Archive for October, 2012

Boy, 14, Kills Mother, Family Offers Forgiveness

Detroit Free Press – As a 14-year-old boy was given 25-50 years for shooting his mother in the night, his uncle and grandmother were offering him forgiveness. His uncle, Leshaun Roberts, hugged the boy before he was taken away and said, “I forgive you and I love you. Please get him some help.”

Smith is accused of fatally shooting his mother, Tamika Robinson of Detroit, over a fight stemming from her telling the teen not to bring girls home or hang out with boys she regarded as thugs. On Feb. 27, Smith broke into a home office, where Robinson’s fiancé kept his gun, and shot her in the middle of the night, police said. He later pleaded guilty to second-degree murder.

Smith apologized in letters he wrote from jail, his grandmother said, claiming he was tired of seeing his mother suffer from debilitating bouts of the effects of lupus as well as kidney failure.

Read the full story: Family offers forgiveness to Detroit boy, 14, sentenced in mother’s shooting.

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“When Forgiveness Isn’t a Virtue:” A Response

On October 29, 2012, the Wall Street Journal published an article entitled, “When Forgiveness Isn’t a Virtue.” It centered, in part, on research by Dr. James McNulty of the University of Tennessee. The newspaper author makes the claim that once a person forgives another for a transgression, then the act of forgiving “may encourage the transgressor to do it again.”

For example, in one of Dr. McNulty’s studies of newlywed couples, “He found that the day after forgiving a partner, people were 6.5 times more likely to report that the partner had again done something negative, compared with when there was no forgiveness.” A similar finding was reported in another study that examined these outcomes over a six month period. Forgiving partners were the recipient of continued transgressions. Yet, the critical question is this: Is forgiveness the culprit here?

The conclusions reached in the article have at least one major philosophical flaw and one major psychological flaw worth noting. First, the philosophical flaw is this: We have known for at least 3,500 years that we are not to practice any one virtue in isolation of the other virtues. Aristotle taught us that. Otherwise, for example, a courageous non-swimmer who practices only courage and not wisdom might jump into a raging river to save a drowning dog, only to lose his own life. It is the same with forgiveness. It must not be practiced in isolation from justice, otherwise other people will take advantage of us. This is not the fault of forgiveness itself. It is the fault of the one appropriating it in isolation from justice.

The major psychological flaw is this: Dr. McNulty, when asking research participants about forgiveness, presumed that each was using that
word correctly. It is an assumption that should not have been made.Researchers Freedman and Chang in 2010 did a study in which they found that most people misunderstand what forgiveness is, equating it with letting a transgression go or “moving on.” Philosophers and psychologists who make the study of forgiveness their life’s work will tell us that these are misconceptions because “letting go” and “moving on” are not virtues.

Instead, forgiveness is offering goodness to another in spite of what he or she has done. Forgiveness then comes alongside justice, which asks something of the transgressor. To avoid any misunderstanding of what forgiveness is, I suggest using the definition I developed from more than 25 years of forgiveness research: Forgiveness Defined.

Forgiveness need not get a black eye from Dr. McNulty’s research when we realize that participants can misunderstand and therefore misappropriate this virtue. If anything, his research calls for careful forgiveness education for anyone who wishes to practice the virtue of forgiveness in important situations with important people in their lives.

Dr. Bob

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Children Sharing Forgiveness Across the Divide in Belfast, Northern Ireland

For the past four years, The Corrymeela Community, in partnership with The International Forgiveness Institute, has facilitated a cross-community Forgiveness Education Schools Programme in Northern Ireland. The Shared Learning Programme with Forgiveness Education brings together children from across the sectarian divide to participate in activities such as story telling, art, discussion and other activities. Through this programme children are taught about the virtue of Forgiveness which encourages them to view “the other” through kind, generous and forgiving eyes. In Northern Ireland, where communities are quite often separated because of political allegiances and faith traditions, most children are educated in separate schools with their families mostly living in separate areas. By bringing children together through Shared Learning, we are able to encourage them to see that all people, no matter where they live or what they believe, are valuable and have deep worth.

The Shared Learning Programme runs in tandem with the Forgiveness Education Curriculum. The teachers in both partner classrooms teach the Forgiveness Education lessons to their pupils and the partner classrooms also meet together up to 3-times for Shared Learning activities. Then, at the end of the programme, a final Celebration Event occurs where parents are invited along to hear what their children have been learning about forgiveness. At the Celebration Events that occurred in March 2012, a few pupils were interviewed about the programme and here’s what they had to say:

When asked what forgiveness means to them, Alex, a P4 pupil (2nd grade) stated,“When you forgive you show that you are a true friend. When you forgive it is like sunshine coming back in to your life. You need to forgive otherwise your friend could become like an enemy and you would always feel sad. It would be like having a dark, gloomy cloud in your life.”

Niall, a P5 pupil (3rd grade) said, “Sometimes it is hard to forgive someone straight away if they really hurt your feelings. It might take longer to see their worth and show them real forgiveness. But it is worth it in the end.”

Darragh, a P3 pupil (1st grade) also responded by saying, “If someone hurts you and they say sorry, but they have to mean it, then you can forgive them and be friends again. If you didn’t forgive you would lose your friends.”

While Northern Ireland has made progress over the past 14 years since the signing of the Good Friday Agreement in 1998 there is still much to be learned, much to be discussed and much to be healed. Programmes such as Shared Learning with Forgiveness Education definitely have their role to play in this process and as Niall said above, “Sometimes it is hard to forgive someone straight away if they really hurt your feelings. It might take longer to see their worth and show them real forgiveness. But it is worth it in the end.”

Becki Fulmer
The Corrymeela Community

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Hello sir? i am a student and doing research on the topic of forgiveness that how forgiveness will increase healthy i am in search of a tool that can help me to measure relationship and how it can be modified through forgiving.I request you to please answer me is there any test or tool to measure the strength of a relation after forgiving?.Hoping for your reply

By “relationship,” do you mean a romantic relationship between two people? If so, please consider the Experiences in Close Relationship Scale. A 2007 peer-reviewed article from the Journal of Personality Assessment, has the items of that scale in it.

We wish you the best in your research.

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Has research suggested (or ruled out) any link between unforgiveness and Alzheimers?

To date, there is no study showing a link between unforgiveness and Alzheimers, but there are indications that this could be the case in an indirect sense. Consider this article, “The Healing Power of Forgiveness,” written by a board-certified psychiatrist and neurologist, from the Fortanasce-Barton Neurology Center in California.

The article presents evidence that high levels of anger can lead to more toxins going to the brain (the study was done on mice and so we must be careful in extrapolating this to humans). In this same article above, a study on humans showed that when presented with very disturbing stimuli, the research participants’ brains showed signs of agitation “and exhaustion of the neurons, therefore increasing their stress and cortisol levels that will interfere with good neuronal transmission.”

So, your intuition of a link between unforgiveness (agitation, anger) and brain function has merit as a hypothesis.

In closing, I want to mention one prevalent issue on the Internet between forgiveness and Alzheimers and that is the need for caretakers to forgive the patient and to forgive the self.

Here is one article on forgiving the one with the disease: “Forgiveness Toward an Alzheimer’s Victim.”

Here is one from the Mayo Clinic on forgiving the self when caring for someone with the disease: “Forgive yourself as a caregiver, and relieve anger.”

Dr. Bob

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