I’d like to share with you Katy Hutchison’s story of forgiveness here on the Gill Deacon show. This is a wonderful example of the power of forgiveness and how it can change and continue to change lives in a spiraling web of cause and effects. Ryan Aldridge murdered Katy’s husband and was sentenced to five years in prison. This tragedy could have played out in many very different ways.
Let’s see how life ended up for Ryan, Katy and her kids, and countless others who are and have been a part of their lives. Let’s also take a look at how forgiveness played a key role in this outcome. Read more at the forgiveness project website.
Now, if you missed or grazed over it the first time, here were a couple of provocative points to ponder. Let me highlight some specific quotes from the story.
Katy writes, “Taking tranquillizers and having someone look after your kids would probably be easier, but I feel compelled to do something with Bob’s legacy. I want to tell my story to help change people’s perceptions and where possible I want to do this with Ryan by my side. I’ll never understand how our universes collided but they did, and as Bob can’t make further contribution to society, then perhaps Ryan can. Whether victim or perpetrator, part of being human is rolling up our sleeves and taking an active part in repairing harm.”
Ryan shares, “Katy’s forgiveness is the most incredible thing that anyone has ever given me. It changed my life. There’s trouble every day in prison, offers of drugs and threats of fights, but I don’t give in. My life would still be full of anger and violence if it wasn’t for Katy…Doing time is easy compared to the guilt I’ll have to live with for the rest of my life. But with Katy, Emma and Sam’s forgiveness, I hope that perhaps, one day, I’ll be able to forgive myself.”
Think about how this story could have ended even more tragically had Katy not chosen to forgive. In the video you may recall that this was the essential key that allowed her to move on, to recover, to be a mother to her young children who needed her. What would their lives have been like without a father and a mother? How has her forgiveness impacted their lives now and especially in the future? Think about the many lives that they will in turn impact as they grow from childhood to adulthood.
Now let’s turn to Ryan, struggling with depression, suicidal thoughts, and drug and alcohol abuse in an environment where he is surrounded by the chaos of all these risk factors. How has Katy’s forgiveness impacted his life? And what about the lives of those with whom he will come in contact in the future? This has truly made the difference between a life of destruction versus a life of healing, for everyone involved.
Katy continues to forward forgiveness in her presentations to schools and communities across the globe. Tomorrow is “Pay it Forward Day.” Let’s take Katy’s example and Forward Forgiveness on a day especially dedicated to passing on goodness and kindness.
How can we pass forgiveness to subsequent generations? We began asking that question in our blog post The Ripple Effect on April 10, 2012. Let us begin to explore some answers to this question through the implementation of forgiving communities.
By “forgiving community” we mean a system-wide effort to make forgiveness a conscious and deliberate part of human relations through: discussion, practice, mutual support, and the preservation of forgiveness across time in any group that wishes to cultivate and perfect this virtue (alongside justice and all other virtues). The Forgiving Community is an idea that can become a reality wherever there is a collection of individuals who wish to unite toward a common goal of fostering forgiveness, developing the necessary structures within their organization to accomplish the goal, and preserving that goal for future generations. We will consider The Family as Forgiving Community here and in a subsequent post, we will consider The School as Forgiving Community.
The central points of the Family as Forgiving Community are these:
1. We are interested in the growth of appreciation and practice in the virtue of forgiveness not only within each individual but also within the family unit itself.
2. For family members to grow in the appreciation and practice of forgiveness, that virtue must be established as a positive norm in the family unit. This necessitates that the parents value the virtue, talk positively about it, and demonstrate it through forgiving and asking for forgiveness on a regular basis within the family.
3. For each member of the family unit to grow in the appreciation and practice of forgiveness, that virtue must be taught in the home, with materials that are age-appropriate and interesting for the children and the parents.
4. Parents will need to persevere in the appreciation, practice, and education of forgiveness if the children are to develop the strength of passing the virtue of forgiveness onto their own families when they are adults.
To achieve these goals, one strategy is 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 are to 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.
Questions for the family forgiveness meeting might include:
– What does it mean to forgive someone?
– 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?
– 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.)
The parents are reminded that they do not have to know all the answers.
Peter Maurin of the Catholic Worker Movement is alleged to have said that a good society is one in which it is easy to be good. I write this blog post today as I reflect on some recent news stories (posted in our Forgiveness News section of this website. We have the shooting of innocent teenagers in Ohio, we have two Americans shot in the head and killed in Afghanistan as retaliation for burned Korans at a NATO base, and we have the murder of a 4-year-old. Anger can sometimes be deadly for the other guy who just happens to be in the angry person’s way.
I wonder what those outcomes would have been had those with the weapons been bathed in forgiveness education from age 5 though 18. I wonder what those outcomes would have been had each one of the weapon-carriers, as they grew up, practiced forgiveness in the home. I wonder.
The wounds in the world are deep and everlasting, it seems. What we do here at the International Forgiveness Institute, Inc. (helping people if they so choose to learn to forgive and then practice forgiveness) will never be out of date. Yet, my big worry (yes, it is a big worry) is this: Will there be sufficient laborers in the forgiveness vineyard to bring the virtue of forgiveness to children so that they can become fortified against the grave injustices that come to too many too often as adults?
I worry about those 6-year-olds, sitting now in classrooms, learning their mandated ABCs, without also learning the ABCs of how to deal with injustice. You see, society is not emphasizing forgiveness. We are not being taught forgiveness on a regular basis. We are in a society where it is not easy to be a good forgiver. And so too many of those who are bullied in school do not even think to forgive those who perpetrate the bullying. In Ohio this week, one bullied student’s response was a gun and then murder.
So much pain in the world and yet too many societies do not have the vision and the resources to bring forgiveness education far and wide. Liberia has. The Minister of Education has recently approved forgiveness education for every classroom in the country, as it emerges from a devastating 14-year civil war. Yet, at least to date there are not enough resources, there are not enough servants to get this done on the kind of scale required for Liberia to pull itself up from the ravages of anger.
Question for those who are listening: The next time a city wishes to build a $250 million complex for athletics or entertainment or whatever, who has the persuasive skills and accompanying wisdom and courage to ask that one half of one percent of that be siphoned off to forgiveness education? If we could go back and ask the deceased student in Ohio or the two Americans found in their chairs in their Afghan offices or the innocent 4-year-old what is the higher priority….what do you think they would say to us?
Society, what do you think?