Forgiveness in Action

By Jeremy Adam Smith | January 31, 2007 | 0 comments

An amazing story of forgiveness:

Nearly four months ago, a milk delivery-truck driver lined up 10 girls in a one-room schoolhouse in this Amish farming community and opened fire, killing five of them and wounding five others before turning the gun on himself…

The Amish and the non-Amish have given the widow of the gunman, Charles C. Roberts IV, and the couple's three children comfort and unconditional support. Neighbors put up a Christmas tree at the local volunteer fire hall and decorated it with toys and gift cards for the family. Soccer players at Solanco High School in nearby Quarryville made it a point to show their encouragement by attending soccer matches played by the Robertses' young son Brice…

On the wall in a firehouse dining room is a watercolor of the schoolyard painted by a local artist, Elsie Beiler. Its title is "Happier Days," and it depicts the Amish children of Nickel Mines playing, without a care, before the shooting. Five birds, which some say represent the dead girls, circle in the blue sky above.

Ms. Beiler said the fact that she knew some of the victims' families had inspired her to paint the scene and to donate some of the money from the sale of prints to the victims' fund. "I pray for the families of the children," Ms. Beiler said. "And I thought about what a struggle it was for them to live out each day in forgiveness."

This capacity to forgive is rare in America today (think, for example, of the responses that followed 9/11) and I think many, perhaps most, people, including me, would find it difficult to embrace this kind of profound forgiveness. Some will even argue against forgiveness, and for retribution as a healthier and more just response to violence. A story like this also raises an interesting question: is it possible for forgiveness of this type to be practiced in a secular community, or does it require a concept of god and spirit in order to flourish?

Tracker Pixel for Entry

Greater Good wants to know:
Do you think this article will influence your opinions or behavior?

  • Very Likely

  • Likely

  • Unlikely

  • Very Unlikely

  • Not sure

About The Author

Jeremy Adam Smith edits the GGSC’s online magazine, Greater Good. He is also the author or coeditor of four books, including The Daddy Shift, Are We Born Racist?, and The Compassionate Instinct. Before joining the GGSC, Jeremy was a 2010-11 John S. Knight Journalism Fellow at Stanford University. You can follow him on Twitter!


Like this article?

Here's what you can do:

blog comments powered by Disqus



Greater Good Events

The Greater Good Science Center Summer Institute for Educators 2017
Clark Kerr Campus, UC-Berkeley
Sunday, June 25 - Friday, June 30, 2017 OR Sunday, July 16 - Friday, July 21, 2017

The Greater Good Science Center Summer Institute for Educators 2017

The GGSC’s six-day Summer Institute equips education professionals with prosocial learning strategies, tools and processes that benefit both students and teachers.


Take a Greater Good Quiz!

How compassionate are you? How generous, grateful, or forgiving? Find out!


Watch Greater Good Videos

Jon Kabat-Zinn

Talks by inspiring speakers like Jon Kabat-Zinn, Dacher Keltner, and Barbara Fredrickson.


Greater Good Resources


Book of the Week

Roots of Empathy By Mary Gordon Mary Gordon explains how best to nurture empathy and social emotional literacy in all children—and thereby reduce aggression, antisocial behavior, and bullying.

Is she flirting with you? Take the quiz and find out.
"It is a great good and a great gift, this Greater Good. I bow to you for your efforts to bring these uplifting and illuminating expressions of humanity, grounded in good science, to the attention of us all."  
Jon Kabat-Zinn

Best-selling author and founder of the Mindfulness-Based Stress Reduction program

thnx advertisement