Nine year old Bess Lyn Sannino was angry to find her house had been burglarized. Seventeen dollars in allowance money, her Valentine's Day candy, and a tape player were gone. The front door had been pelted with raw eggs. She felt sure the burglars were several young teenagers from her neighborhood who'd earlier sprayed graffiti on the garage.
Her mother, a Quaker, had doubts about calling the police. She called the father of one of the young suspects, who encouraged her to work with police to help this become a lesson for the teens.
A compassionate police officer took a week to locate the parents of all four
suspects. One mother worked two jobs and wasn't home until after 11 pm. A father
had been hospitalized for erratic, potentially violent behavior. These were
stressed, troubled families.
In the conversations that followed, all the parents and the police officer agreed that no permanent record of the incident would be kept if the offenders would make up for their crime in more meaningful ways. In addition to curfews and other restrictions, creative forms of restitution were agreed to. One of the perpetrators wrote an essay on integrity and came to the house to read it to Bess. Others came and cleaned off the front door, did yard work and chores around the house. Everything that was taken was returned.
But Bess found she needed healing on a deeper level. With her mother's support, Bess hosted a Forgiveness Party for the young people who'd broken into her house. She made a piñata and decorated her house and yard. There was lots of music coming from the formerly stolen tape player. Not only did the young people come, so did their parents and siblings. It became quite a celebration. Anger and shame were transformed into joy and community. Healing happened for everyone.
Bess related this story in a very matter-of-fact tone. To her, it seemed like the most ordinary thing, to throw a party for people who came uninvited into her home to vandalize and steal from her. She was surprised that so many adults were impressed by her idea.
Adapted from "Nonviolence in the Arena: The Forgiveness Party" by Jo Clare Hartsig and Walter Wink, in Fellowship, July/August 1995, p. 31.
COMMENTARY: The destructive initiative of the teen burglars is met with a remarkable amount of collaboration and creative initiative, rather than state force. As co-intelligent as that is, however, this story is particularly interesting in that it moves even beyond that, into a level of wholeness, interconnectedness and co-creativity we seldom see. But most of us aren't quite like Bess. Luckily, we can use more mundane, but still effective, co-intelligent approaches like mediation and principled negotiation. For those of us aspiring to be more like Bess, there is a growing worldwide movement centered on forgiveness and its power to heal ourselves (amazingly), our relationships, our communities and our world.
If you are interested in more on forgiveness, check out the Bruderhof Forgiveness Guide, a compendium of fascinating stories, articles and resources (including an extensive and nicely annotated weblinks collection) about forgiveness.