Sandy Hook, Choice Theory, and Forgiveness
It is one of the most significant of all human qualities – that being the ability to forgive. I was reminded of this truth from a remarkable source – Newtown, Connecticut.
My cousin, a school administrator in New York City, knowing of my interest in choice theory, recently sent me an article* written by Dr. Anthony Salvatore, president of the Newtown Association of School Administrators. It turns out that Newtown schools, including Sandy Hook Elementary School, have been studying and implementing the ideas of William Glasser and choice theory since the early 1990s. As a result, Newtown has sought to be a needs-satisfying school system for students.
In the aftermath of the unspeakable tragedy that occurred at Sandy Hook Elementary, Dr. Salvatore represents a voice of healing. Even his comments about the shooter reflect compassion.
“Although I will never know the answer,” he begins, “I keep thinking of what the conversation was that was going on in Adam Lanza’s head. How can we do better in school to help avoid this behavior again, even knowing we can’t control someone else’s behavior, but we can control the conditions around that person. And that takes a whole global community, not just a school or a classroom. Suicide is a final act and one that tells me he saw no other option for meeting his basic human needs. Did he feel like he was loved and belonged to his family or community? I don’t know. Did he feel like he had power in his life to feel competent about who he was? I don’t know. Did he feel like he had a choice in his life besides taking his own life? I don’t know. Did he feel like his life was filled with fun? I don’t know.”
Salvatore emphasized the need for schools to build positive relationships with students “so they can learn how to make the best choice for meeting their own needs and for helping others in society meet theirs as well. Building on the value of relationships and choice, he closed the article on a note I will not soon forget. His vision of forgiveness is more than inspiring!
“It’s time to focus on cooperation instead of competition in our society. It won’t bring back the lives of the 28 victims who died on Dec. 14, 2012, but it will honor the sacrifice they made that day. My fear is we will make the same mistake other communities have made and not recognize that Adam Lanza also was a victim that day. This is where Newtown can truly be a leader toward a new vision and new understanding. We need forgiveness on so many levels, but we first need healing. We already know from research that isolating bullies in school is harmful to the individual and to the school climate. Alienating someone from a community only exacerbates the feeling of powerlessness and not belonging. We must forgive mistakes and nurture our capacity to do good. We have control over that.”
May Dr. Salvatore’s words be an invitation and inspiration to each of us. May the Spirit work in us to prepare our hearts to respond to others, even those who do us harm, with similar compassion.
Forgiveness is such an essential part of good mental health. Within the scheme of choice theory, though, where does it fit in? Which of the basic needs, for instance, are being satisfied when we forgive someone?
My mind quickly goes to the need for love and belonging. Forgiveness has to do with our relationships. We seek forgiveness, whether from an earthly friend or our heavenly Father, to restore a relationship. And we offer forgiveness for the same reason – to restore or maintain a relationship.
What about the other needs, though. Does forgiveness satisfy the need for power in some way? How about the need for freedom? How about the need for joy and fun? And we shouldn’t leave out the physiological need for survival. Does forgiveness impact us on a physiological level?
I would like to hear from you regarding forgiveness and the basic needs. How does forgiveness help us meet our psychological or physical needs?
A few of us have started a Facebook page also called The Better Plan. We want it to be a collecting point for choice theory ideas and strategies. I invite you to join us. An article was posted today from a primary grade teacher who has just learned about choice theory on how her management is going to change this coming school year. Great stuff! Check it out.
* This article appeared in the Summer, 2013, edition of The Leader, the newsletter of the American Federation of School Administrators.