The Use of Un-forgiveness as a Technique to Gain Support and Social Control

It is interesting to consider how an unwillingness to forgive can be a cultural trait that is learned, as if it were a custom, and then passed on from generation to generation.  As an example of this occurrence, an attitude of un-forgiveness may be used as a sort of political tool, in order to achieve (what seems to be counterintuitive), social unity and social control.  This is the technique, that is, an attitude of un-forgiveness is the technique that our founding fathers used to gain social support in order to usurp the power away from those in authority in England and willingly give it to the new group of social elites that were forming in the American colonies.

Thomas Paine used an attitude of unwillingness to forgive as a revolutionary slogan in his propaganda pamphlet, Common Sense (The Writings of Thomas Paine, n.d., pp. 67-101.).  As one very strong example of this occurance, he stated that the colonies alliance with Great Britain “tends to directly involve this Continent in European wars and quarrels, and set us at variance at nations who would otherwise seek our friendship (The Writings of Thomas Paine, n.d. p. 88.).”  Paine’s reasoning, he claimed was simple enough for even a common man to understand, was that the Colonies should revolt and go to war with Great Britain in order to avoid wars.  Pain precluded this provocative piece of writing with the suggestion that “a long Habit of not thinking a thing wrong, gives it a superficial appearance of being right (The Writings of Thomas Paine, n.d., p. 67).”  That clever premise apparently distracted the common folks from accurately reasoning that the way to peace is not by means of violence and warfare.  Throughout the Common Sense pamphlet, Thomas Paine rebuked the British Crown for its heavy-handed oppression (excessive taxation and crushing authority) over the American colonists even as he was applying his own style of heavy-handed oppression.

Paine’s propaganda was in support of removing the control of the British Crown from the American colonies and placing that power in the hands of a new group of elites that had formed and were growing in both wealth and power.  According to a sometimes very controversial perspective offered by historian Howard Zinn, in chapter four, Tyranny is Tyranny, of his text, A People’s History of the United States, (2005) asserted that the colonists had been rebelling against the heavy-handed oppression of the new and growing elite class in the American Colonies for some time.  The technique that Paine used was to funnel the energy of those who continued to rebel away from the new and rising elites in the American colonies and direct this dissenting energy instead against the King of England (pp. 59-75).  The technique was effective.

The Declaration of Independence (, n.d.). listed twenty-nine oppressions that the colonists endured under the domination of the British Crown.  In doing so, it gain the support of those people in the colonies who were feeling oppressed.  Little did they know that the oppression would continue, just under the control of different hands and in a more duplicitous manner.  This technique has been very effective and is still in use in recent history.

A recent example of this sort of deflecting technique is when actor/president Ronald Reagan directed attention at single women with children who were living in poverty and using public assistance (who came to be known as ‘welfare queens’) and away from the major corporations who were positioning themselves to collect a stream of government financial support on a much, much, much larger scale.

These examples illustrate how creating and maintaining and attitude of conflict (perhaps though an unwillingness to forgive) can be used to control the masses of people and direct their attention away from what is to be hidden and funnel it toward a particular group who becomes a sort of scapegoat.  This sort of attitude and technique has become such a cultural norm, that for the most part, many of us hardly even notice it.




Paine, T. (n.d.). Common sense. The writings of Thomas Paine. Retrieved from Google: (n.d.). The Declaration of Independence. [Web page] Retrieved from

Zinn, H. (2005). A people’s history of the United States. New York: Harperperennial

© Nancy Babbitt and Just Desserts Blog, 2013-2014. Unauthorized use and/or duplication of this material without express and written permission from this blog’s author and/or owner is strictly prohibited. Excerpts and links may be used, provided that full and clear credit is given to Nancy Babbitt and Just Desserts Blog with appropriate and specific direction to the original content.

Life Choices: How Free are We to Choose?

How do we, as individuals, come to be who we are?  How do we decide what to do in our lives and with our lives? These questions have been asked by many folks and in many different ways over the years. These questions are sometimes thought of as the ‘nature versus nurture’ debate, which compares a person’s individual physical and behavioral traits to their life experiences, when questioning what the forces are that have shape people’s lives.  To some people, the answer to these questions may be surprising.

It is a popular belief that we are what we choose to do. For example, Stephen R. Covey, the author of various self-help books, most notable his bestseller, The Seven Habits of Highly Effective People (1997), in which he used a nature-versus-nurture analysis and conclusion when he stated in his teachings that “I am not a product of my circumstances. I am a product of my choices (Covey, 2012).” It is Covey’s belief that we are what we choose to do, and that is ‘the end of the story’ in his opinion.  In this way, popular media acts as an agent of socialization, which leads many people to believe that we all are the masters of our own lives, but is this really so?

It may, in fact, truly seem that we are, as individuals in the ‘free society’ of the United States of America, able to enjoy a considerable degree of freedom of choice. This notion, perhaps, is based in a national ethic that was established with our rights as citizens, including that of our liberty to pursue happiness, as put forth in the Declaration of Independence. This rather utopian assertion leads us to believe that our liberty to pursue happiness equates with our also having free choice. Yet, as much as we may wish to believe that we truly are in complete control of the decisions that we make, and therefore we are also in complete control of our life outcomes, this belief may actually be quite far from the truth.

I came to this realization when I was attempting to communicate my choice to not attend college when I graduated from high school. I reasoned that I had not even considered attending college as a viable choice at that time. I now understand that this ‘choice’ was based in many cultural and societal and personal circumstances of that time, including gender role norms for women, lack of financial support, and lack of guidance and mentorship. Through close examination of my perceived choices, I discovered that the reason that I did not go to college may have nothing to do with a liberty to pursue happiness through a privilege of choice, but rather my actions of not attending a college at that time was an outcome shaped by constrained choices.

A depth and range of life choice constraints were explored in two legal writings by professors of law, Martha Minow and Martha Mahoney in the context of harassment and abuse of power. These authors have disputed the idea that there is a lack of judgment on the part of someone who decides to not escape, or else delay in exiting, a harmful relationship.  They argue that sometimes less-than-obvious constraints may influence one’s decision not to flee. The analysis provided by Minow and Mahoney demonstrate that a variety of social and cultural constraints limit the degree of freedom of choice that a person may actually have, including those decisions made concerning whether to leave or whether to stay in an abusive relationship.

Using my example of my post high school experience:  If I were to state that I made a choice to not attend college, this would be claiming that I had choice in the situation, when in actuality, I may have not. This presumption of choice when none exists, and its opposite in claiming that there is no choice when one does exist, was exactly the conclusion that Minow was drawing out in her analysis of Justice Thurgood Marshall’s response to certain court rulings. Minow traced the origin of these types of analysis to an “erroneous view that choice is either all-present or all-absent” and she suggested instead that one might look at choice within a context of “varying degrees of constraint (Minow, 1992).” It is interesting to think now, that if I had examined my decision making process at that time, thinking of choice as neither all-present nor all-absent, it might have revealed to me not only the constraints on my choices, but my options too, which might have assisted me in overcoming the obstacles.

Thinking of choice as either all-present or all-absent is a common occurrence, not just in personal life experience, it is common in legal rhetoric, too.  Minow (1992) cited Justice Marshall’s dissent in Florida v. Bostick, in which he argued that the defendant was unlawfully coerced and subjected to an illegal search. He argued the unconstitutionality of the coercion used to make the defendant consent to a search because of the constraint placed on his choices to do anything otherwise. Justice Marshall noted that, that ‘[i]t is exactly because this ‘choice’ is no ‘choice’ at all that police engage this technique (Minow, 1992).’ In this way, and all too often, the courts engage in “rhetoric of choice” as a way of “playing logic games” in an attempt to win their case (Minow, 1992).  Thinking of choice in relationship to constraint can serve as a remedy to this type of error.

It is necessary to understand the scope of available options plus how plausible or reasonable those options are in order to make discerning judgments. Justice Thurgood Marshall “articulated a theory of the relationship between choice and constraint” that does just this.  Marshall’s theory includes:

(1) finding that someone has a choice does not answer the scope of the available options; (2) finding that someone has a choice does not reveal how plausible or reasonable it would be to pursue the available options; (3) only an assessment of the constraints and costs affecting the scope and real availability of options can render a meaningful inquiry into an individual’s responsibility for the choice undertaken (Minow, 1992).

This type of analysis and judgment examines choice in context and in relation to constraint.

Applying this theory to analysis and judgments concerning choice also helps in the avoidance of assuming that choice exists when it does not and it also helps to avoid denying one’s ability to choose where ability to choose does exist. For example, the way in which choice is framed in language concerning battered or abused women determines the focus of one’s analysis and judgment. In cases of abuse toward women, if the question is “If the abuse was so bad, why did she not leave?” the focus is placing responsibility for the abusive actions on the woman. Minow (1992) asserts that this way of framing the question tends to blame the woman for her circumstances while at the same time neglecting the actions of the abuser. It ignores the relationships of the woman, including the relationships and responsibility to her children and her dependency on the abuser, and it does not ask where it is that she might go and what her options are if she did leave. A choice to stay in relationship with an abuser may simply represent what a woman perceives to be her current best option in a situation of constrained choices.

To suggest that an abused woman has no choice, allows her no dignity of agency. Agency of the abused woman is the argument that Martha Mahoney (1992) used when the Senate and public discourse addressed the ‘failure’ of Anita Hill to “exit” her employment relationship with Clarence Thomas, in light of her sexual abuse claims against him. Anita Hill is a woman of agency and it was her agency to choose to continue on with her work in spite of the difficulties that she faced.

There are serious problems with the exit discourse used in the argument against Anita Hill. First, the exit discourse treats exit as the normal response to harassment, and this is not consistent “with the actions of the majority of women who neither report harassment nor leave their jobs (Mahoney, 1992).” Additionally, the choices to stay in a job and position for which one has worked hard to obtain, and do the type of work one wishes to do should be obvious. Furthermore, the fact that the employer holds the power to control access to future work opportunities, perhaps though the granting or denial of references is another aspect of the situation to consider when assessing an employee’s decision to stay. Finally, the exit discourse assumes that there is another job to go to or else another choice to make. For these reasons, the choice to stay can be considered a success story, where success is achieved by maintaining meaningful employment in the face of adversity. The exit discourse is a faulty premise, because there are many reasons for the agency that directs the decision, the choice, to stay in an abusive employee/employer subordinate/supervisor relationship

In these four examples, that of the circumstances surrounding my choice to attend college or not, choice in context and relation to coercion by law enforcement officials, choice in context of battered and abused women in relation to others including their abusive partners, and the choice Anita Hill made to continue working with an abusive supervisor demonstrates that choice is not free. Instead choice exists in only in relationship to constraint.

Popular mainstream U.S. culture, in addition to our historical cultural heritage, to a great degree, influences us to believe that we are solely responsible for the decisions we make that shape our lives. Yet the above illustrations demonstrate that individual choice may not always be a reflection of the execution of actions based solely on one’s good judgment or one’s poor judgment. Instead, one’s ability to choose is not unconditionally free, because both social pressures and culture influence and constrain our ability to choose, and people have different access to choices according to their life circumstances. When making assessments or judgments concerning peoples’ choices, discernment should take into account context and relationships when thinking about choice. Discernment should also take into account that choice exists only in relationship to constraint.

“There’s small choice in rotten apples.”

William Shakespeare, The Taming of the Shrew


Covey, S. (1997). The 7 habits of highly effective families. Macmillan.

Covey, S. (2012). The wisdom and teachings of Stephen R. Covey (Kindle ed.). Free Press

Mahoney, M. (1992). Exit: Power and the Idea of Leaving in Love, Work, and the Confirmation Hearings. S. Cal. L. Rev., 65, 1283.

Minow, M. (1992). Choices and Constraints: For Justice Thurgood Marshall. Geo. LJ, 80, 2093.

The Wright Angles. (n.d.). The complete works of Shakespeare: 197 plays, poems and sonnets (Kindle ed.)

© Nancy Babbitt and Just Desserts Blog, 2013-2014. Unauthorized use and/or duplication of this material without express and written permission from this blog’s author and/or owner is strictly prohibited. Excerpts and links may be used, provided that full and clear credit is given to Nancy Babbitt and Just Desserts Blog with appropriate and specific direction to the original content.

An Exploration of Forgiveness in the Performing Arts

Artistic creations can be a means for the exploration of human attitudes, feelings and behaviors.  The performing arts are an example of an artistic media that can be utilized in this way.  For example, the use of theatre and film can be applied as method to explore some of the human attitudes, feelings and behaviors that are related to the topics of hatred, anger, tolerance, acceptance, as well as forgiveness.  Two such performing arts examples are The Laramie Project and Shakespeare as presented in the Secured Housing Unit (SHU) at the Wabash Valley Correctional Facility (WVCF), a super-maximum security prison located in the state of Indiana.  These productions offer their creators and audiences alike, the opportunity to examine the attitudes, feelings and actions concerning how people relate to one another.  They also offer an opportunity for people to understand themselves better, as well.

The Laramie Project, developed by Moisés Kaufman and the Tectonic Theater Company, consists of both a theatrical representation and an HBO film based on the actual 1998 murder of twenty-one year old University of Wyoming student, Matthew Shepard.  On October 6th, 1998, Mr. Shepard was bound to a fence and severely beaten and left to die in the outskirts of the small town of Laramie, Wyoming.  He passed away as a result of the injuries he sustained six days later.  This was a hate crime, since Matthew was targeted because he was gay.  The Laramie Project originated when members of The Tectonic Theatre Company went to Laramie in order to interview the residents concerning the circumstances surrounding the murder of Matthew Shepard, as well as their reaction to this incident.  Their purpose was to create a production pertaining to these events.

Shakespeare, as presented in the SHU at the WVCF, was born out of a prison outreach project that was developed by Associate Professor of English at Indiana State University, Dr. Laura Bates.  Dr. Bates offered prison inmates the opportunity to study Shakespeare.  She worked with men in solitary confinement as they rewrote the Shakespearian language to “contemporary prose” and the plays’ themes into “life lessons for the convicted and incarcerated” (Scotts-Douglas, 2007, pp, 110-111.).  Then, Bates’ drama group, Shakespeare Locked Down, performed and videotaped the production, and in turn, they shared their performances of the adaptations with the men in the SHU at WVCF (Scotts-Douglas, 2007, pp, 110-111.).  This opportunity offered the men in solitary confinement a way to meet their human need for community and companionship.  It provided that and much more.

These productions offered their creators and viewers alike a unique opportunity to learn about human attitudes, feelings and behaviors in relation to the themes of injury and forgiveness.  These themes can be seen in scenes from each production.  For example, in the HBO version of The Laramie Project (n.d), there is an especially emotional moment in the scene of the sentencing of Matthew’s murderer, Aaron McKinney, where one can see a process of forgiveness beginning to take shape.  Likewise, the SHU Shakespearian writers display a similar movement from a negative attitude toward one more positive, as they fashion a new nonviolent conclusion for Hamlet. These scenes present the performers in different stages along a continuum of possible attitudes, feelings and actions, ranging from the extreme emotions of anger, hatred and the desire for revenge and retribution, moving toward positions of greater tolerance and acceptance.

In a scene from The Laramie Project (n.d.), Matthew’s father, Dennis Shepard, feeling a great deal of pain and anger, expressed words of hatred along with a desire for revenge, even as he was generously accepting the plea bargain that the defense lawyer requested on McKinney’s behalf.  Dennis Shepard said in his ‘impact statement’ at the sentencing, “I would like nothing better than to see you die, Mr. Mckinney” while at the same time he was offering McKinney life instead of the death penalty.  He continued, “However, this is the time to begin the healing process” . . . “you made the world realize that a person’s lifestyle is not a reason for discrimination, intolerance, persecution, and violence” and “good is coming out of evil . . . My son died because of your ignorance and intolerance.  I can’t bring him back.  But I can do my best to see that this never, ever happens to another person or another family again.”  Wavering back and forth from a desire for healing to feelings of anger, he followed with,  “You robbed me of something very precious, and I will never forgive you for that.”  Although Dennis Shepard struggled with feelings of anger and hatred, he was beginning the process of healing.

Regarding the SHU Shakespearian production, the writers decided to modify the ending scenes for their adaptation of Hamlet.  The men in the SHU determined that Hamlet, when faced with the option to seek revenge or not, must choose the latter because they acknowledged that acting with vengeance could only result in more violence, his death or else his imprisonment.  The man in Cell E explained that, ‘Shakespeare doesn’t offer an alternative to the violence.  Is this the message we’re trying to send society, particularly the youth? No’ (Scott-Douglass, 2007 p. 113.).  The writers determined that Hamlet would present a speech explaining an alternative approach, ‘I don’t want to become what my father was. I don’t want to become what your father was. We’ve got to break this cycle, man, the two of us, right here and right now’ (Scott-Douglass, 2007 p. 113.).  The men in the SHU rewrote Hamlet in such a way as to send a message, in order to teach the world an alternative to retaliation.  This was a method for nonviolent social change.  In this way, the men in the SHU became some of ‘our most valuable teachers’[1].

Each production offered a unique lens with which one can observe the topics of hatred, anger, tolerance and acceptance.  The Tectonic Theatre Company explored the attitudes, feelings and behaviors of the people who witnessed a violent hate crime.  While in contrast, the men in the SHU considered their own role as violent offenders as they recreated Shakespearian dramas.  Each work, in its own way, led its creators to produce an outcome that would illustrate for the world an alternative response to violence that would work for a greater good.

Each of these scenes led their audience to consider the cycles of violence that are perpetuated in attitudes of anger, hatred, and revenge.  In the scene from The Laramie Project, Dennis Shepard spoke of attitudes, feelings and actions that were at odds with one another.  On the one hand, he desired revenge against his son’s killer, while on the other hand he desired an outcome for a greater good.  Dennis Shepard verbalized what social ‘norms’ kept silent.

In a similar fashion, the SHU’s Shakespearian project also created a space, that otherwise did not exist, for contemplation and dialog.  The men in the SHU experienced, first hand, the costs of violence and retribution.  They had learned from their own experiences that there is a better way.  They wanted to share their wisdom with others.  In order to do so, they rewrote the storyline of Hamlet so that it would teach its audience a different approach when confronted with conflict.

Both Shakespeare as portrayed in the SHU of WVCF, and The Tectonic Theatre Company’s production, The Laramie Project, have allowed their creators and audiences alike a space and an opportunity to discuss what was otherwise normally kept silent.  In this way, they have learned, and by this they are also now teaching, that there is a way out of the chaos that is left in the aftermath of violent actions and brutality.

Perhaps it is difficult to understand a response of kindness toward a violent transgressor, such as that which Dennis Shepard offered to his son’s killers.  To some, this type of attitude might not seem likely or even healthy.  Yet, there is scientific evidence that suggests that humans have been endowed with a “forgiveness instinct” that makes forgiveness possible and even desirable in such circumstances (The Forgiveness Instinct, n.d.).  A ‘forgiveness instinct’ acknowledges that one’s own protection and safety happens in loving community.  Therefore a response to transgression that is likely to build and maintain loving community is the preferred action.

Dennis Shepard understood this concept when he said, “I can do my best to see that this never, ever happens to another person or another family again” (The Laramie Project, n.d.).  The Tectonic Theatre Company understood it too, as evidenced when Amanda Gronich, one of its gay members, acknowledged that they might not be able to clear the town’s bad name.  “These people trust us. They want everyone to know that they are not this crime.  Its more than just clearing Laramie’s name, it is clearing their own, and I don’t know if we can do that” (The Laramie Project, n.d.).  Dennis Shepard, and the members of the Tectonic Theatre Company acted with forgiveness toward people’s violent attitudes and actions as they simultaneously exposed the unwanted attitudes and behavior and held the perpetrators accountable.

The men in WVCF’s SHU acted in a similar way.  They discovered, through the performances that they created, that violence is cultivated in a society, by people’s attitudes, feelings and actions.  Violence was all around them in their upbringing.  There was violence at WVCF too.  It was a social norm that one act of violence was returned with another act of violence.  When they studied the Shakespearian dramas, they discovered that it was an attitude that was the ‘seed of violence’[2].  Therefore, they set themselves to cultivate a positive and peaceful attitude and actions when they changed Hamlet’s conclusion.  In this way, they have called attention to the prevalence of a violent attitude in society that shapes how its members respond to one another, and they simultaneously demonstrated a preferred nonviolent way.

The performing arts, such as theater and film, have the ability to impact our perceptions.  They can be used to create a space for people to be able to observe areas of their lives that they might not otherwise wish to examine.  When one does make space for the exploration of the violent attitudes, feelings and behaviors of others, they may learn about their own violent tendencies, too.  Likewise, through the examination of the ‘self’ it is possible to learn about ‘others’.  When seeing with a resulting more expansive view, people may gain a greater degree of compassion for both themselves and others.  The performing arts are a medium that often exploits violent themes.  Yet through thoughtful and intentional productions, the performing arts may nurture and cultivate a culture that values an alternative peace-promoting response.


Scott-Douglass, A. (2007). Shakespeare Inside: The Bard Behind Bars. Bloomsbury Publishing.

The Forgiveness Instinct. (n.d.). The forgiveness instinct. [Web page] Retrieved from

The Laramie Project. (n.d.). [Audiovisual Material]. (Original work published 2002) Retrieved from

[1] Father Roger Schmit, the Catholic Priest in The Laramie Project (n.d.), used this phrase when describing the violent offenders, Russell Henderson and Aaron McKinney, as ‘our most important teachers’.

[2] Referencing, again, Father Roger Schmit, the Catholic Priest in The Laramie Project (n.d.), when he used this phrase in describing Laramie community members’ negative attitudes and language against members of the LGBTQ community as, ‘the seed of violence’.

© Nancy Babbitt and Just Desserts Blog, 2013-2014. Unauthorized use and/or duplication of this material without express and written permission from this blog’s author and/or owner is strictly prohibited. Excerpts and links may be used, provided that full and clear credit is given to Nancy Babbitt and Just Desserts Blog with appropriate and specific direction to the original content.

Examining the Amish Forgiveness Response to the Nickel Mines Tragedy

I have always had interest in learning about Amish folks, including their lifestyle and their beliefs, ever since I had originally learned of these people. I was intrigued by their different way of being in this world. Therefore, I had previously taken the time to learn a little bit about their history, and their way of life even before I had learned of the tragic shooting that took place on October 2, 2006 at an Amish school in Nickel Mines, Pennsylvania, where six people lost their lives and five others were critically injured.

I knew that the Amish people have a heritage of persecution, and I knew also that they are a peace-loving people. The Amish tradition is descendant from the Anabaptist Christian radicals and dissenters of the 16th Century Protestant Reformation period (Who Are The Mennonites, n.d.). They are one of the ‘peace churches’. The Amish broke away from the Mennonite Church (one of the Anabaptist traditions) because they believed that the Mennonites were becoming too ‘worldly’. One of the Anabaptist faith’s key spiritual beliefs is “a forgiving love in all of life (Who Are The Mennonites, n.d.).” Amish faith tradition is based on these same spiritual beliefs of love and forgiveness that their brothers and sisters, the Mennonites, practice.

The immediate forgiveness response of the Amish people, to the tragic happenings on that Autumn day, are a testament to their deep belief in the teachings of Jesus Christ, such that followers of the Christ are to live their lives following his way of peace. The teachings of Jesus the Christ (the Christ is to be understood as ‘the way’) are that of nonresistance , distinct from nonviolent social change, somewhat like, yet different from, the method Mahatma Gandhi used when he led the movement to gain India’s independence from the rule of Great Britain (Kraybill, 2006.). The Amish response to the Nickel Mines tragedy is their testament to Jesus’ teachings, and as such, their generosity toward the family of Charles Carl Roberts IV, the shooter, was not surprising to me.

The Amish response to the Nickel Mines tragedy was that they reached out to the family of Mr. Roberts and immediately offered their condolences, forgiveness, assistance, and even began building community with the family (Kraybill, 2006). Jesus the Christ established a loving and forgiving example for peace-loving children of God to imitate in their own lives, and this is what shaped the response of the Amish people (Kraybill, 2006). This other way of responding to transgression is different from a typically individualistic and western worldview response to transgression, that of retaliation and/or retribution.

Perhaps this other way of responding to transgression is difficult to understand for many of us. In the book Amish Grace: How Forgiveness Transcended Tragedy (Kraybill, Nolt, & Weaver-Zercher, 2010) the authors quote the father of a slain Amish girl as saying, “There was never a time that I felt angry.” From a non-Anabaptist perspective, this type of forgiving attitude might not seem possible or even healthy. Yet, there is scientific evidence that perhaps “natural selection has endowed the human mind with a ‘forgiveness instinct’ (The Forgiveness Instinct, n.d.).”

A forgiveness instinct may be thought of as “an adaptive solution to problems” in
environments where people are highly dependent on complex networks of cooperative relationships, policing is reliable, the system of justice is efficient and trustworthy, and social institutions are up to the task of helping truly contrite offenders make amends with the people they’ve harmed (The Forgiveness Instinct, n.d.).

A ‘forgiveness instinct’ then, understands that one’s own protection and safety happens in loving community, and it responds to transgression in a way that is likely to build and maintain loving community, even in the expression of violence. Perhaps anger and resentment (those feelings that would fuel retaliation and retribution) are not always the natural human response. Sometimes, it can be understood, that experiencing sadness (without an accompanying anger) and working toward the reconciliation of broken relationships will serve human needs in a much more fruitful way, than could attitudes and actions that might stimulate continued violence.

Knowledge in alternative ways to respond to harm can shape how one responds in such situations. The Amish learn their forgiveness response (‘instinct’) culturally, through their religious teachings and through their family traditions (The Forgiveness Instinct, n.d.). Their response to transgressions is not dependent on others’ actions, such as receiving an apology. In the circumstance of the Nickel Mines tragedy, the Amish acted quickly, reaching out to offer love, forgiveness and a way to heal, where such actions were neither expected nor sought. In these actions, the Amish have been a living testament of the way to peace, as their spiritual tradition has taught them. By their living testament to their faith, the Amish are also teaching how one can ‘do peace’ to ‘the world’.

The Amish testament of faith in loving kindness is a type of living memorial to the life, death and teachings of Jesus Christ. In the Huffington Post, September 30, 2011 article, Amish Memorials: The Nickel Mines Pasture and Quiet Forgiveness, author Donald Kraybill (n.d.) stated, “Memorials reveal the deep values of the people that create them.” Memorials are symbols, and their meanings, or rather how one thinks of memorials and monuments, determines whether they may be beneficial or harmful. To state this in another way, perhaps it is one’s worldview that determines one’s interpretation of, and therefore the principles expressed, though the creation of a memorial.

In some circumstances, memorials and monuments may be used as a way to ‘never forget’ and in this they may act to perpetuate anger and even justify retribution and retaliation. For example, the 9/11 Memorial and Museum in Manhattan, NY is designed to help us to ‘never forget’ concerning the 9/11 tragedy that took place there in 2001. It is clear that the expression of remembrance by this memorial is that of great loss and anger. According to the official 9/11 Memorial website,

The names of every person who died in the 2001 and 1993 attacks are inscribed into bronze panels edging the Memorial pools, a powerful reminder of the largest loss of life resulting from a foreign attack on American soil and the greatest single loss of rescue personnel in American history (9/11 Memorial, n.d.).

We can think of and relate this sort of memorial to the angry actions to the Muslim community that continue to take place as a violent retaliatory response to the 9/11 tragedy. In this way, the reminder (the memorial or monument) may be harmful as it may perpetuate pain, anger and even violence, as a way of ‘honoring’ lost loved ones.

Yet, there are some types of memorials that do not act to perpetuate pain, anger and violence, but instead act to heal and reconcile broken relationships. An example of a healing response to the 9/11 tragedy is a particular Mennonite response. In order to commemorate the lives lost that tragic day, they offer the story of STAR: Strategies for Trauma Awareness and Resilience (STAR: The Unfolding Story, 2001-’11, n.d.). This is a “training program, born from the ashes of 9/11”, that is currently being used as a healing model around the world (STAR: The Unfolding Story, 2001-’11, n.d.). This response, that these Mennonites have created as a different type of memorial, offer healing to those harmed on that fateful day, and it also offers healing to a larger world community in a way that can create a world with a greater degree of healing, reconciliation, and world peace, in addition to remembering lost loved ones.

Another type of memorial that was created in order to intentionally bring about goodness as a response to tragic events is another Amish living memorial. The Amish response to the Nickel Mines tragedy was to tear down the hurtful reminder of the schoolhouse and turn that place back into a pasture (Kraybill, n.d.). They built a different type of remembrance by planting five evergreens there (a living testimony to their five lost loves ones). These trees’ branches reach toward heaven as a way to continually remind their community of the loving and forgiving response that Jesus demonstrated as an example for peace-loving Christians to imitate (Kraybill, n.d.). These five trees remind the community that the forgiving, healing, reconciling response is the response of goodness in the face of wickedness as they remember their loved ones. The Amish living tree memorial is also one that offers the entire world a reminder that there is a way to create peace out of chaos.

The forgiving, healing, peaceful response to transgression creates a space for healing, growth and the reconciling of broken relationships. This worldview is generative, not destructive. The ‘world’ was astonished by the Amish’s immediate actions of forgiveness and reconciliation with the Roberts family. They were able to do this because they were able to recognize a larger perspective than simply their own. They could see that the Roberts family must also be experiencing pain and suffering. They could see that the mainstream culture is also experiencing pain and suffering as it was demonstrated by the violent actions of Mr. Roberts. The Amish loving, forgiving and peaceful actions (even as their hearts ache) puts a stop on the violent reactions that can take place in the aftermath of such a terrible event. As a result of the loving, forgiving, healing, peaceful actions of the Amish, the ‘world’ has become much more interested in learning to live in this way.


9/11 Memorial. (n.d.). 9/11 memorial. [Web page] Retrieved from

Hershberger, Guy F. (1957). Nonviolence. Global Anabaptist Mennonite Encyclopedia Online. Retrieved 15 January 2014, from

Kraybill, D. B. (2006). Forgiveness clause. Christian Century, 123(22), 8-9.

Kraybill, D. (n.d.). Amish memorials: The Nickel Mines pasture and quiet forgiveness. [Web page] Retrieved from

Kraybill, D. (n.d.). Why the Amish forgave so quickly. The Christian science monitor [Web page]. Retrieved from

Kraybill, D. B., Nolt, S. M., & Weaver-Zercher, D. L. (2010). Amish grace: How forgiveness transcended tragedy. John Wiley & Sons.

STAR: The Unfolding Story, 2001-’11. (n.d.). STAR: The unfolding story, 2001-’11. [Web page] Retrieved from

The Forgiveness Instinct. (n.d.). The forgiveness instinct. [Web page] Retrieved from

Who Are the Mennonites? (n.d.). Who are the Mennonites? [Web page]. Retrieved from

© Nancy Babbitt and Just Desserts Blog, 2013-2014. Unauthorized use and/or duplication of this material without express and written permission from this blog’s author and/or owner is strictly prohibited. Excerpts and links may be used, provided that full and clear credit is given to Nancy Babbitt and Just Desserts Blog with appropriate and specific direction to the original content.

Forgiveness in Art: A Comic Approach to Forgiveness Performances

We can explore and learn about human attitudes and behaviors through artistic means.  The performing arts are an example of a medium that can be used in this way.  For example, the use of a humorous sketch can be used as an entertaining way of exploring some of the human attitudes and behaviors that are related to our notions of forgiveness.

An example of a humorous sketch concerning the topic of forgiveness was aired September 14, 1974 in the first episode of season eight of The Carol Burnett Show titled, Eunice and Ed take Mama to Church:  Forgive Your Enemies.

Forgive Your Enemies Part 1                        Forgive Your Enemies Part 2

This sketch uses the techniques of “satire and observational comedy” as it “subtly pokes fun of real life occurrences and real-life human behaviors”, related to our notions of forgiveness by “inflating them and making fun of them (The Family Sketch, n.d.).”

This sketch brings to life the difficulty that people sometimes have in reconciling their very human (and opposing) instinctual inclinations to a “desire for revenge” and their “capacity for forgiveness” as they attempt to “make the world a more forgiving, less vengeful place (The Forgiveness Instinct, n.d.). ”


The Family Sketch. (n.d.). The family sketch. [Web page]. Retrieved from

The Forgiveness Instinct. (n.d.). The forgiveness instinct. [Web page] Retrieved from

© Nancy Babbitt and Just Desserts Blog, 2013-2014. Unauthorized use and/or duplication of this material without express and written permission from this blog’s author and/or owner is strictly prohibited. Excerpts and links may be used, provided that full and clear credit is given to Nancy Babbitt and Just Desserts Blog with appropriate and specific direction to the original content.

Monuments and Memorials – Symbols of Un-forgiveness or Symbols of Forgiveness?

Memorials and monuments are symbols. Their meanings, or rather how one thinks of memorials and monuments, determines whether they are beneficial or harmful. What I mean by this is that perhaps it is one’s worldview that determines one’s interpretation and therefore the experience that is derived from a memorial or a monument.

For example, some folks certainly do use memorials and monuments as a way to ‘never forget’ and to perpetuate anger and even justify retaliation. For example, I often see Facebook posts to ‘never forget’ concerning the 9/11 tragedy. We can think of and relate this sort of ‘memorial’ to the angry actions to the Muslim community that continue to take place as a violent retaliatory response to the 9/11 tragedy. In this way, the reminder (the memorial or ‘monument’) may be harmful as it may perpetuate pain, anger and violence.

Sometimes memorials exist even as they are not consciously recognized as such. An example of such a memorial could be the transformation of the  continent of North America that has taken place as a result Western European colonial expansion. For me, attempting to understand how Native-Americans might feel concerning the loss and harm that they have experienced (and continue to experience) as a result of Western European imperialistic colonial expansion is difficult, because I am a recipient of the benefits of that social change, not a member of the oppressed culture. Yet, I am certain that Native-Americans experience daily reminders of their past and present injuries because the dominating mainstream U.S. culture serves as a constant reminder, even if no formal ‘monument’ exists. This type of memorial, therefore, may be an obstacle to healing, because it can be a constant reminder of one’s ongoing pain.

Other memorials are created as living memorials in order to intentionally bring about goodness as a response to tragic events. I think of the lyrics from a song in the children’s musical Chitty Chitty Bang Bang, “up from the ashes come the roses of success” and relate this to the Amish response to the Nickel Mines tragedy that took place on October 2 of 2006 . The Amish community had the school where the tragic event took place torn down, and with it the hurtful reminder. They built a different type of remembrance by planting evergreens (a living testimony) that reach toward heaven as a way to continually remind their community of the peaceful response that Jesus the Christ (the word Christ to be understood as ‘the way’) demonstrated as an example for peace-loving Christians to imitate and live.

The peaceful response creates a space for the reconciling of broken relationships. It is generative, not destructive. The ‘world’ was astonished by the Amish immediate actions of forgiveness and reconciliation with the transgressor’s family. The Amish were able to recognize a larger perspective than simply their own. They could see that the shooter’s family must also be experiencing pain and suffering. They could see that the mainstream culture is also experiencing pain and suffering as it was demonstrated by the violent actions of the shooter. The Amish forgiving and peaceful actions (even as their hearts ache) puts a stop on the violent reactions that can take place in the event of a tragedy. By their action, the ‘world’ has become much more interested in this peaceful forgiving, generative response. Roses are growing up from the ashes.

I also think of another tree-planting response to violence theme in the poem ‘Torture’ by Alice Walker, author of the novel, The Color Purple.

Alice Walker Torture Video from Amnesty Bermuda on Vimeo.

Please also listen to Ms. Walker speak about response to tragic events as she discusses the reason that she wrote The Color Purple here:

Alice Walker’s novel, The Color Purple, can act as a memorial, a testament to the lives of the African-Americans that lived, suffered, loved, joyed and died as a certain notion of ‘progress’ shaped a new country.

These three examples of memorials offer very different perspectives for one to consider. Surely, when a monument or memorial is intentionally built it’s purpose is to remember. Other memorials exist perhaps unintentionally, but because they generate memories, they are a memorial. Other times a memorial may be built in order to achieve growth, that is, to inspire a path toward healing, forgiveness, and perhaps reconciliation of damaged relationships. How one thinks about a memorial depends on the assumptions concerning the purpose of the memorial and this also depends on the worldview, history and circumstances of the person interpreting meaning from the symbol.

Memorials can act as symbols that remind us of a path toward healing and forgiveness. Sometimes, arriving at a state of forgiveness must be incredibly difficult.  Therefore, thinking of forgiveness might be better understood as a process. That is, a process that begins with pain, and perhaps even anger, but moves toward increasingly positive attitudes and/or actions that takes place in such a way as to bring about greater emotional, physical and/or relational healing. In this way, forgiveness is not something that is done and completed, but something that continues to take place and something that continues to bring benefit to those involved in the forgiveness process. Memorials can help us to accomplish this type of healing and forgiveness, if we choose this path.

© Nancy Babbitt and Just Desserts Blog, 2013-2014. Unauthorized use and/or duplication of this material without express and written permission from this blog’s author and/or owner is strictly prohibited. Excerpts and links may be used, provided that full and clear credit is given to Nancy Babbitt and Just Desserts Blog with appropriate and specific direction to the original content.

Forgiveness in Native-American Experience

Experiences of loss, slight and compromise are common occurrences to many native people in nations that were conquered as a result of the Western European colonial expansion that began in the 16th century.  For example, in what is now known as the United States of America, many native people(s) experienced situations of genocide, ethnic cleansing and forced assimilation as a consequence of this social change.  The anger that has resulted from these injuries has made it difficult for Native-Americans to experience a process of forgiveness as a response to the harm they continue to suffer.

One group of Native-Americans that experienced great loss was the Dakota people.  During the 17th century, Manifest Destiny, the Euro-American principle that the United States were destined by God to expand the virtues of empire across North America, was used to promote an acceleration of territorial expansion.  As a result of this expansion, the native peoples were forced to move to and live on ‘reservations’.  The land of the Dakota tribes became the Dakota Territory on March 2, 1861, until November 2, 1889, when the final portion of the then reduced territory was admitted to the union as the states of North and South Dakota.

During this time period, there were many conflicts and struggles between the native people and the pioneers.  Most notable were the U.S. – Dakota Conflict that took place on December 26, 1862 and the Wounded Knee Massacre that took place on December 29, 1890.  The U.S. – Dakota Conflict was the “largest mass execution in U.S. history” when “thirty-eight Dakota warriors were executed (Dowlin & Dowlin, 2002).”  At the Wounded Knee Massacre, hundreds of Lakota Native-Americans were killed and at least twenty U.S. soldiers were awarded The Medal of Honor, the U.S. military’s highest honor for their military action (Green, J., n.d.).  The Dakota people experienced immeasurable loss from these events: They were removed from their homeland, their way of life was forever changed, and there was a loss of trust between the Dakota people and the non-Dakota people.


The loss to Native-American people is not only an historical occurrence, because loss from these events continues to this present day.  For example, as portrayed in Native American Survival Challenge:  Forgiveness v. Anger (One sky above us: The West, 1996), Albert White Hat (1938-2013), a Lakota man and teacher of Lakota language, at 16 years of age, was sent to St. Francis Jesuit Mission School, a boarding school.  Before that time, he grew up in his traditional Lakota culture ‘of stories’.  The purpose of the boarding school system was to force assimilation of Native-Americans to the dominant mainstream U.S. culture.  The students were not allowed to practice their traditions or speak their native language.  The boarding school system “killed those stories”, and with them, the Lakota culture, and for Albert White Hat, shame resulted (One sky above us: The West, 1996).  In this way, the loss experienced by the Lakota people, as a result of Western European imperialistic economic expansion, is unending.

For Native-American people, individually and as communities, forgiveness is difficult because they experience daily the injustices they currently endure.  Albert White Hat spoke of policy and laws that were imposed on Native-Americans by the white-man’s government and their schools.  These policies and laws, such as the 1851 Treaty in which the ‘Sioux’ tribes lost most of their land, were created with intention to destroy the native people and their culture, and appropriate native people’s land and resources for capitalistic gain to the benefit of non-native U.S. citizens.  In this way, Native-Americans and their culture and history were systematically excluded from mainstream U.S. culture and society.   Native-American people live daily with the injustices imposed upon them by mainstream U.S. culture and its government and policies, and therefore, forgiveness is an ongoing process that, as Albert White Hat said, will not end for hundreds of years (One sky above us: The West, 1996).  Forgiveness is difficult because of the ongoing hardship that must be endured as the result of loss of home, loss of way of life, and a loss of trust, but also because of the shame that results from the oppression imposed on them by a dominating culture.

Shame is a feeling of dishonor, and it is the opposite of self-respect.  Dakota and Lakota people feel shame as a result of living with a morally incompatible lifestyle and belief system that was and is imposed on them by another dominating culture.  The shame experienced through the oppression of a dominating morally incompatible worldview (a moral conflict) presents itself in a different sort of societal relations understanding and expression.

One illustration of incompatible expression is in the worldviews of the Dakota people in contrast to that of the U.S. government, and this is what eventually led to the U.S. – Dakota Conflict.  The Dakota worldview includes a certain understanding and expression of the notion of ‘relatedness’ as it pertains to ‘family’, ‘friends’, ‘father’ and ‘land’ (Dowlin & Dowlin, 2002.).  This is especially important to know in order to understand the Dakota notions of the ‘fatherly’ role of the U.S. government.  From the Dakota perspective, according to Anderson, as cited by Dowlin & Dowlin (2002), “fathers always willingly shared whatever they possessed with their children” and in contrast, the Euro-American use of the word father “means an authoritative, controlling relationship.”  This difference in worldviews concerning family relatedness explains how the territory treaty signing symbolized different meanings for these two groups.

The Dakota and the non-Dakota people held conflicting worldviews as expressed through their definitions and assumptions concerning the concept of ‘relatedness’.  The U.S. government understood the expression of treaty signing “as a way to dominate the Dakota and gain possession of the continent” and by this, the “Dakota were left with confined living areas (reservations), restricted activities, and eventually unfulfilled promises of needed provisions (Dowlin & Dowlin, 2002).”  The Dakota people likely felt resentment and anger due to the fact that they were misunderstood and therefore deceived in such a way that they now lacked self-respect because they lived in a degrading and shameful situation of relative helplessness and poverty.

In a similar way, theses two incompatible worldviews presented themselves in the expression of spoken language.  This was evident when Albert White Hat discussed how the oppressive boarding school system did not allow the students to speak their own language, and insisted on the use of the English language instead (One sky above us: The West, 1996).  The impact to Albert White Hat was that, because of the moral conflict in this situation, he felt shame and an overwhelming anger and he held onto that anger for many years.  At one point in his life, he felt that he had no choice but to kill members of the dominating oppressive culture in order to honor his ancestors.  For Albert White Hat, shame led to resentment, resentment led to anger, and anger led to thoughts of violence (as a way of regaining self-respect) and that blocked the path of forgiveness and healing.

Albert White Hat was feeling a great deal of shame, resentment and anger, and he was thinking violent thoughts, but deep down inside, what he really wanted was to live and to be happy.  He came to this awareness after spending some time fasting and meditating.  One day, when he rose in the morning and faced the East (which, in Native-American culture symbolizes renewal), he came to the realization that he did not want to follow a path of violence, but instead he felt that he deserved to live and to be happy (One sky above us: The West, 1996).  He knew that he had to forgive in order to do so.

As demonstrated in the experience of Albert White Hat, a state of un-forgiveness can be the source of many social ills including substance abuse, and by extension – spousal abuse, and even suicide.  An example of how forgiveness may help in the recovery of substance abuse, specifically that of alcoholism, is told by Sr. Molly Monahan, in her essay, Forgiveness in A.A (2008).  Sr. Monahan wrote that the stories of forgiveness, as told by fellow members of Alcoholics Anonymous (AA), acted as “a faith that works” to heal.  She said that she heard of others’ experiences concerning the restorative powers of forgiveness. Then, when she reached step five of AA’s twelve-step recovery program, she experienced that she was, as were others, able to forgive not only the transgressions of others, but also her own transgressions.   She wrote that by this experience, she “came to believe that a Power greater than ourselves could restore us to sanity (Monahan, 2008).”  By this account, it appears that a state of un-forgiveness can perpetuate destructive addictive behavior, whereas a process of forgiving can be healing.

Furthermore, a 2011 study, Forgiveness, Depression, and Suicidal Behavior Among a Diverse Sample of College Students, suggested that forgiveness, as a voluntary “coping process . . .may buffer . . . poor mental health outcomes (Hirsch, Webb & Jeglic, 2011).”  The researchers concluded from their study that “forgiveness of self and others could be an important way to reduce the interpersonal distress and depressogenic ‘psychache’ that often precipitate a suicidal crisis (Hirsch, Webb & Jeglic, 2011).”  Therefore, it seems that if a state of un-forgiveness may be a source of social problems, it would be reasonable then, that forgiveness could be a way to resolve them.

An extraordinary example of forgiveness acting as a balm to heal social ills and moral conflict between Native-Americans and non-native people is documented in Healing History’s Wounds:  Reconciliation Communication Efforts to Build Community Between Minnesota Dakota (Sioux) and Non-Dakota Peoples (Dowlin & Dowlin, 2002.).  The authors of this paper begin their account with an explanation of a moral conflict, explaining how it existed and still exists between the Dakota people and non-Dakota people, and conclude the account with details concerning a model that aids a process of forgiveness and reconciliation that is currently in process between these two groups of people.

Dowlin and Dowlin (2002) detailed the moral conflict that existed between the Dakota and non-Dakota people.  They cited Pearce and Littlejohn concerning what takes place “when two incompatible social worlds collide” when they wrote,

1) Each side considers its own position vital and sees the adversary’s position as dangerous; 2) persons set aside feelings and beliefs that don’t fit easily with official positions and statements associated with their ‘‘side’’; 3) valid concerns on both sides are belittled, and important values are denigrated; 4) passion, energy, and material resources are depleted in fruitless and redundant battles; and 5) persons are left frustrated, turned-off, and despairing (Dowlin & Dowlin, 2002).

The moral conflict between the Dakota people and non-Dakota people cause people in both cultures to misunderstand and distrust one another, to avoid one another, to discount each other’s point of view, and to engage in costly conflict.

As illustrated above in the examples of what led to the U.S. – Dakota Conflict and the experience of Albert White Hat, the moral conflict between the Native-Americans and non-native people was evidenced by the incompatible understanding and expression of ‘relatedness’ in their differing worldviews.  Additionally, the colliding worldviews included different notions concerning power relations.  The Dakota maintained a relational, decentralized power structure, while in disharmony with Dakota values, the Euro-American model of power was a hierarchical and centralized system (Dowlin & Dowlin, 2002).  Because of these differences, the resulting initial response to one another was one of disgust (Dowlin & Dowlin, 2002.).  The resultant conflicts that ensued led to Native-Americans being forced by the dominant culture, to live in isolation on ‘reservations’.  It is clear to see in this situation how the ignorance concerning each other’s way of understanding, and how the negative feelings of resentment and distrust that each group held concerning one another could result.

In spite of the seemingly insurmountable dilemmas caused by clashing worldviews, the Dakota people and non-Dakota people are now beginning a process of sharing and learning, which is resulting in a movement toward understanding, healing and reconciliation between these groups of people.

Dowlin and Dowlin (2002) explained that this movement toward transformation began with the efforts of two men who met on a fishing trip in 1958, Amos Owen, a Dakota and Bud Lawrence, a non-native businessman.  They engaged in “on-going visits, lengthy conversations, shared experiences in the way of family get-togethers, and the eventual collaborative creation of communally shared Dakota and non-native activities, which contributed to increased mutual understanding and appreciation of each other’s culture and uniqueness (Dowlin & Dowlin, 2002.).”  This set the stage and a model of action that aids a process of forgiveness and reconciliation at the community, state and national level.

What began in 1963 as a mini-pow wow as an educational opportunity for children expanded to intentional acts demonstrating respect, honor and friendship and the promotion cultural learning opportunities.  It included a ninety mile walk by Lawrence and two other friends from his university in Mankato to Red Wing, Minnesota and another pow wow in reciprocation (Dowlin & Dowlin, 2002.).  These reciprocating communal events that demonstrated respect, honor and friendship, and offered educational opportunity continued and expanded and began a healing process between the Dakota and non-Dakota communities (Dowlin & Dowlin, 2002.).

Of special interest are the events that took place that served to commemorate the thirty-eight warriors who perished during the U.S. – Dakota Conflict.  First, Lawrence began a yearly observance to the thirty-eight lost warriors by going to Mankato to offer prayers for the fallen men each December 26th, the day of the massacre (Dowlin & Dowlin, 2002.).  Then a pow wow was planned and dedicated to the memory of the lost warriors and took place at the Mankato city ball park (Dowlin & Dowlin, 2002.).  The event was successful in that many showed up, but it was financially difficult to continue (Dowlin & Dowlin, 2002.).  Amazingly, a stunning occurrence happened just before the dancing began, thirty-eight bald eagles circled above the baseball field as if to “solidif[y] the understanding that Mankato events would commemorate the 38 executed Dakota (Dowlin & Dowlin, 2002).”

As a result of these happenings, efforts to continue community actions of “dialog, collaboration, and communally shared experiences” expanded even to the state level and beyond (Dowlin & Dowlin, 2002.). Especially notable is that Governor Rudy Perpich even proclaimed 1987 to be ‘The Year of Reconciliation’ in Minnesota in observance of the 125th anniversary of the 1862 U.S. – Dakota Conflict (Dowlin & Dowlin, 2002.).  The result of this effort is that the actions continued and expanded such that a ‘Year of Reconciliation’, a ‘Decade of Reconciliation’ and even a ‘Century of Reconciliation’ was declared outside of Minnesota borders, including actions taken by churches, schools, and governments, and these actions were further supported by the media (Dowlin & Dowlin, 2002.).

What began as a friendship between two men from very different cultural backgrounds expanded to a national level cross-cultural exchange.  What is being created by these types of events is a “place where dialogue, ‘new ceremonies,’ shared meanings, and shared histories [can] take place (Dowlin & Dowlin, 2002.).”  In other words, Native-American history, culture and experience are becoming more and more accepted elements of U.S. culture.

In fact, these same types of methods of reconciliation are now being used in the growing field of Peace and Justice and the practice of Restorative Justice.  One especially pioneering group of individuals that work in the Restorative Justice field is the Mennonite Anabaptists.  The Anabaptists are another group who have historically experienced situations of oppression and extermination by a dominating culture because of their different cultural beliefs.  Many individuals of their group were murdered for their religious beliefs during the Radical Reformation period of the Catholic Church that began during the sixteenth century in Germany and Switzerland, as documented in the Martyr’s Mirror (1994).  This is the group from which the Amish have descended.  Members of the Amish religious sect shocked ‘the world’ by their very quick forgiveness response to a tragic occurrence when an angry shooter killed five students and harmed five others at their Nickel Mines School, in Pennsylvania on October 2, 2006.  In the wake of this tragedy, the Amish community responded with forgiveness and kindness to the deceased shooter’s family.  In doing so, they practiced their deep faith in the ways of Jesus Christ by offering “forgiveness and actively making peace” as an “alternative to perpetual fear” and strife (Kasdorf, 2007.).   The Peace and Justice field and Restorative Justice programs are not forgiveness per se, yet they have similar elements of practice that result in relationship restoration and the healing from transgressions.

In Anabaptist circles, which include the peace churches of the Mennonites, the Amish, the Hutterites, and the Brethren in Christ, Howard Zehr is considered the ‘grandfather’ of the Restorative Justice practice in the field of Justice and Peacebuilding (Global Anabaptist Mennonite Encyclopedia Online, n.d.) (Howard Zehr, n.d.).  The model of Restorative Justice that he advocates incorporates cultural values of both the Native-Americans and the Maori of New Zealand in his philosophy that includes the “core values” known “as three ‘R’s’ – respect, responsibility and relationships (Restorative Justice and Peacebuiding, n.d.).”  Zehr states that the Center for Justice and Peacebuilding at Eastern Mennonite University “is organized around three central fields: trauma awareness and healing, conflict transformation and restorative justice. Several other auxiliary fields include healthy organizations and community development.  (Restorative Justice and Peacebuilding, n.d.)”  The methods used in the EMU Center for Peace and Justice programs mirror the methods currently being used by the Dakota people.

That the methods used by less dominant cultures are being studied and in turn now used by the dominant culture in order to create spaces for dialog, collaboration, and communally shared experiences in order to foster forgiveness and healing is encouraging.  As cited by Kazdorf (2007), David L. Weaver-Zercher affirmed the notion that “the Amish symbolically function as ‘a saving remnant’ within the dominant culture.  Perhaps this is true also for the Maori and the Native-American peoples and other non-dominant cultures, too.  Non-dominant cultures have been systematically oppressed and excluded even as they have so much to share with the people of the dominating culture; it is comforting that this is now changing.

To summarize, Native peoples experience a great deal of loss including negative social and health effects that are a result of a morally conflicting worldview imposed on them as a consequence of Western European colonial expansion.  The oppression they experience has, for many years, blocked the way of forgiveness and healing.  Yet, what began in the 1950s as a friendship between a Dakota man and a non-Dakota man has become a healing model that has expanded to a national level.  This model of reconciliation aids a process of forgiveness by using indigenous values in order to bring disparate groups together through communal events that demonstrate respect, honor and friendship, and offer educational opportunities as a way of fostering understanding and reconciliation among these people.  This is restoring self-respect for Native-Americans and allowing a space for healing.  These same methods are now being used in other peace and justice programs.  It is clear that the spiritual, emotional, and intellectual, effort that is required in order to understand and forgive transgressions may be key to achieving a world of greater justice and peace.


Dowlin, S. L., & Dowlin, B. (2002). Healing History’s Wounds: Reconciliation Communication Efforts to Build Community Between Minnesota Dakota (Sioux) and Non‐Dakota Peoples. Peace & Change, 27(3), 412-436.

Global Anabaptist Mennonite Encyclopedia Online. (n.d.). Global Anabaptist Mennonite encyclopedia online. [Web page] Retrieved from

Green, J. (n.d.). The medals of wounded knee. Nebraska history [Web page]. Retrieved from

Hirsch, J. K., Webb, J. R., & Jeglic, E. L. (2011). Forgiveness, depression, and suicidal behavior among a diverse sample of college students. Journal Of Clinical Psychology, 67(9), 896-906. doi:10.1002/jclp.20812

Howard Zehr. (n.d.). Howard Zehr. [Web page] Retrieved from

Kasdorf, J. (2007). To Pasture: “Amish Forgiveness,” Silence, and the West Nickel Mines School Shooting. Cross Currents, 57(3), 328-347.

Monahan, M. (2008). Forgiveness in AA. (Cover story). Human Development, 29(2), 16-19.

One sky above us: The West, a film by Stephen Ives. (1996). Films On Demand. Retrieved February 24, 2014, from

Restorative Justice and Peacebuilding. (n.d.). Restorative justice and peacebuilding. [Web page]. Retrieved from

Van Braght, Thieleman J., and Thieleman J. Braght. Martyrs mirror. Herald Press, 1994.

© Nancy Babbitt and Just Desserts Blog, 2013-2014. Unauthorized use and/or duplication of this material without express and written permission from this blog’s author and/or owner is strictly prohibited. Excerpts and links may be used, provided that full and clear credit is given to Nancy Babbitt and Just Desserts Blog with appropriate and specific direction to the original content.

Life Choices: Understanding Sources that Shape Our Perceptions and Behaviors

Many people like to believe that we are all solely responsible for the decisions that we make in our lives, and that we are solely responsible for our own life outcomes, too.  Although I do agree that we each should be held accountable for the decisions we make and the actions we take, it is equally important to understand that we do not make decisions and act completely on our own.  Instead, we make our decisions and act within the constraints of a very complex social order.

The following statement by President Obama (that became very controversial) in the speech that he made in his 13, July 2012 presidential campaign event that took place in Roanoke Virginia, communicated how the complexity of life choices and outcomes are shaped by a larger social order.  The president said,

If you were successful, somebody along the line gave you some help.  There was a great teacher somewhere in your life.  Somebody helped to create this unbelievable American system that we have that allowed you to thrive.  Somebody invested in roads and bridges.  If you’ve got a business, you didn’t build that.  Somebody else made that happen.  The Internet didn’t get invented on its own . . . The point is, is that when we succeed, we succeed because of our individual initiative, but also because we do things together (President Obama Campaign Rally in Roanoke, n.d.).

View full speech here:

I will stress that what President Obama said was that, even as we act as individuals, we also, as a society, do things together.  Explaining this, in his speech, President Obama mentioned infrastructure, such as the building of bridges and the connectivity we have achieved as a result of the invention of the Internet.  I believe that President Obama was alluding to (or rather suggesting) how bridges and connectivity are built within a society in other ways, too.

Social connectivity takes place in such a way that individuals learn how to think and act within the constraints of their individual and collective histories, their cultural customs, and through a process of socialization that perpetuates and reinforces the maintenance of cultural and social practices.  For the most part, individuals make important life decisions in such a way that they perpetuate and reinforce sociocultural structures by following social norms, obeying authority, and through the adoption of imposed roles.  What this means is that, even for choices made by individuals, social forces play a major role in the decision-making processes and therefore, social processes also play a major role in people’s life outcomes.

For example, the suggestibility[1] of U.S. mainstream culture encourages us to embrace a belief in a ‘rugged individualism’ in that we each are responsible for our own individual decisions, actions and outcomes in life.  This ideology can be evidenced in President’s Hoover’s 1928 campaign speech when he spoke of ‘equal opportunity’ as the unique ‘American’ institution that had allowed the U.S. to ‘advance’ beyond all other nations in the world.  He said,

During one hundred and fifty years we have builded [sic] up a form of self-government and a social system which is peculiarly our own. It differs essentially from all others in the world. It is the American system…. It is founded upon the conception that only through ordered liberty, freedom and equal opportunity to the individual will his initiative and enterprise spur on the march of progress. And in our insistence upon equality of opportunity has our system advanced beyond all the world (Herbert Hoover, “Rugged Individualism” Campaign Speech, n.d.).

What President Hoover failed to mention in his speech about the virtues of freedom and opportunity were the number of citizens that were historically excluded from realizing equality of opportunity in the U.S.  For example, in the year that he gave this speech, women and people of color did not have equal rights and opportunity to the same degree that white-skin men enjoyed because of social norms, cultural practices, and even laws.

Women were ‘given’ the right to vote only eight years prior, and were limited by social norms and customs in many other ways.  Likewise, African-Americans and other people of color were routinely excluded from political processes until the Voting Rights Act of 1965, amongst many other discriminatory actions perpetrated and enforced by the dominating white-skinned, male majority.  Therefore, individuals in these marginalized groups did not experience the same degree of opportunity to ‘pull themselves up by their bootstraps’ as did white-skinned men, who were afforded the privilege of greater opportunity and participation in mainstream society.

This notion, this false ideology, that the U.S. is a land of equal opportunity has carried forward to the present day.  The rugged individualism that mainstream U.S. culture, through suggestibility, ‘teaches’ us to believe is rather mythical because it is based on a limited (white-skinned male privilege) perspective, which is lacking a larger historical, social and cultural context.

Therefore, with this contextual understanding, it is clear that life choices, or rather the opportunities that individuals may or may not enjoy in life are, for the most part, limited within certain societal contexts, or constraints.  Tod Sloan, author of Life Choices: Understanding Dilemmas and Decisions (Lives in Context) (1996), wrote about decision-making processes in relation to historical, social and cultural context in a related but different way.  He said that he wrote this book as an antidote (or ‘antiguide’) to traditional self-help books designed to counsel people through their dilemmas and make better difficult life decisions.  The argument that Sloan focused on was that clinical psychology, which is used in many self-help books, centers on an accepted wisdom (perhaps wisdom that is based in cultural attitudes that reinforce a western worldview ideology of individualism) concerning peoples’ choices without regard to any context.

What this means is that the limited perspective of clinical psychology does not consider the historical, social or cultural context when attempting to explain the processes involved in people’s decision-making activities.  Sloan asserted that decision-making could be best understood by considering not only one’s personality, but also the context of one’s life history, of social circumstances, and of one’s cultural ideology.  These ideas expand the notion that our life choices and decisions are shaped not only by our own inclination but also by the larger society.

Sloan questioned how people make decisions when faced with the “options” and “constraints” of “going along with the crowd” or else listening to their own “inner voice” when these two options seem to be in opposition (Sloan, 1996, pp. 2-3.)  In other words, he questioned how people might attempt to be authentic by keeping their decisions and actions in line with their character or identity, while also fitting in and benefitting from the larger society, because sometimes these goals are contradictory to one another.

Therefore, in order to reconcile these conflicting values, a degree of self-deception or rationalization, or rather a degree of face-making, in order to fulfill one’s intentions, desires or wishes takes place.  Sloan stressed that when a person’s ability to be authentic is limited by the complexity of historical, social, and cultural constraints, their choices and their freedom are limited, too (Sloan, 1996, p.14.).  Sometimes, life choices are difficult decisions to make, or rather dilemmas, because in order to be authentic in regard to certain aspects of one’s character or identity, it may require one to compromise by way of self-deceptions or rationalizations.

Knowing the human tendency for one to compromise in situations where conflicting values emerge, in order to protect one’s identity, can be key to understanding why some folks were angered by President Obama’s assertion that ‘you didn’t build that’, and that ‘somebody else made that happen’.  This can be explained with a hypothetical example:

If, for instance, I want to believe that I am a good, hard-working individual who has worked for everything that I have, then perhaps I don’t want to know an historical, social or cultural context in relation to U.S. social dynamics.  Perhaps, my self-concept of being a good, hard-working person doesn’t want to look back into history to see how certain social institutions, like slavery, had been built; and perhaps I don’t want to see how other social systems (like racism) have been constructed and maintained over the years, thereby limiting certain individual’s (out-group members) opportunities.  Knowing an historical context would be in conflict with my self-concept, therefore I tend to ignore the historical truth.

Additionally, If I want to believe that I am a hard-working individual who has earned everything I have, perhaps I don’t want to know how mainstream U.S. culture creates social norms, and sets policy in such a way that certain groups are privileged simply by their membership in a dominating group, while those in the minority are excluded and therefore, disadvantaged.  Understanding the social context, inclusive of the ‘authority’ imposed by a dominating mainstream culture would be in conflict with my self-concept, therefore I rationalize against this truth.

Furthermore, because I want to maintain my good-person, hard-working identity, perhaps I don’t want to know that others work just as hard, and possibly even harder than I do, and yet realize situations of disadvantage, such as living in poverty.  Perhaps I’d rather deceive myself and rationalize that I am financially better situated because I have worked hard for my privilege, and that ‘the poor’ are poor because of their own poor life choices.  Once again, my self-concept encourages me to delude myself into incorrectly thinking that I have greater privilege than others simply because I work harder than they do.

Finally, perhaps I don’t want to see that we rely on each other and the complex networks and systems that we create, or rather that ‘we do things together’. Instead, I’d prefer to believe in a western worldview ideology of ‘pulling oneself up by his bootstraps’ rugged individualism than to see a larger perspective inclusive of the connectivity among individuals.  Maintaining this sort of ideology allows me to ignore a larger historical, social, and cultural context in order to rationalize my greater degree of privilege.

Key to understanding the angry response of some folks, to President Obama’s suggestion that it is not only individual agency that creates one’s situation of wealth and prosperity, is knowing that the angry response is a defense mechanism that was activated in order to protect people’s self-concept or identity.  In this way, the suggestibility of the dominating rugged individualism ideology combined with a need to protect one’s self-concept is able to sway people’s opinions (of themselves and others) far from the truth.

Social forces such as following social norms, obeying authority, the adoption of imposed roles, the effects of suggestibility, and a tendency to compromise in certain situations by way of self-deceptions or rationalizations, all play a large part in an individual’s decision-making process.  Because of this, the actual degree of freedom of choice and outcome that individuals have might, in fact, be overestimated.  Another way to look into these social dynamics concerning the influences on decision-making is by examining the results of two important classic psychological experiments.

People are socially connected in the way that they respond to one another, such as how they respond to authority.  For example, social psychologist, Stanley Milgram (1933-1984), during his professorship at Yale University during the tumultuous 1960s, conducted studies, specifically as experiments in obedience to authority.  His goal was to understand how it was that average ‘normal’ German citizens, during World War II, participated in the cruelty towards and the extermination of the Jewish people.  He wanted to understand why those people did not resist the authority and instead act in ways consistent with their own morals and values.  The goal of the experiment was to test to what degree average individuals selected from U.S. society would follow through with the instructions of an authority figure to inflict harm on others, even if against their morals.  The very high degree of willingness to inflict harm on others when told to do so by an authority figure shocked the researchers.  The researchers discovered that obeying the orders of an authority figure, even against one’s morals, was a societal and cultural norm, not only in Germany, but it was a social norm in the U.S., also.

It is important to understand that social or cultural norms make it difficult for people to see clearly.  In other words, because a circumstance seems ‘normal’ to people, it can, many times go unnoticed, such as we hardly notice the presence of air until we have difficulty breathing.  An example of unobserved cultural norms are Milgram’s thoughts concerning obedience as described in his paper, Behavioral Study of Obedience (1963).  In this paper, he wrote that obedience is a “basic element in the structure of social life” and that “[s]ome system of authority is a requirement of all communal living, and it is only the man dwelling in isolation who is not forced to respond, through defiance or submission, to the commands of others.”  It is interesting that Milgram ignored the violent nature of forcing others into actions of submission or defiance.  It is also interesting that he maintained assumptions about the ‘goodness’ of a need for a dominating authority, as did the participants in his study.

The participants were told that they would be assisting in the learning of the “effects of punishment on memory”.  More specifically, they were told,

For instance, we don’t know how much punishment is best for learning—and we don’t know how much difference it makes as to who is giving the punishment, whether an adult learns best from a younger or an older person than himself—or many things of that sort (Migram, 1963.).

The assumption was that the punishment by an authority is good for learning.  It seems that the suggestibility in a common authoritative utterance, ‘I’ll teach you a lesson’ in reference to a punishment, perpetuates the belief that punishment and teaching go hand-in-hand. Milgram wrote in his discussion of the findings of nine “features [that] help to explain the high amount of obedience obtained in this experiment” but he did not acknowledge the violent nature embedded in the assumption that punishment helps one to learn (Milgram, 1963.).  Apparently, neither did the any of the participants, because they went along with the experiment.  Likewise, Milgram did not distinguish benevolent leadership from violent domination.  Perhaps the high number of participants that followed through with the administration of what they perceived to be a ‘Danger: Severe Shock’ to a learner who answered incorrectly was also directly related to a larger social context in that the social norms of mainstream U.S. quite violent at that time period of U.S. history, even as they went unnoticed.

Perhaps violent cultural norms also explain the results of what came to be known as the ‘Stanford Prison Experiment’ that took place in 1971 at Stanford University, and which was funded by the U.S. Office of Naval Research.  In this experiment, under the authority of social psychologist, Phillip Zimbardo, participants adopted imposed roles, that of prisoners and guards, and they engaged in their roles with such intensity and negative effect on the ‘prisoners’ (who were having mental breakdowns as a result of the experiment), it was necessary to end the experiment early for everyone’s wellbeing.

The Human Behavior Experiments 2006 from Connected Foundations on Vimeo.

Dr. Zimbardo discussed these events, as was portrayed in the 2006 documentary film The Human Behavior Experiments (n.d.).  He indicated that he did not recognize the change in himself – the move toward violence, even as he was studying why and how other people could act with such cruelty toward others (The Human Behavior Experiments, n.d.).  Professor Zimbardo had transformed into a sort of mad scientist, leading cruel experiments on others.  He said that he did not put and end to his madness until Christiana Maslatch, his soon to be wife, alerted him to his personality change, saying that “the power of the situation has transformed you from, from the person I thought I knew to this person that I don’t know (The Human Behavior Experiments, n.d.).”  Even the researcher, Professor Zimbardo, was transformed by the circumstances of the experiment, “seduced into doing things [he] never thought [he] could (The Human Behavior Experiments, n.d.).

Dr. Zimbardo, an expert trial witness to one guard involved in the Abu Ghraib torturing of prisoners, during the Iraq War, related his prison experiments to the torturing of Iraqi prisoners (The Human Behavior Experiments, n.d.).  He explained that he could see the similarities between the prison experiments and what had happened at Abu Ghraib.  He concluded that the guards were not ‘bad apples’ so to speak.  They were, instead, average people acting within a corrupt system.  They were good people responding to a “cruel environment without clear rules (The Human Behavior Experiments, n.d.).”  It was the system that was bad, not the individual actors.

The system that was bad was a system that created a space and an allowance for people to act outside of less violent social and cultural norms.  They were allowed and even encouraged to interrogate by means of cruel physical and mental abuse in order to coerce a desired response from prisoners.  A new more violent culture was created within the Abu Ghraib facility, in which the prison guards assimilated.

A most telling statement in the documentary The Human Behavior Experiments (n.d.) was when a researcher commented concerning the ‘Stanford Prison Experiment’.  He said “they ended up punishing those prisoners as though they had done something wrong (The Human Behavior Experiments, n.d.).”  This is what the prison guards at Abu Ghraib did also, they punished before a conviction.  Yet, the researcher had difficulty seeing that perhaps the ‘wrongdoing’ of the individuals may have been created by an unjust system, and therefore punishment is possibly not the best response.  In other words, the researcher still believed in a violent ideology that was imposed by the suggestions and authority of a larger society that maintains a limited western worldview that stresses the goodness of rugged individualism and denies the reality that we do things together.

The researchers still grappled with the constraints of a very complex social order.  Even as they were drawing conclusions that it is the bridges and connectivity, or rather the systems of a social order that shapes individuals’ decisions and actions, they still had difficulty seeing social norms that suggest the acceptability of a certain degree of violence from select individuals.  They still believed that violence, if done by good people as a way to punish bad people, could be acceptable.  They still believed in the socially constructed roles of helpless victimhood, bad offender, and the punishing authority.  Because of this, they were not open to see that other responses to offenses can be more effective than punishment, or else they would not use such language as they did.  The complexity of the larger dominating violent social order constrained the researchers ideas such that they were not free to consider nonviolent responses to an injustice.  Therefore, even they continued to perpetuate a violent system.

How individuals respond to the dilemmas they face is shaped a great deal by a larger social order.  The decisions they make and the actions they take must be understood in context.  This context includes an individual and societal history, plus social and cultural forces, including the following of social norms, the tendency to obey authority, the adoption of imposed roles, the effects of suggestibility, and a tendency to compromise in certain situations by way of self-deceptions or rationalizations.  This context shapes individual perceptions and behaviors and it influences their decision-making and life choices.  Understanding the complexity of ‘individual’ decision choices can prevent us from yielding to external social pressures or influences such that we are better able to listen to our own ‘inner voices’ and remain authentic to our true selves.

Effective decision-making, that is decision-making that allows one to remain authentic to oneself, involves critical thinking, and that requires an understanding that an historical, social, and cultural context interacts with a person’s thinking processes and shapes their perceptions and their behaviors.


Asch, S. E. (1955). Opinions and social pressure. Readings about the social animal, 17-26.

Herbert Hoover, “Rugged Individualism” Campaign Speech. (n.d.). Herbert Hoover, “rugged individualism” campaign speech. [Web page]. Retrieved from

The Human Behavior Experiments. (n.d.). The human behavior experiments. [Web page] Retrieved from

The Human Behavior Experiments. (n.d.). The human behavior experiments. [Web page] Retrieved from

Milgram, S. (1963). Behavioral study of obedience. The Journal of Abnormal and Social Psychology, 67(4), 371.

Philip Zimbardo: The Psychology of Evil. (n.d.). Philip Zimbardo: The psychology of evil. [Web page]. Retrieved from

President Obama Campaign Rally in Roanoke. (n.d.). President obama campaign rally in Roanoke. [Web page]. Retrieved from

Sloan, T. S. (1996). Life choices: Understanding dilemmas and decisions. Denver, CO: Westview Press.

© Nancy Babbitt and Just Desserts Blog, 2013-2014. Unauthorized use and/or duplication of this material without express and written permission from this blog’s author and/or owner is strictly prohibited. Excerpts and links may be used, provided that full and clear credit is given to Nancy Babbitt and Just Desserts Blog with appropriate and specific direction to the original content.

[1] Suggestibility is a theory proposed in 1955 by psychologist Solomon E. Asch, in which social experiments explained how the use of suggestions (and especially suggestions combined with group pressure) can affect one’s opinions and even sway people’s opinions far from the truth (Asch, 1955).

Silence: A Form of Violence

Silence is a form of linguistic violence. The violence is apparent in what is communicated by the lack of speaking. Or as illustrated in the circumstances of this 18 February Climate Change news report, linguistic violence may present itself as the veiling or suppression of the truth. Purposefully influencing what may or may not be said can be a means for “the powerful alteration of reality”, which is a type of coercion and a form of violence, even when on the surface silence may seem rather benign (Apressyan, 1998). Therefore violent language does not even need to be heard in order to be violent.

Here is an excerpt of the report:
Joyce Labrecque, Andy, Jeri Labrecque, Marc Labrecque, Daniel Labrecque, Luc Labrecque, Richard Labrecque, Robert Labreque, Karla Labrecque, Jules Labrecque, Simone Labrecque, Donald Labrecque, Erin Labrecque and Thera Breau. Published with permission of Karla and Alain Labrecque. Erin Steele/Peace River Record-Gazette/

Meet The Family The Tar Sands Industry Wants To Keep Quiet


Meet The Family The Tar Sands Industry Wants To Keep Quiet

There is an abandoned house in Alberta, Canada, where Alain Labrecque used to live. Tucked in the farming community of Peace River, it is a place brimming with personal history, rooted to his grandfather’s land where his parents and eight aunts and uncles grew up, and where Alain’s own children were born. Now, Alain’s property and the surrounding area are primarily home to large, black cylinders of oil.

The oil is from Alberta’s much-famed tar sands, a large area of land that contains clay, bitumen, and a good deal of sand. Inside the tanks, heavy crude from the sands is heated, until it becomes viscous enough to transport. Many of those tanks currently vent freely into the atmosphere.

As the third-largest proven crude oil reserve in the world and the key ingredient of the controversial Keystone XL pipeline, and with production value that is expected to nearly triple by 2018, the Canadian tar sands have become an unseen symbol in America. For some, that symbol represents jobs, energy security, and economic prosperity. For others, it’s pollution, addiction to fossil fuels, and a threat to a livable climate. What generally is not conveyed, however, is an image of the families who live there, and who have been there long before the tar sands boom.

Continue reading Climate Progress News Article here.   


Apressyan, R. G. (1998). Violent speech. Peace Review, 10(4), 587.

© Nancy Babbitt and Just Desserts Blog, 2013-2014. Unauthorized use and/or duplication of this material without express and written permission from this blog’s author and/or owner is strictly prohibited. Excerpts and links may be used, provided that full and clear credit is given to Nancy Babbitt and Just Desserts Blog with appropriate and specific direction to the original content.

Framing Our Perceptions

When I became a mother, how I perceived the whole world changed.  Before that time, I was influenced much as ‘mainstream U.S. culture’ is influenced:  By the media.  I was a typical consumer.  I had notions that what I should do with my life was to work hard to ‘get ahead’ and work hard – play hard.  I lived my life for me, never questioning whom it was that I was trying to get ahead of, or whom it was that I was leaving behind.  Additionally, I did not realize that another way of perceiving my lifestyle was thinking of it as one of over-consumption.  My way of thinking changed as a result of my decision to homeschool my children.

At the time that we decided to be a homeschooling family, my husband, Bill, and I, decided to lighten our work schedules to make time for teaching.  Because of our then limited income, we determined that we would become a little less wasteful, a little more resourceful, and a lot more self-sufficient.  My new reading genres included topics such as thrift, frugality and homesteading.  This lifestyle of teaching our children also led me to my own new learning adventure, including learning a new way of life – a more-with-less lifestyle.

I discovered the more-with-less ideology from a cookbook, The More with Less Cookbook (1976), by Doris Janzen Longacre.  This cookbook contained simple recipes and suggestions on how to eat better and consume less of the world’s limited food resources.  I also read its companion book, Living More with Less (1980), also by Doris Janzen Longacre.  This book offered its readers a pattern for living with less and a wealth of suggestions for simple, sustainable, sane and healthy living.  These books taught me ‘another way’ to frame my thinking.  They opened my eyes, transformed my worldview, my value systems, and my way of life.  This other way is a way of consuming less of the world’s limited resources while at the same time living life more.  The more-with-less books, by Doris Janzen Longacre are about food, consumption, and social justice.  I’ve come to think of the more-with-less concept as a way of creating a world of greater social justice, or rather different way of thinking about getting our ‘just desserts’.

In retrospect, I can see that the dominant culture’s influence had a major impact on my youth, including my opinions, decisions, and actions.  Yet, at that time, I did not recognize that fact.  I lacked knowledge concerning the social realities of ‘others’, and especially of others in what we, in the western world, now label ‘developing countries’.  I did not have a very good understanding of my own situation of extreme privilege in relation to worldwide realities.  It was not until I had a need to learn another way of living for my own personal wellbeing that I became conscious of how little I knew.  I can see now that my knowledge was especially lacking concerning other ways of thinking related to resource scarcity and how people choose to relate to one another, and how they think of personal wellbeing.

In my youth, during the Reagan years, I bought into the political propaganda of that time.  Many people (including myself) loved him for his trickle-down economic policy, which became known as “Reaganomics”.  Reaganomics, by decreasing tax rates, also increased the wealth of the wealthy and it also increased the consumption ability of the not so wealthy.  This increased ability to consume felt like increased wellbeing to me.  Businesses loved Reagan because he deregulated industry.  This helped to keep prices low, and also created notions of wellbeing that I bought into.  His stand against the U.S.S.R., and all things communist, provided the country with an opposition and therefore also a patriotism to root for.  This felt good to me, too.  While Ronald Reagan was president, it seemed that economy prospered and it felt as though I was prospering, too.  I now know that although the country enjoyed high employment rates, and a rather prosperous few years, Reagan also made a lot of decisions that were detrimental in the long term.  In reality, national debt increased, and this is what allowed for the impression of prosperity.  His actions against the air traffic controllers strike acted to dismantle the power of organized labor.  The deregulation of many industries helped business prosper, but at the cost of the environment. His escalation of the Cold War against the U.S.S.R. helped to increase the number of nuclear weapons on the planet.  His new laws for drug offenses increased incarceration rates and the racial disparities in the prison population, while doing nothing to curb illegal drug use. Today, I now know that we live with greater environmental concerns, greater amounts of national debt, a new industry based on incarceration with its new form of slave labor, and we have an income disparity larger than ever before. It is clear to me today that the negative impacts of the economic policies of this skilled actor (that seemed very good at the time) still plague us today.  I can see by my change in worldview in circumstances of politics and social justice that our modes of thinking and perceiving the world are not fixed, but rather, they are influenced and can and do change over time.

My most current knowledge of world affairs no longer comes exclusively from popular culture news sources.  It now comes primarily from a new education.  The combination of homeschooling my children, and learning about alternative (less-consuming) lifestyles had led me to desire a college education (something that I previously did not have the privilege to pursue) at a rather late stage in my life.  This is how my political opinions have been persuaded, by my new education.  Today, I am very glad for my new greater awareness and understanding of the world and my place within it.  In retrospect, I can see that although my youth was very ‘real’ to me, I truly lived in a sort of fantasy world that was based more so on a white-washed history and that of myths than it was on reality.

I also now have a new understanding of wellbeing.  My priorities have changed.  I no longer attach my self-worth to my socioeconomic status or my ability to gain material possessions or to my ability to consume.  I now think of wellbeing in terms of quality time with my family, and how satisfied I am with my overall life outcome.  I now think of my life in relation to the past and the present and also in relation to the experiences of others on a worldwide scale.  I have found that I have become a much more grateful person, realizing the degree of privilege that I possess.

My new awareness allows me greater choice and opportunity than what I had before.  This is mainly because I now have a more expansive view and therefore understanding.  I am able to see from perspectives inclusive of other’s viewpoints.  I am less likely to think in terms of either/or and right or wrong.  I am also beginning to see the world less objectively and more relationally, instead.  The framing of my thoughts is changing according to the new information I am gaining.

One very important change in my awareness is that I now understand that many of my thinking processes, like everyone else’s, may very well be short of being completely rational. Daniel Kahneman, Nobel laureate in Economics and author of Thinking, Fast and Slow (2011), in his conversation with Richard Layard at the London School of Economics (Thinking Fast and Slow, n.d.) explained how the human mind works in non-rational ways.  He referred to the ‘fast and slow’ thinking as system one, and system two.  System one is a fast, automatic, effortless, intuitive thought process, but it has a weakness in that its intuitive nature is prone to errors.  System two monitors and controls behaviors.  It is slower, more laborious and a more accurate process; yet it is prone to “paralysis by analysis”.  What this means is that our brains “produce mistakes” when they do not have skilled knowledge for the questions they must respond to.  In these types of circumstances, they use the information they do have (including unskilled intuitions and strong emotions) to make a “consistent story” that may be very convincing and compelling, yet prone to error.  The subconscious thinking of system one does a great majority of the brain’s work, and it does it very efficiently, but sometimes at the cost of rationality.

Marketers are aware of this shortcoming in people’s ability to rationalize, and this is why they appeal to people’s emotions rather than rationality when selling products and services to make a profit.  This leads to the reason that a psychology professor was a recipient of a Nobel Prize for economics.  Kahneman questioned standard economic theory that assumes people have consistent and stable preferences and use them to make rational decisions.  Against popular belief, Kahneman proved that people do not always respond to situations rationally.

This new understanding of people’s thinking errors carries implications for the importance of public policy and government regulations.  If people are rational then there is no need to protect them from their own mistakes, but if people are not always rational thinkers, and they are prone to making highly predictable mistakes, then perhaps a degree of policy and regulation is warranted as a means of protection against predators.

Public policy and government regulation are important safeguards against predation by unscrupulous business practices, and so is education.  Kahneman stated that his main reason for writing the book Thinking, Slow and Fast was to “educate gossip” by introducing more sophisticated concepts concerning how people make decisions.  He said that giving people this knowledge along with a terminology and a language to use, would help them in finding and correcting their own thinking errors, in addition to thinking errors of others.  The purpose of his book was to bring awareness of our individual and collective cognitive biases, so that we may protect ourselves against them.

This is, in a way, what the more-with-less books did for me, because they corrected my thinking biases.  I had grown up in a very individualistic culture, and one that is based on economic principles established on a need to compete for limited resources.  The more-with-less books taught me that there are other ways of thinking about resources and economy.  For example, instead of competing for resources, I learned that we could conserve resources.  Likewise, instead of competing with one another, we could work together cooperatively and in collaboration with one anther.  This new way of life, one that I am still attempting to develop, is credited to Doris Janzen Longacre, because she gave me a new language to use, and a new way to frame my thoughts.  Likewise, my education is continuing the process by introducing more sophisticated concepts, terminology, and language such that where my mental processes may fall short, I can be aware of the tendency so that I may safeguard myself, and perhaps others also, against them.

© Nancy Babbitt and Just Desserts Blog, 2013-2014. Unauthorized use and/or duplication of this material without express and written permission from this blog’s author and/or owner is strictly prohibited. Excerpts and links may be used, provided that full and clear credit is given to Nancy Babbitt and Just Desserts Blog with appropriate and specific direction to the original content.