In a tense, hushed Dallas courtroom earlier this month, 18 year old Brandt Jean, tugged at his collar, choked back emotion and looked at Amber Guyger, the woman who had killed his brother. “If you are truly sorry,” he said to the former policeman, “I forgive you…I hope you go to God and ask him, he will forgive you.”
Jean continued his victim impact statement with, “I love you as a person and I don’t wish anything bad for you…I personally want the best for you.”
After getting permission from the presiding judge, Jean left the witness stand and hugged Guyger.
In a later interview, Jean said that he had waited to hear “I am sorry…that’s when I forgave her.”
Dallas City District Attorney John Creuzot reacted with surprise. In 37 years of law practice, he said that he had never seen “anything like that.” Creuzot called it “an extraordinary act of healing and forgiveness.”
Guyger shot Jean’s brother, Botham, in his own apartment on September 6, 2018. He was unarmed and eating a bowl of ice cream at the time of his death. Guyger said that she entered the wrong apartment and thought that the 26 year old Jean was an intruder.
Guyger was convicted of murder and sentenced to ten years in the state penitentiary.
Millions have seen the video of Jean’s statements on network news and social media. Many have commented — positively and negatively — about it.
The fairness of Guyger’s sentence, the moral and ethical issues connected to the entire process are for others to sort out — what is of interest here is the quality of mercy demonstrated by Jean.
No matter what other circumstances exist, he certainly has a right to grieve in the manner that he deems best for himself — if that includes a strong religious platform, so be it.
Psychologists have researched forgiveness — and its opposite state, unforgiveness — in great detail for years.
Results of that research indicate that forgiveness — a cognitive and emotional decision to release or let go of feelings of resentment aimed at a transgressing person or entity, even if they are not deserving of that release — is healthful behavior.
Compassionately moving on from an event, even one as traumatic as murder, leads to less anxiety, less anger, less despair. And forgiveness has been shown to reduce the negative physical impact of the transgression — specifically, cardiovascular problems.
That doesn’t mean turning a blind eye to the event, nor papering over truly conflicting emotions that are bound to occur — but rather a reasoned acceptance of the transgression and its perpetrator. There’s an emotional resilience that accompanies this process.
As Martin Luther King, Jr. said, “Darkness cannot drive out darkness, only light can do that. Hate cannot drive out hate — only love can do that.”
The beneficial nature of forgiveness and obtaining forgiveness are cornerstones in religious practices, Christian or non-Christian; these practices date back thousands of years.
For example, Yom Kippur, the Day of Atonement, was just observed this week — it is a 25 hour period devoted to fasting and prayer that is centered on forgiveness.
In atonement, Jews go through repentance (accepting responsibility for wrongdoing), apology, reparation (making amends) and penance.
The late Herman Wouk, bestselling author and a steadfast observer, wrote this about his religion:
“The spirit of Yom Kippur is a spore out of which the structure of our old religion can grow again…it is the germ of the whole and it does not die.”
When Brandt Jean forgave Amber Guyger for murdering his brother, he expressed a loving reconciliation in the most difficult of conditions. It was an act of selflessness that merits recognition, whatever the religious or therapeutic implications.
Forgiveness and healing appear to be good for the soul — whether that soul is immortal or not.