Archive for December, 2012

The Forgiveness Story That Went Around the World

York Daily Record, York, PA – What do you do when your lives are shattered and you don’t want to see tomorrow?

That’s the question Terri and Chuck Roberts faced on Oct. 2, 2006–the day their son shot 10 girls, killing five, before taking his own life at the West Nickel Mines School, a one-room Amish schoolhouse in Lancaster County, PA. They found the answer, Terri says, in the Amish faith and forgiveness.

Roberts said she and her husband thought they could never face their Amish neighbors again. The day of the shooting, however, their Amish neighbor Henry came to their house and stood behind Chuck, rubbing his shoulders and consoling him, she recalled. When she and her family buried her son, the first parents to greet them at the graveside were Amish parents who had lost not one but two daughters in the shooting.

In that action, she saw the depth of the Amish community’s faith and the breadth of their forgiveness. The speed in which the Amish community forgave both the shooter and his family was “the forgiveness story that went around the world. People were able to forgive because the Amish could,” Roberts said.

Roberts started inviting the five surviving school girls and their mothers to picnics and tea parties at her house just three months after the shootings. At one get-together, she learned that Mary Liz King had a harder road than the rest of the mothers: Her daughter, Rosanna, never fully recovered and remains paralyzed. From that day on, Roberts started visiting Rosanna, now 11, weekly. She bathes her and brushes her hair, cleans her bedclothes, talks to her, sings to her, and reads Bible stories. Though at first she wasn’t sure she was strong enough to continue, Roberts now finds peace in those visits. “As we reach out in ways that bring a touch, we can find great healing,” she says.

Read more: “Mother of Nickel Mines shooter says Amish faith and forgiveness helped her heal (York Daily Record); and “5 Years Later, Mother Cares for Son’s Amish Victim” (www.newser.com). The role forgiveness can play in alleviating anger and grief and the physical, mental and spiritual benefits that come with it are vividly outlined in “The Power of Forgiveness,” a documentary film by Martin Doblmeier that features a segment on the Amish.

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I am very upset by the regular occurrences of mass shootings in the United States. This one that occurred yesterday in Connecticut is just too much to even imagine. I know this is a large problem with many ways to solve it. Please share your views about how to put a stop to this.

We share your view that what happened in Connecticut is unspeakable evil. We have been committed for the past decade to anger reduction in children and youth. Without a systematic way to address this growing problem, we will continue to be stunned by the aggression pouring forth from young men in the United States in particular. Anger is gripping too many youth and we must stop it. I am not exaggerating the extent of emotional struggle in our youth. A major study published about two years ago stated that almost 50% of adolescents in America have a psychiatric disorder. Excessive anger is a significant aspect of this, shall we call it an, epidemic.

Our approach, which has scientific backing, is to have developmentally appropriate forgiveness education curriculum guides for teachers. We have these from pre-kindergarten through grade 11. Teachers spend about one hour a week for about 12-15 weeks and anger can be reduced from clinical or near-clinical levels to normal levels of anger in students. Perhaps it is time for school districts to take seriously this approach to improving the emotional health of students at all levels of development.

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The Family Forgiveness Gathering

In our most recent blog post, we began to discuss “the family as forgiving community.” We suggested then, and will now address, a theme we call the family forgiveness gathering as one way to achieve the goals of the family as forgiving community.

In the family forgiveness gathering, the parents are encouraged to create a time and place for family discussions. We recommend that the parents gather the family together at least once a week to have a quiet discussion about forgiveness. They should keep in mind that to forgive is not the same as excusing or forgetting or even reconciling and that forgiveness works hand-in-hand with justice.

Examples of questions for the family forgiveness meeting might include:

What does it mean to forgive someone?Family Study

Who was particularly kind and loving to you this week?

What did that feel like?

When the person was really loving toward you, what were your thoughts about the person?

When the person was really loving, how did you behave toward that person?

Was anyone particularly unfair or mean to you this week?

What did it feel like when you were treated in a mean way?

What were your thoughts?

How did you behave at first?

Did you try to forgive the person for being unfair to you?

What does forgiveness feel like?

What are your thoughts when you forgive?

What are your thoughts specifically toward the one who acted unfairly to you when you forgive him or her?

How did you behave toward the person once you forgave?

If you have not yet forgiven, what is a first step in forgiving him or her? (Make a decision to be kind, commit to forgiving, begin in a small way to see that the person is in fact a person of worth.)

What struggles do you have with forgiving someone who behaved in an unkind way to you?

In other words, what is difficult about forgiving?

What is easy about forgiving for you?

The parents are reminded that they do not have to know all the answers. What do you think? Is 15 minutes once a week worth the effort to strengthen your children for the hurts to come, including those which might come many years from now?

Dr. Bob

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I have heard some people say that forgiveness runs counter to justice movements because it cuts into the anger that can energize people to stand up for what is right. What is your reaction to this criticism of forgiveness?

I think the criticism is based on a confusion of what forgiveness is. The criticism also fails to distinguish kinds of anger. Forgiveness is not practiced in isolation from the other moral virtues, particularly justice. As a person forgives, he or she can and should stand up for what is right. Forgiveness and justice can stand side-by-side.

There is healthy anger and unhealthy anger. Resentment, an abiding, deep sense ill-will toward another, is an unhealthy kind of anger. In contrast, righteous anger, the kind that says, “You cannot treat me this way and I ask for a change,” can energize a person and help create justice. Forgiveness targets the unhealthy kind of anger, the kind that can destroy self and other.

When we make these distinctions (forgiveness in isolation vs forgiveness working with justice; healthy vs unhealthy anger), I hope you can see that forgiveness does not thwart justice. In fact, asking for justice without fuming anger might lead to a better justice.

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