…….if when you look inside you do not like yourself anymore;
…….if when you look inside you find rust where you used to see sparkle;
…….if when you look inside you no longer find hope…….
Please know this…….
Forgiveness is your energizer;
Forgiveness is your self-esteem bolster;
Forgiveness is your emotional rust-inhibitor;
Forgiveness gives you hope.
Come, together, let us do some spring cleaning of your heart.
The first step is this: Commit to forgiving, to reducing resentment and offering goodness toward those who have cluttered the rooms of your heart.
The second step is this: Commit to doing no harm to those who have soiled your inner world and did not stay around long enough to clean up after themselves.
Forgiveness will be your servant. Forgiveness will make tidy the rooms of your heart.
By Leslie Neale, Chance Films, Inc.
Would you become friends with the person who shot you or killed your only son?
For most of us this is unimaginable.
There are those, however, who in order to understand the crime have reached through the bars to connect with and then surprisingly befriend the criminals who devastated their lives.
This is the premise of my newly completed film, Unlikely Friends, a feature length documentary narrated by acclaimed actor, Mike Farrell, telling the heroic journey that five victims of horrific, violent crime choose to walk.
The seeds of this film were planted many years ago when I met Nelson, a bank robber featured in my first documentary, Road to Return. Nelson told me he was consumed with an overriding compulsion to go back to the bank he robbed once he was released from prison and APOLOGIZE.
He told me the story of sitting around a conference table in a small town community bank tucked in the rural banks of Louisiana, sharing pictures of one another’s families with the bank’s employees and swapping stories of their lives. They were all crying. The teller, who Nelson held a gun to 12 years prior, finally looked up at him with tears streaming down her face and said, “Thank you. Thank you for coming back here and apologizing because for 12 years I have not been able to get you out of my mind, and I have lived in fear you would come back and kill me.” I thought to myself the brilliance in that simple act of forgiveness. I immediately understood the implications, not only for his heart to be unburdened from the weight of knowing he harmed innocent strangers but also for the victim to be released from the terror of that nightmare. She was finally able to let go of her obsessive thoughts and fears.
This story convinced me to make a film on the concept of forgiveness, to explore how it might be used to affect positive change within our criminal justice system.
Nelson told me that it took him eight years to realize the damaging effects of what he had done. He had left a couple of precious stamps on his bunk “his only link to the outside world” and another inmate stole them. He vowed then to apologize to those he robbed if and when he got out.
The cornerstone to any true and lasting rehabilitation is taking full accountability for what you’ve done. Victims and offenders coming together in victim offender dialogues can be the catalyst for that connection to be made. Forgiveness is not expected from these dialogues but when it happens, it is life changing for both.
Debbie wanted the death penalty for Gabriel, the man who killed her only son. She says she was eaten up with anger and bitterness before she forgave him. In turn, Gabriel shares that her forgiveness affects every action he now takes–if she can forgive him, then he can forgive all the daily transgressions that occur around him in prison. Most of us think theses stories are the exception. Yet, I was surprised to find more stories than I could tell. There are many people who have forgiven acts that most of us deem unforgivable–and the numbers are growing.
Guest Blog by Leslie Neale, Chance Films, Inc.
A former student applied for a professorship this week. While she was interviewing, a professor, frowning, asked, “Is forgiveness always appropriate?” Following her answer, the professor was still frowning, even though she gave the correct answer.
Shall we address the question here? (All of you who might be asked the question in the future, take note: Just refer the frowning one to this blog post. Blame me for the answer so you do not have to take “the heat.”)
Is forgiveness always appropriate? Let us break down the answer a bit further first. When we pose the question, are we asking about the virtue of forgiveness itself or are we asking about a person? There is an important distinction here.
If our focus is on the virtue itself, we must then ask the question of all virtues (because forgiveness is a moral virtue), and we can do so by focusing on the question’s opposite: Is justice, for example, as one of the virtues, ever inappropriate? In other words, can you imagine a scenario in which you could be arrested for deliberately being just? If not, then justice is always appropriate, under all circumstances. Is patience ever inappropriate? What about kindness? I can hear someone say this, “Well, if someone is beating me over the head with a frying pan, I will not be kind.” My response: You can flee the abuse. You can try taking the frying pan out of the person’s hand. In either case, you can do so with kindness. Thus, even in this example, kindness is appropriate. It is not inappropriate if other virtues (justice, courage, temperance) come alongside kindness to help rescue the person from the head-banging.
My first point is this: Because all virtues are concerned with the moral good of human interaction, and because it is alway appropriate to exercise the moral good, and because forgiveness is a moral virtue, it is always appropriate to exercise forgiveness.
Now to our specific difference between the appropriateness of exercising the virtue as a virtue and a person’s psychology. Is it always appropriate for any given person to exercise forgiveness all the time? The answer here, in contrast to our first answer, is no, it is not always appropriate because: a) the offended person may be so shocked by what happened that he or she is not ready at this particular point in time to offer forgiveness; b) the offended person may need to learn more about what forgiveness is and is not so that forgiveness properly understood is exercised rather than some false form of it; and c) forgiveness is a supererogatory virtue, not demanded by society and therefore not demanded of any one person right now. It is the person’s choice whether to forgive or not on any given occasion.
Yes, if we are talking about the quality of this term, specifically its quality of being a moral virtue.
No, if we are talking about a particular person’s psychology, including the degree of hurt and the person’s familiarity with what forgiveness is, and the circumstances of the injustice, including its severity, its duration, and the time since it occurred.
OK, class, it is time for a few questions. If you “google” the word “forgiveness,” how many hits will you get? Right, 54 million. How about if you google the term “current films”? Right again, 519 million. One more: What if you google the word “chocolate”? How did you know? You are right, 704 million hits.
We are being overwhelmed by novelty. If you spent your life (and you could spend your life plus more lifetimes) clicking on each of the “chocolate” hits on google, and spent one minute on each, it would take you approximately 1339 years to do so. So much chocolate….so little time.
My point is this: We are rarely reinforced in our societies these days for engaging in repetition. After all, there is one more “chocolate” hit waiting for us on google, one more current film site to visit.
Yet, Aristotle impressed upon us the need for repetition, repetition, repetition, repetition. I can see you growing weary just reading that previous sentence. Nonetheless, the point of today’s post is this: We must resist the temptation of always looking for the next novelty item in our over-stimulated world. We must not forget the repetition and to forgive well means to engage in the repetition of forgiveness over and over and over again.
Novelty vs repetition. Novelty is winning in today’s world. Aristotle would not be amused.
2002…. That is the year the International Forgiveness Institute began writing forgiveness education curriculum guides for teachers. We started with first grade classrooms in Belfast, Northern Ireland. When we started knocking on principals’ doors to discuss this life-giving project, we were met with skepticism.
“You will not last more than three years,” was what we heard consistently. Three years? Why three in particular?
“Because when people come from foreign lands to help Belfast, those well-meaning people never stay more than three years,” was the retort.
It became apparent that people go to Belfast with high expectations, great enthusiasm, and lots of adrenaline as they embark on their new adventure. Then the reality strikes. By year three the fatigue sets in, the streets of Belfast are all too familiar. It is now work and not adventure. Goodbye, Belfast!
The IFI has had a presence in Belfast for over 10 years now. So far, we have beaten the odds by staying three times longer than expected.
This issue of perseverance and endurance has me thinking. How can one preserve the idea of forgiveness in families, schools, places of worship, and places of employment? That seems easy……for about three years, but what about the next 10 or 20 or even 40 years?
How can forgiveness endure when there are so many diversions in life, so many new and good and novel ways to introduce new curricula to schools or new programs to businesses?
It takes a team and at least one person with an iron-clad will in the short-run. Forgiveness can too easily fade from the scene without this.
How will you preserve forgiveness in your own heart and in your most important relationships? How will you keep it from drifting out to sea, almost unnoticed as it fades? The first step is to realize that this can happen….and then not let it happen.