BOB ABERNETHY: One of the most difficult of all religious teachings -- especially in a time of war -- is the importance of forgiving, even an enemy. Forgiveness is taught as something a person should do for God or for others. But, more and more, both religious and secular counselors are encouraging forgiveness as essential to the healing of the person wronged. Lucky Severson has our cover story.
SEVERSON: Steve and Maurine Young adopted their first
dog to ease the pain after their 19 year-old son Andrew
(pictured at left) was murdered in 1996.
MAURINE YOUNG: I knew that I felt I was in prison
-- a self-made prison. I was going to get my revenge.
SEVERSON: Andrew died in the arms of his twin brother
Sam, after he was shot through the heart by Mario Ramos,
a Chicago gang member who thought, at first, that Andrew
was a rival gang member. He wasn't. Andrew's tight knit
family, including three brothers, came undone.
I just collapsed to my knees and I said -- "you [Maurine] were next
to me" -- and I said, "If I could just walk into the kid's
cell right now, I would just snap his neck in half."
MARIO RAMOS: I was just another person getting locked
up, you know. I didn't think about him that much.
SEVERSON: Mario and his family belonged to the St.
Nicholas Catholic Church in Evanston, Illinois, where he
was once an altar boy. Right after the crime, Father Robert
Oldershaw went to visit Mario in prison.
FATHER ROBERT OLDERSHAW: He had done a terrible thing.
I am the pastor -- his pastor. And this is a spiritual son.
SEVERSON: It was Father Oldershaw who brought Maurine
and Mario together -- the mother and the boy who killed
MRS. YOUNG: And
I would rather have just killed him too. But I looked at
my Bible and it just kept saying forgive your enemies. And I said, you know what God? I know enough about you when you
tell us you have to do something you not only give the
command, but you give us the power to do it at the same time.
So here I am. I give you my hate, my revenge. In return,
I want your ability to forgive.
SEVERSON (to Mrs. Young): So this is a letter you
wrote to Mario. "I don't know whether you would ever feel
up to asking for my forgiveness for killing my son. So I'll
go first. I forgive you."
YOUNG: I need[ed], sort of, to put that grace onto that
wound that I had allowed to get bigger and bigger and bigger.
SEVERSON: Some of Maurine Young's relatives and neighbors
thought she was crazy. How could a mother forgive her son's
killer? In Western culture, and in many Christian denominations,
forgiveness is often viewed as something we do for the guilty.
But behavioral scientists are now learning that the real
benefit is to the forgiver.
DR. DAVE MACK (Psychologist, Mendota Mental Health
Center): Rick, you were talking about using, holding on
SEVERSON: Dave Mack is a psychologist at the Mendota
Mental Health Center in Madison, Wisconsin. He says forgiveness is proving to be an effective treatment for drug addictions.
DR. MACK: They've experienced hurt, and somehow they haven't been able to deal with or resolve that hurt. And what we try to do is help them focus on the fact that sure, what the person did was wrong, it was unfair, it was hurtful, but you continue to pay the price as long as you carry the resentment around.
I feel like I found a tool that's effective to work with people in an area where I hadn't been able to work with them successfully before.
SEVERSON: Mack, who is also a pastor, says too many
churches fall short [when it comes to] explaining and teaching
the principle of forgiveness.
DR. MACK: I think that churches have missed the mark in a few ways. We've asked people to forgive for the wrong reasons. We've ask them to forgive out of some kind of obligation to another person because of some kind of divine entity will punish us if we don't, when really we need to forgive for ourselves. And the other part of that is, we haven't taught people how to forgive. We have told them that they need to forgive, but we haven't shown them how to do it.
SEVERSON: There are critics of using forgiveness
as a treatment, like Jeffrie Murphy, a philosopher at Arizona
State University. He thinks that "forgiveness" has been
overrated and over used.
MURPHY (Arizona State University): I think there is
a lot of, kind of, irresponsible babble about forgiveness
these days. And when forgiveness is talked about too frequently
and in too shallow a way, and becomes a kind of universal
hasty prescription for all wrongdoing, then I think the
value of forgiveness becomes cheapened.
But Dr. Robert Enright, a professor at the University
of Wisconsin and a pioneer in the field of forgiveness studies,
says there is nothing shallow about true forgiveness.
DR. ROBERT ENRIGHT (University of Wisconsin): You
learn to forgive by first taking time. If someone wants
the forgiveness pill, its not going to happen. It is not
an easy road.
SEVERSON: Dr. Enright is often invited to war torn
countries to counsel survivors. He thinks forgiveness will
work in marriage counseling and for victims of spousal abuse