just-completed study by three researchers9-13 at Radboud University Nijmegen in the Netherlands. In a sample of 275 nine- to 13-year-olds who completed self-reported and behavioral measures of forgiveness and various indicators of psychological well-being, the study found that forgiveness can help children maintain strong relationships and improve psychological well-being.

According to the authors, it’s long been known that peer and friendship relations in late childhood play an essential role in children’s social, emotional, and cognitive development. The research shows that friendships are associated with a greater sense of well-being, better self-esteem, and fewer social problems, both concurrently and later in life.

In contrast, children and adolescents who lack close friendships are more likely to manifest behavioral and emotional problems during childhood and even adulthood. Children who are less forgiving have lower self-esteem, are more socially anxious, and are more likely to engage in deviant behaviors.

The study also emphasized the need for 9-13 3early childhood forgiveness education, particularly during stages in which friendships are most important, such as in early childhood when children start to untie their parental bonds and increasingly focus on relationships with peers. In late adolescence, when the emphasis shifts from friendships to partner relationships, or during adulthood, when individuals spend less time with their friends, the association between forgiving friends and well-being may be weaker.

Read more:
Does Forgiveness Make Kids Happier?
⇒ An article in Greater Good, the Science of a Meaningful Life
 

Interpersonal Forgiveness and Psychological Well-being in Late Childhood   Access to the complete study

Why We Need Forgiveness Education. . .NOW
⇒ A blog post by Dr. Robert Enright

Mother Forgives Hit-and-Run Driver Who Killed Her 4-Year-Old Son

The Philadelphia Inquirer, Philadelphia, PA, USA – Four-year-old Abdul “Latif” Wilson was playing outside with his two brothers when he scampered between parked cars and into the road on April 13, 2015. A surveillance video caught grainy images of Shanika Mason, 28, hitting Latif with the rented Ford Edge she was driving, her own three children in the back seat. Mason apparently panicked and drove off before turning herself in the next day.

Mason, who pleaded guilty, was sentenced to 2-5 years in state prison for “letting panic overtake decency” that night. At Mason’s sentencing hearing, Latif’s mother Dominique Lockwood, 30, despite choking back sobs, was eloquent and dignified as she read the three-page statement she’d handwritten.

“I look at what now is my past merging into my future,” Lockwood said. “It’s a sharp pain that goes through my heart – the very heart my baby boy once listened to as he slept while I kept him safe, healthy and warm in my belly.”

Although she was in obvious pain, Lockwood didn’t talk out of anger. Instead, she talked Blame - Forgivenessabout how she has found a new way to go on, for her own sake and for that of her surviving children, Samaj, 9, and Everett, 6.

“I can only live on by having faith that this very sharp pain that cuts deep down in my heart is just my intelligent baby boy letting me know he didn’t go anywhere,” she said. “I forgive you, Miss Mason, as hard as it is to say. I have to forgive you so that my own heart can be as pure as my baby’s so that I can be with him again one day.”

In memory of Latif, Lockwood has founded a nonprofit called Embracing God’s Angels. Its mission is to lend a hand to those who’ve lost loved ones suddenly – perhaps to help pay for a headstone or for a day of pampering in the aftermath of loss.

“It is hard. I cry every day for my child. But I have to keep moving forward in forgiveness and goodness,” Lockwood said.

Read the full story: In court, a day of sadness & forgiveness in hit-and-run 

Keys to Unlocking a Heart of Forgiveness & Mercy

Keys to Unlocking a Heart of Forgiveness & Mercy (6-Hour Retreat)
April 2, 2016 – 9:00 am to 3:00 pm
Seton Hall University, South Orange, New Jersey

KeysThis 6-hour retreat focuses on one person forgiving another. The day begins with a discussion of what it means to forgive and what it does not mean. Is forgiveness “just moving on?” Why bother to forgive? How can we plant forgiveness in homes, schools, work places, and parishes? What are the “keys” we need to unlock mercy in our lives?

The retreat features live entertainment, breakfast and lunch, time for prayer and Seton Hall Logo4reflection, and Dr. Robert Enright leading attendees on a pathway that enhances the well-being of those who have been hurt by others–the pathway to forgiveness.

General public is invited and welcome. Cost – $25.00. Registration information.

What We Recommend on Forgiveness Education for Bullying

Being bullied can be torturous. We need to be more aware of this silent torture that students undergo in being bullied. It is possible that if those who are bullied could forgive, then their well-being may be protected.

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, Bullying Word Artdepression, or even self-hatred. We were talking with a student from Korea 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, then their motivation to bully will reduce or be eliminated.

Robert

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