Yesterday was July 12, the day in which Loyalists in Northern Ireland celebrate the victory of King William of Orange against King James II at the Battle of the Boyne in 1690. The fight was for control of at least a part of Ireland either by British Protestants or Irish Catholics. The island has been politically divided in various ways since that time.
Each July 12 there are parades which commemorate this event in Belfast, Northern Ireland and other communities. Some of the Loyalists (British) this year wanted to march through a Catholic neighborhood in north Belfast. They were denied. The result? Anger and rioting with more than 30 police officers hurt as reported by the BBC.
I am doing the math here. That is 323 years ago. And there seems to be a replay of animosity that likely took place near the River Boyne at the time of the battle.
Anger has a way of living on. It is like a virus, continually jumping to new hosts to stay alive.
Through forgiveness. Forgiveness stops the spread of anger and puts compassion, patience, and mercy into the situation where there was hatred, dissension, and violence before.
Let us reflect on that one number for a while—–1690.
With good forgiveness education and a will to stop the virus, where will Belfast be in 2090?
In a recent column in the Long Island (New York) Newsday newspaper, Rabbi Marc Gellman reflected on the moral appropriateness of forgiving the Boston bomber. I applaud Rabbi Gellman’s efforts in discussing the topic of forgiveness but want to clarify some of the points made by him and two readers who responded to his query of “Should we forgive the Boston bomber?” Let us examine six points from that article.
1. J, one of the readers who responded to Rabbi Gellman, implies that forgiveness means the same as pardon.
Forgiveness is not the same as pardon, as implied by J. Pardon involves letting one off the hook as well as the justice system; it does not center on interpersonal relations. Forgiveness is an inner personal release and pardon can be thought of as a public behavioral release. An example of pardon would be if the judge suspended or reduced punishment of the Boston bomber. The judge reducing the sentence was not the one personally hurt. We can forgive someone who is dead but we cannot pardon someone who is dead. Forgiving someone who did us wrong does not mean that we tolerate the wrong he did.
2. Readers are asked to share their opinions regarding whether “We should forgive the surviving Boston bomber.”
Not everyone is in the position to forgive the Boston bomber as we can only forgive for the pain and hurt that wounds us personally. As Lewis B. Smedes (1996), the author of The Art of Forgiving, states, “Sometimes our lives are so bounded to the victim, that the injuries they suffer wound us too.” Example – wrong my kids, wrong me. And my hurt qualifies me to forgive you–but only for the pain I experienced. My children alone are qualified to forgive you for what you did to them. Thus, only the individuals personally affected, such as those who experienced an injury or had a loved one who experienced an injury, and/or were not able to finish the marathon because of the bombing have the right to forgive the bombers.
So, one not personally affected can forgive the bombers for the way he or she has been hurt, such as being afraid to go in large crowds because of the bombing, but they cannot forgive on behalf of another person. A response from another reader, R, talks about not forgiving the Boston bomber unless we also forgive other mass murderers. As stated before, we can only forgive for the way we were personally affected. Thus, individuals may be able to consider forgiving the Boston bomber if they were hurt by the Boston bomber, but not Adam Lanza (who killed 20 children and six adult staffers at Sandy Hook Elementary School in Newtown, Conn., along with his own mother), if they were not personally affected by his actions.
3. The question of forgiveness one month after the bombing is premature.
Forgiveness takes time. If it occurs too quickly, pseudo forgiveness may result. Robert Enright’s (2001) interpersonal Process Model of Forgiveness has 20 units. Although we are often told to forgive right away, forgiveness is not something that occurs overnight and is usually not one’s first instinct after being deeply injured. A hurt individual needs time to deal with his or her injury and negative feelings resulting from the injury. This usually involves feelings of shock, disbelief, anger and even hatred toward the offender. All of these feelings are normal and thus, it is wise to wait awhile after experiencing a deep hurt before considering the idea of forgiveness. J also mentions that God can be helpful when one forgives. This is true but one can also forgive if they are not religious and/or do not attend religious services.
4. As illustrated in this column, forgiveness appears to be equated with excusing the act and anger is not recognized as an important part of the forgiveness process.
R mentions how “forgiving any of these human monsters would devalue the lives of the innocent, decent people they killed and maimed.” Rabbi Gellman goes on to state how “muting our outrage at those who bring carnage to our country may end up weakening our resolve to seek justice because it humanizes the killers.” When we forgive we recognize the deep injustice for what it is and forgiving does not excuse or minimize the situation or experience of deep hurt.
Anger is also a very important part of the forgiveness process. Before one can forgive, he or she has to express his or her anger about being hurt. Holding onto and living with long-term anger can affect one physically and emotionally. Individuals criticize forgiveness because they do not realize the role anger has in the forgiveness process and why one needs to get angry before forgiving.
Thus, one does not mute their outrage when forgiving. They recognize the injury as deep, personal, and unfair and offer forgiveness nevertheless. It is also the case that a bit of anger may remain even after one has forgiven. The anger may not be as intense as before forgiving or as frequent but some may still be there when thinking about the injury and what happened. A decrease in anger is one of the first steps in the forgiveness process. As Lewis B. Smedes states, “When we forgive evil we do not excuse it, we do not tolerate it, we do not smother it. We look evil full in the face, call it what it is, let its horror shock and stun and enrage us, and only then do we forgive it” (Famousquotesabout.com).
5. In the Newsday article it is implied that those who commit evil should not be viewed as human beings.
It is true that our need to be forgiven is most likely not on the same scale as the Boston bombers act of evil. However, one of the foundational themes of forgiveness is the idea of “Inherent Equality” meaning that “A person is a person now matter how small.” The idea behind inherent equality is that regardless of what someone does, he or she is still a human being, which is very difficult to accept for offenders of horrific acts of evil, such as the Boston bombings. However, because all people are human beings and part of the human community, all people have worth. As Smedes (1996) states, when we forgive, “We rediscover the humanity of the person who hurt us.” This includes changing our view of the offender if it includes only seeing the offender as a monster. With forgiveness we see the offender as a person who shares our humanity, although to come to this place is one of the hardest parts of forgiveness.
6. Forgiveness and justice are not mutually exclusive and one can forgive even if the offender does not apologize.
As stated in the article, we must seek justice for evil acts. However, this justice can occur alongside personal forgiveness, if the individuals personally hurt by the bombers choose to forgive. Forgiveness is a choice one makes for him- or herself. It cannot and should not be forced upon anyone. An individual should only offer forgiveness as a deliberate, conscious, and meaningful choice. This is true whether or not the person who has committed the wrong repents, asks for the forgiveness and/or even accepts it. Thus, Rabbi Gellman mentions his personal difficulty with forgiving a repentant killer. An apology certainly makes forgiveness easier but it is not necessary to receive one to be able to forgive. Making an apology a requirement before one can personally forgive is like reinjuring the victim as he or she is trapped in an unforgiving state unable to heal and move on until he or she receives something from the injurer. In contrast, an apology would be an important requirement before one chooses to reconcile with an offender.
Thus, can one forgive the Boston bombers? The answer is yes; individuals personally affected by the bombing can forgive as one way to heal. But one needs to personally choose to forgive while realizing that one has a right to anger, that forgiveness takes time, and that justice can occur alongside personal forgiveness. J is correct when he states that forgiveness is not easy. In fact, it is one of the hardest things to do in life as forgiving requires a great deal of effort, hard work, and courage. But the physical and psychological benefits that are associated with forgiving make the effort and hard work well worth it.
Suzanne Freedman, Professor, University of Northern Iowa
Many sites offer advice on how to control your anger. The Mayo Clinic, for example, lists ten tips. Among them are: take a time out, get some exercise, and forgive. Of course, the time out is a temporary solution. After the short time has elapsed the problem or its aftermath may be right there staring at you. Exercise can be a release of tension, but again the problem or its after-burn may be there to greet you the next day. Forgiveness, in contrast, offers a permanent solution to the emotional disruption. The seeking of a proper justice may be necessary to rectify an unfair situation.
The American Psychological Association is now saying that a continual expression of one’s anger (getting it off one’s chest, as the expression goes) is dangerous because it can accelerate the intense negative feeling. Forgiveness, in contrast, soothes that potentially destructive feeling.
Helpguide.org sees the situation quite similarly to the advice above: take some time out, exercise, and do not continually vent. This site, too, suggests forgiveness as an option.
Yet, how does one forgive? Proclaiming it as good and actually accomplishing the task are quite different. We have many resources here on our site to help with forgiveness-as-anger reduction (among many other goals). You can view our blog posts on anger. You can begin to get a sense of the forgiveness process. Finally, there are books and curriculum guides in our Store.
Forgive and live well.
First, what is a “forgiveness landscape?” This is an expression first used in my book, The Forgiving Life, to refer to all of the people who ever have been seriously unjust to you. When people first construct their forgiveness landscape, they often are surprised at: a) how many people are on the list and b) the depth of the anger left over, even from decades ago.
When we are treated deeply unfairly by others, the anger is slow to leave. If we push that anger aside, simply thinking we have “moved on” or “forgotten all about it,” sometimes this is not the case. The anger can be in hiding, deep within the heart, and the only way to get rid of it is surgery of the heart—forgiveness.
Would you like to examine your own forgiveness landscape to see how many people in your life are still in need of your forgiveness? You might want to write down your answers to the following questions.
First set of questions: Think back to your childhood. Is there anyone who was very unfair to you and if so, what is your anger level now on a 1-to-5 scale, with 1 signifying no anger left over and a 5 signifying lots of anger when you reflect on this person and the actions toward you.
More specifically from your childhood, are there any incidents from your father that still make you angry? from your mother? a sibling?
What about from peers or teachers, is your anger still high when you recall the incidents?
Second set of questions: Let us now focus on your adolescence. Follow the pattern from the first set of questions. Then let us add any coaches, employers or fellow employees, and romantic partners to the list. Are there people who still make you angry in the 4 or 5 range of our scale?
Third set of questions: Who in your adult life has made you significantly angry, in the 4 to 5 range of anger? We can add partner, any children, relatives, friends, and neighbors to the list.
Now please rank order all of the people from those who least offended you to those who most offended you. Now look at that list to see your forgiveness landscape. There is your work, right there in the list. I recommend starting with people lower on the list. Forgive them first because they in all likelihood are the easiest to forgive because the anger is less. As you work up the list, you will gain in your expertise to forgive, which is good preparation for forgiving those on the top of the list—those who are the most challenging for you.
You can find more on this way of forgiving in the book, The Forgiving Life, which walks you systematically through this exercise. Enjoy the challenge. Enjoy the journey of forgiveness, which can set you free in so many ways.
A teenage girl received a series of texts allegedly from her boyfriend in which she is severely demeaned. Her reaction is to take her own life. The boyfriend never wrote the texts. His account was hacked for the purpose of cyberbullying.
Cyberbulling is a relatively new term to signify aggressive communication through the electronic media of cell phone texting, email, and social networking sites on the Internet. It is an insidious problem because it is too often anonymous, goes viral (spread to many others), and the victim feels powerless. Those who engage in cyberbullying are less easily identified than those who punch someone in the face.
So, what can we do about all of this? Of course, we can warn our children as StopCyberbullying does (the first cyberbullying prevention program in North America). We can call for more vigilance so that those who engage in this behavior are more easily identified, as is suggested in the film Submit the Documentary.
Justice is a vital part of cleaning up this problem. Yet, this is insufficient. The seeking of justice (punishment, arrest, or other form of fairness) is a temporary protection, but it is not a solution. We need to get to the heart of the matter which is the heart of those who engage in such destructive behavior.
Those who cyberbully have enraged hearts. They are displacing their anger onto others. They are wounded. If we only see their behavior, then we are missing the punchline that they are wounded inside. We can constrain behavior through justice and we can cure wounded hearts through forgiveness.
In previously posted blogs, we already have discussed the necessity of our forgiveness education anti-bullying guide for teachers, school counselors, psychologists, and social workers being in as many schools as possible. The uniqueness of this guide is that it deliberately targets the anger in the heart of those who bully. The principle behind the guide is this: Emotionally-wounded people wound others. We have a way to help bind up these emotional wounds through forgiveness education. We help those who wound others to heal from the wounds inflicted previously on them, thus reducing their motivation to wound others. The information for this guide is available in the IFI Education Store.
Yet, what do we do in the case of cyberbullying? We must recall that those who do this are not easily identified. Oh, yes they are. Although we do not catch them in the act of punching someone in the face, we can identify them because the overly-angry tend to wear that attitude on their face, in their words, in the trouble they find in school….over and over. Of course, not all who are excessively angry engage in cyberbullying. Yet, those who cyberbully likely come from this group of the excessively angry. We have to cast our intervention-net widely in this age of cyber-anonymity.
School counselors, psychologists, and social workers please take note: When you have in front of you a student who is entrenched in rebellion, in verbal aggression, in indifference to school itself, please presume that this person of inherent worth has a wounded heart. Consider presenting the contents of our anti-bullying curriculum to him or her individually or in a group for those showing such symptoms. You are indirectly covering cyberbullying if you do this. The more you can target the angry students, the more you may be either preventing or remediating cyberbullying behavior.
The stakes are way too high to ignore this advice. Your “yes” to mending the wounded hearts of students in your school through helping them to forgive could, quite literally, save lives.