Honoring The Ten Year Anniversary Of Sandy Hook: Some Thoughts On Forgiveness & Accountability

<div>Honoring The Ten Year Anniversary Of Sandy Hook: Some Thoughts On Forgiveness & Accountability</div>
<div>Honoring The Ten Year Anniversary Of Sandy Hook: Some Thoughts On Forgiveness & Accountability</div>

Honoring The Ten Year Anniversary Of Sandy Hook: Some Thoughts On Forgiveness & Accountability

<div>Honoring The Ten Year Anniversary Of Sandy Hook: Some Thoughts On Forgiveness & Accountability</div>

Honoring The Ten Year Anniversary Of Sandy Hook: Some Thoughts On Forgiveness & Accountability

Today is the 10-year anniversary of the Sandy Hook shooting. It’s also the 8-year anniversary of when I met Scarlett Lewis, whose 6 year old son Jesse would have been 16 now had he not been gunned down in that school massacre. I have been thinking of Scarlett and her family a lot as I write a manuscript about spirituality without spiritual bypassing and consider how we might both forgive those who destroy the lives of others, while also holding them to account when that’s possible.
Scarlett has walked the line from forgiving very early on the school shooter who killed her son and taking on the mission of promoting social and emotional learning in schools as part of preventing the kinds of tragedies that caused so much heartbreak in Sandy Hook and at other schools across the country. When I first met Scarlett, she was speaking out about the act of forgiving the 20-year-old man who murdered her son. Her surviving son was talking with Rwanda genocide orphans about the importance of breaking the cycle of revenge and forgiving those who killed their parents. I remember wondering if I’d be able to do the same, praying I never had to go through the horrors Scarlett and her family have survived in order to figure out if I could.
But Scarlett is also not uniformly soft on perpetrators. She participated in a class action suit against the gun company that made the gun that killed her son. She also recently won a defamation case against InfoWars conspiracy theorist Alex Jones, holding him accountable for his abusive bullying and defamation of character. He claimed that Sandy Hook didn’t happen, that the “Deep State” staged the whole shebang with actors to try to get gun rights taken away, and after his fans tried to run Scarlett off the road and required her to hire a bodyguard, she took him to court, where Scarlett won the lawsuit. He has filed bankruptcy, but whatever money Scarlett actually gets, Alex Jones will have unwittingly funded her non-profit, The Choose Love Movement, which she has been leading on a shoestring for a decade.
When I first met Scarlett, I had been wrestling with trying to extend unconditional love to people who didn’t treat me very well, practicing my newly adopted spiritual bypassing belief system, which caused me to tolerate a lot of bullying, abuse, and emotional and sometimes physical violence, rather than standing up for myself or holding my abusers accountable for what was sometimes criminally abusive behavior. My tendency in 2014 when I met Scarlett, was to forgive people who lacked remorse, weren’t sorry for their abusive behavior and kept abusing me more after I forgave and forgave. Because the virtue of premature forgiveness was so ingrained in me from my mother’s interpretation of fundamentalist Christianity, I had spiritualized my so-called ability to “unconditionally love” the people who just kept hurting me, without realizing that my “unconditional love” was really just conflict avoidance in holy drag.
It took me years to wake up to the damage caused by my spiritual bypassing tendency to extend premature forgiveness in the name of unconditional love and start initiating healthy confrontation, standing up for myself and holding abusers accountable for their abusive behavior, using the court of law when necessary.
Scarlett and I have stayed in touch since we first met, and I’ve cheered her on as she’s gotten involved in activist causes that are changing laws to protect children. Her non-profit The Choose Love Movement, which is based on the foundation of the three words Jesse had scrawled on a chalkboard the day he left the planet- nurturing, healing, love- seeks to prevent the traumatic conditions that must have underpinned Jesse’s shooter’s massacre. It is not based on the kind of “Choose love not fear” messaging commonly promoted by spiritual bypassers and A Course in Miracles devotees. It’s based on bolstering the dignity of children who have not always gotten their needs met, believed they were worthy of love, or learned to do anything other than seek revenge when they’ve been mistreated. Her mission is to reform education systems to better attend to social and emotional needs of children, as a way of preventing school shootings and helping children choose love over revenge when horrible things happen.
Yet how does one choose love when someone as powerful and corrupt as Alex Jones has it out for you? Scarlett and I have been texting through this lawsuit and her stunning capacity to both hold Alex Jones accountable for his abusive and dishonest behavior but also to keep her heart open and extend forgiveness to her abusers has been awe inspiring. She told me that when she looked into Alex Jones eyes, she could tell that this was a man who had never been adequately loved, which is true for most bullies. People don’t grow up to become power-hungry narcissists or sociopaths if they were treated properly throughout their lives.
Yet this doesn’t mean Scarlett stood by idly and let Alex Jones keep abusing her. Her son Jesse had been a courageous hero, standing up to the bully who shot up Sandy Hook and saving the lives of nine of his classmates before he was shot. Scarlett stood up to the bully too- and Goliath is going down.
I asked how she felt after the judgment came in, and Scarlett texted, “I am strong, using everything I know to stay present and remind myself I’m safe. This is an important trial. Truth fosters trust. We need to trust one another in order to have a civil society. Alex Jones breeds distrust and fear. I’m attempting to spread love. His perpetuating the lie about Sandy Hook is not conducive to keeping our kids safe! Truth is important and I hope it ushers in a new era of compassion and love. The utter lack of caring and concern from Alex and his team was shocking. I do think this is the beginning of him realizing there are consequences to his actions. Love wins. One of the reporters asked me about the connection between truth and love. I said truth is required for trust. We need trust to have a civil society. We must have some amount of trust for each other in order for human connection. Connection is love.”
It is no small challenge to simultaneously stand up to bullies and hold them accountable for their behavior without dehumanizing them or casting them out of the wholeness of humanity as monsters undeserving of dignity or regard. To hold the paradox of forgiving our abusers while also having the courage to hold them to account and take away some of their power to hurt the next victim is a brave, bold action. Certainly, I have no problem with those who say they should never have to forgive their abusers. Fine. Don’t forgive them if you want. But hate only harms the hater, and Scarlett has always been an advocate for forgiving our abusers as an act of self-care.
In See No Stranger, human rights activist, lawyer and author Valarie Kaur teaches “revolutionary love,” as described in her TED talk and in her other White House-endorsed social justice causes, peacemaking, and mediation methods. Valarie Kaur writes, “No one should be asked to feel empathy or compassion for their oppressors. I have learned that we do not need to feel anything for our opponents at all in order to practice love. Love is labor that returns us to wonder- it is seeing another person’s humanity, even if they deny our own. We just have to choose to wonder about them…I do not owe my opponents my affection, warmth, or regard. But I do owe myself a chance to live in this world without the burden of hate. ‘I shall permit no man, no matter what his color might be, to narrow and degrade my soul by making me hate him,’ said Booker T. Washington…I refuse to let anyone belittle my soul, or diminish my own expansive sense of self. The more I listen, the less I hate. The less I hate, the more I am free to choose actions that are controlled not by animosity but by wisdom. Laboring to love my opponents is how I love myself. This is not the stuff of saintliness. This is our birthright. Listening is also a strategic choice. The more I listen, the more I understand. I am persuaded that there is no such thing as monsters in this world, only human beings who are wounded. I start to gain critical information about how we can respond to their greed, insecurity, anxiety, and blindness in ways that hold them accountable and fight the institutions that empower them. Listening enables us to fight in smarter ways for justice- not only to remove bad actors from power but to change the cultures that radicalize them. Listening is how we succeed.”
This nuanced relationship between forgiveness and accountability requires walking a razor’s edge. While we want to extend trauma-informed compassion to those who cause us harm, we also want to stay compassionate with our own hurt parts and extend compassion to those our abusers might hurt in the future if we don’t help our abusers from abusing again- by stopping them and holding them to account. Enabling an abuser to keep abusing is no act of love. Stopping an abuser, on the other hand, can be the most generous and spiritual act we can possibly extend toward someone whose trauma causes them to traumatize others. Sometimes we must say, “Brother, sister, I love you too much to let you keep doing this and getting away with it.”
Forgiveness is never the same thing as letting someone off the hook or allowing them to stay in relationship with us when they’ve hurt us and are not sorry. Real forgiveness is an act of self love and personal liberation, freeing ourselves from the prisons of unrelenting resentment, grudge-holding, and nervous system dysregulation caused by unhealed trauma. It is not usually a quick, shallow expression of mercy, but a deep and usually painfully earned side effect of our deeper healing, an act of self care that helps us let go and move on.
Today, let us remember and honor the ten-year anniversary of that tragedy and hold Scarlett and all the Sandy Hook families in our hearts. She was named alongside Ukrainian president Zelensky among the Bloomberg 50 people who are influencing the world in 2022 and is showing those who try to suppress her kind of activism that love is stronger than hate, no matter how much it might sometimes seem otherwise.


The post Honoring The Ten Year Anniversary Of Sandy Hook: Some Thoughts On Forgiveness & Accountability first appeared on Lissa Rankin.

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Honoring The Ten Year Anniversary Of Sandy Hook: Some Thoughts On Forgiveness & Accountability

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