Archive for February, 2012

Schools Need Forgiveness Education to Combat Bullying

It was reported in the Huffington Post that a student who shot five other students at Chardon High School in Ohio yesterday had been bullied in the past by others. Full story here.

Being bullied, of course, in no way condones murder. At the same time, we need to be more aware of this silent torture that students undergo in being bullied. It is possible that if he could have begun forgiving those who had hurt him, he would not have turned that rage onto others.

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, depression, or even self-hatred.  We were talking with a student from Korea recently 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, their motivation to bully will reduce or be eliminated.

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When does it become necessary to forgive? What I mean is this: I can let a lot of injustices roll off of me as I forget them or move on. So, how do I know when to start forgiving as opposed to just letting it go? And, when should one take action—stand up for your rights—rather than forgive?

When you ask, “When does it become necessary,” that word *necessary* has at least two connotations. The first connotation centers on the necessity to practice forgiveness simply because it is good to do so; it is virtuous. The second connotation of the word *necessary* centers on your well-being, on your health.

Let us start with the first issue. Because forgiveness is a virtue and because it is always good to practice the virtues (in balance with other virtues), then it follows that whenever you are treated unjustly, and whenever you are motivated to do so, it is then important to forgive. Is it necessary? Yes, if your goal is to grow as a virtuous person (growing in goodness and love, for example). Is it necessary from the viewpoint of society—demanded, in other words? No, society does not demand our forgiveness and so your forgiving is not *necessary* in that you must do so or face some kind of penalty.

Now let us focus on the second meaning of *necessary,* the context in which your health may be compromised. If you are feeling resentment and deep anger is starting to affect your level of energy, your concentration, and your sense of happiness (even a little), then it is time to forgive. Is it necessary? For good health, psychological and physical, yes. We have found no better remedy than forgiveness to the disquiet that can visit us following unjust treatment.

Your final question dichotomizes forgiveness and justice. You seem to assume that you have to choose either forgiveness or justice. You can and should exercise both at the same time. Forgive the person, for example, who is insensitive to you and correct him. As you forgive, the correction is likely to be more gentle than if you approach him as you are deeply angry.

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Forgiveness is not the only way to move on from tragedy. Can’t one move on by standing up to life, holding a grudge, and marching forward. Aren’t there hundreds of ways to get over injustices and forgiveness is only one of them?

Forgiveness is one of many ways to deal with tragedy, but some ways are more effective than others. Forgiveness has been shown through scientific investigations to be a particularly effective way to heal from trauma.

As an example, Suzanne Freedman and I published a study in 1996 in which we studied woman who were the victims of incest. All of the women came to us with psychological depression, anxiety, low self-esteem, and a lack of hope for their future. Each one of these women had tried a variety of ways to heal emotionally prior to engaging in forgiveness therapy, yet nothing was particularly effective for them. Following the forgiveness therapy, which was one-on-one with Suzanne for one hour a week for about 14 months, those who had forgiveness therapy improved significantly in their emotional health compared with those who were in the control group (with no forgiveness therapy).

Then the control group participants began forgiveness therapy and after 14 months of forgiveness therapy, they too showed significant emotional improvement. Forgiveness as a way of dealing with deep trauma is worth taking seriously if emotional healing is the goal or one of the goals.

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“I Will Not Talk in Class,” 100 Times on the Blackboard

Decades ago, teachers would sometimes demand that a student stand at the blackboard and write with chalk 100 times, “I will not talk in class.” We have always wondered, at the end of the writing, whether the student is humbly repentant or more annoyed than ever. Well, the 2012 version of this punishment is being applied in an Ohio courtroom with an adult, Mark Byron, who is estranged from his wife. He wrote the following on his Facebook page, which is not accessible to his spouse, “If you are an evil, vindictive woman who wants to ruin your husband’s life and take your son’s father away from him completely, all you need to do is say you’re scared of your husband or domestic partner and they’ll take him away.”

Domestic Relations Magistrate Paul Meyers in January found Byron in contempt of a protective order. Byron can avoid a 60-day jail sentence and a fine by posting an apology, composed by Meyers, to Mrs. Byron on the Facebook page. The same apology must be posted every day for 60 days no later than 9 a.m.

The central question for us at the IFI is this: When is an apology sincere and must it be sincere to have an effect on the one who apologizes? It seems to us that the apology will only be effective for Mr. Byron if it comes from the heart, if he actually means it. Otherwise, will this end like it has for so many students, who, after scrawling their statements on the blackboard, do a slow burn because they were forced to comply?

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