My son has been bullied in school. He actually came to me and asked how he might start to forgive those who bully him. I was surprised by his maturity, actually. What can you tell me in terms of advice that I can pass on to my son?
Yes, I agree with you that your son is showing maturity in wanting to explore forgiveness. First, I would take the time to be sure he knows what forgiveness is and is not. He needs to know that as he forgives, he needs to strive for justice, as you do, with the school administrators. Next, I would ask him to see the people who bully as genuine persons, who have built-in worth despite their troubling behavior. This can take time and effort. Help him to see more broadly than just the hurtful actions of those who bully. For example, you could ask this: “Do you think that those who bully you have been hurt in the past? Might they be carrying these wounds into the school and imposing their own hurt now on you? Can you see a hurting person through their inappropriate actions?” Again, I would be sure that your son sees the need to forgive and seek justice together.
What is the one, central issue about forgiveness that you would give to those who are preparing for marriage?
I would encourage them to get to know very deeply what forgiveness is (a moral virtue in which you practice goodness toward those who are not good to you) and is not (to forgive is not to excuse unjust behavior, to automatically reconcile when the other is a danger to you, nor to abandon the quest for justice). Then I would urge both people to examine the injustices which they suffered in their family of origin, forgive the people, and discuss the pattern of injustices together so that they do not reproduce the injustices in their own marriage.
Learn more at Forgiveness for Couples.
You say that all people have inherent worth. What about mass murders or those who commit other horrific crimes. Don’t you think they have lost that right for us to see them as having worth?
We need to separate a person’s actions and who they are as persons. Some who commit horrific crimes end up repenting, being very sorry for what they did. They no longer will engage in such behaviors. Still others may remain unrepentant, but should we define them only by their actions? Are they not unique human beings and if so, does not that make them special and irreplaceable?
People of faith would say that we are all “made in the image and likeness of God.” If we are **all** so made, then so too are those who commit horrific crimes. We, then, are not to stand in judgement of them as persons, although we must have impartial law officials make judgements about their behavior.
Yes, please consider three ideas.
First, you can be aware of what I call “teachable forgiveness moments.” For example, suppose you are watching a film in which revenge is occurring. You could ask, after the film is over, “How might the story have continued if the one on whom revenge was sought decided to forgive and then seek justice in a reasonable way?”
Second, you could have a regular conversation, say once a week, at mealtimes in which you ask, “How did it go for you today? Were there any challenges? Did you consider forgiving under those circumstances?”
Third, you might consider sharing your own experiences, at least on occasion, in which you had to forgive someone at work or in some other context. The point is not to pressure family members to forgive, but to show them the way by your example.
Learn more at Family Forgiveness Guidelines.
I am mad at my step-father for his rudeness. I now am angry at my Mom for still being with him. I now am confused: Do I start by forgiving him first or her first? I would appreciate your suggestion.
When you think about what your step-father has done to you, how angry are you on a 1-to-10 scale? When you think about your Mom and what she has done to you, how angry are you on this same 1-to-10 scale? I recommend that you start with the one person who gets the lower score, the one toward whom you are less angry. I suggest this because it can be difficult to forgive when you are fuming at a particular person. Learning to forgive when you are less angry helps show you the path of forgiving and gets you ready for the more challenging one.
Learn more at What is Forgiveness?