Accepting the unthinkable. The senseless death of a family. The made for TV movie plot twist of the drunk driver whose path crossed theirs.
When the day began, the cast of characters had no clue that it would end in tears and devastation, or the ripple effect that it would create. A few months ago, I had the pleasure of meeting a woman who, based on her notoriety, media savvy, level of success and poise on the stage, could have been intimidating, but instead I found her to be warm, engaging, open-hearted and on a clearly-defined mission, which is to spread the word about forgiveness as a healing force. Her name is Shawne Duperon. She is one of those players in the heart-wrenching story.
According to her website ShawneTV: “This six-time EMMY Award winner has been in the television business for nearly 20 years. She has taught thousands how to communicate as leaders through powerful networking, social media and exquisite media interviewing skills. She themes her trainings around love, fear, and forgiveness and works with corporations, entrepreneurs, universities and government agencies all over the world. Her story of overcoming child sexual abuse has inspired thousands.
She’s collaborated with many best-selling authors and has replaced Bill Ford of Ford Motor Company when she spoke at the Department of Defense. She has interviewed most of our recent US presidents and has filmed hundreds of celebrities including Morgan Freeman, Yo Yo Ma, Senator John McCain and Secretary of State Hillary Clinton. You’ve watched her on national networks such as CBS’ “The Early Show” and have seen her featured in newspapers such as “USA Today,” “The Washington Post” and “The Chicago Tribune.”
One of her personal passions is the work she does with multicultural groups to help delete media stereotypes through strategic communication. Shawne is currently a PhD candidate, creating leading-edge research on the relationship between mass media and gossip (yes, gossip!). Her message: knowing how to create and navigate communication skills as a leader is the secret to unlimited marketing and personal power.”
“A few years ago, a man named Gary received news that his wife Judy and their children, twelve-year-old Alex and nine-year-old Sam were hit by a drunk driver and did not survive. Project: Forgive Producer Shawne Duperon, is a friend of Gary’s. What’s more, the driver turned out to be yet another of Shawne’s family friends, Tom Wellinger.”-Project: Forgive
I offer you an inspiring conversation with Shawne as she speaks eloquently about many things, including the redemptive power of forgiveness. Good thing I had tissues at the ready while speaking with her about some painful subjects.
Edie: I noticed immediately in your presentation in Philly you generously sprinkled humor throughout. Why is that?
Shawne: Who we are is play and fun, just like we were when we were kids. As soon as you bring in play and fun, especially in training, then you have the audience in your pocket, because we are dying to play. We get so serious. We gotta make money, we gotta get through this, we gotta achieve. We carry all this baggage. When we can lighten up and play a little bit….whew, miracles happen.
Edie: One of the humorous ideas you brought up is the ‘fart concept.’ Can you elaborate on that?
Shawne: When I first started using that concept about five years ago, I really struggled with it because I don’t like fart jokes. I think they’re stupid, quite frankly. Something as base and silly as farting and using it as an analogy for fear, people can really see that a smell that lasts a minute and a half or five minutes is the only thing that’s stopping them from pursuing their dreams. You only have one life.
It took a while to incorporate it, because corporations would say “You can’t talk about farting.” It’s not how you talk about farting; it’s your way of being when you talk about farting. Someone can say something about farting and it lands really weird. The way that I do it works on the realm of play, high consciousness and using it as a metaphor for fear.
Edie: The other term that you reframe is ‘gossip.’
Shawne: The word comes from academia. I’m getting my PhD in Gossip. I know it’s silly. There are about 100 of us in the world who are experts in the realm of gossip. When I first started calling myself a ‘Gossip Expert,’ I had corporations that I worked for who said “Please don’t use that, because gossip has such a bad connotation.” This reframe has become part of my brand.
Gossip comes from the word God Sibb, meaning ‘close to God.’ Most people don’t know that. It was revered because of women who would share the news that a child was born in a community. We just created and encultured it with a bad connotation. When you think about it, gossip is actually word of mouth. Gossip, according to research, is primarily good and that mean, nasty stuff is only about 5-7 percent and that reframe can actually cause miracles in people’s lives. I use academic theory to use good gossip to promote Project: Forgive.
Edie: One of things that have gone viral is a video about Project: Forgive.
Shawne: The video is significant because it taps into our biology. It’s not manipulation. It’s not trying to get people to look at something. The reason it works is that it is deeply authentic and we know when something is authentic. It tells the amazing story of Gary Weinstein losing his family and how he coped with that. It has authentic sharing of small children, four year olds, and it shares how you can get involved in it.
Forgiveness transcends everything. It transcends gender, race, religion, politics, immigration; all of that. At our heart and soul and the depths of our being, we simply want to connect and be happy and live a beautiful life. All those different aspects of that video which was brilliantly shared in a powerful way; it’s like all the energies in the Universe collaborating in synch is what made the video go viral.
Edie: How do you define forgiveness?
Shawne: Forgiveness is whatever you say it is. What I have learned since embarking on this journey and tens of thousands of emails and calls and postings and Facebook pages getting a ‘like’ every 20 minutes, everybody has a different definition for it. T
he one that I find resonates most deeply with me is a lot of what Archbishop Desmond Tutu teaches and that is one of the reasons he endorsed us. He is the forgiveness maven of the world. He speaks on forgiveness and has a book coming out on forgiveness. It is non-religious and non-partisan. My personal definition is that it is not something you do. Forgiveness is a way of being. It is a mature, spiritual, emotional ability to accept an apology that you will never receive.
Edie: As you are saying that, I am tearing up a bit, since it really landed with me.
Shawne: Edie, I’m feeling the same way. That’s why it resonates so deeply, because it so authentic and hits the core of who we are, which is amazing, lovely, exquisite humans. When we tap into whom we are, any project will fly and that’s why Project Forgive is soaring and that’s why people like Archbishop Desmond Tutu are coming forward. That’s why social media is going crazy. That’s why we were on CNN.
Edie: I have a singer/songwriter friend named Jon Michaels who wrote a song called “The Gift of Forgiveness” that you will want to listen to. The lyrics are “I wore my anger like an armor, cause I thought it made me stronger, but the angrier the weaker I became. The gift of forgiveness, you don’t just give to somebody else. The gift of forgiveness is a gift you give yourself.” Why is forgiveness an essential nutrient for our wellbeing?
Shawne: We always hear about the phases of forgiveness, but I love to talk about the importance of anger. A lot of us bypass the anger and go right to denial and just “I’m going to forgive them and take the high road.” I believe that is a mistake since anger is so important. One of the things I did when I made that video is ask 24 little four year olds “What’s forgiveness?” I also ask them “What is anger?” All 24 of them said “Anger is bad.” That really struck a chord in me, because we perceive anger to be a bad thing, similar to gossip. We think gossip is bad. Right now we see anger as violence, rape, domestic violence, it eats your soul. Think of it this way; anger is just an emotion and if someone giggles, you wouldn’t think nuthin’ of it. If you giggle, it’s fun. It’s an eruption of an emotion.
Now, if someone were laughing hysterically all day long, you’d put them in an insane asylum. Anger is similar to that. Anger is an emotion that comes up, you manage it in the moment, you breathe through it and you let it go or deal with it. It’s a signal that something needs to change. If you’re angry all the time, that’s when it’s an issue. We tend to put anger in that mode of violence and bitterness. When you stay stuck in it and suffer when you’re in it, that’s the kind of anger we want to alleviate and relieve. I believe that our inability to be with anger is at the heart of all addictions, whether it is sex addiction, food addiction, busy addiction, achievement addiction.
What’s underneath anger is usually grief and the thing we want to avoid like there’s no tomorrow is grief. When you deeply grieve, that’s when the miracles happen. That’s when forgiveness happens. I’m not talking about being sad and suffering for 25 years because your child was killed by a drunk driver. I’m talking about going through the grief of losing someone dear or getting breast cancer or losing your home or losing your job. When you can feel the anger and get to the grief underneath, that’s when freedom occurs, that’s when true forgiveness can happen. It’s the vulnerable, intimate ability to embrace and feel your grief and a lot of us don’t get to grief because we think we are bad people if we feel anger.
Edie: Can you share about the serendipitous occurrence that led to Project: Forgive?
Shawne: Let me just lay the groundwork. Everything that I do in my business as a speaker in communication leadership is wrapped around forgiveness. Forgiveness has been my baby for 20 years. As a business owner, you take a risk. Maybe you ask for a job. You go on camera. You’re never going to do it perfectly, especially when you re in risk taking mode, in that farting mode. You’re going to screw up. And the game is how quickly you’re going to forgive yourself, grieve your losses so you can get back to that awesome love space that you were creating and generating. As an incest survivor, having this piece on forgiveness is a natural fit.
The day that I found out that Gary Weinstein’s family was killed by a drunk driver, it was a take your breath away kind of day. My children babysat his children. Judy Weinstein was my husband’s business coach and this was a significant day. It became more significant and quite clear that a movie was born when a couple hours later I got a call saying that the man who killed them was also a dear family friend. It still moving for me to share that now, because I knew in that instant that my unique predicament; and this is not about me… I happened to be sitting in the middle of these two dichotomous ideas. One was that Tom Wellinger killed a beautiful, lovely family and he’s in jail, appropriately so. And on the other hand, I was seeing Tom who killed this family who is an amazing, extraordinary human being whose family flew in that day to do an alcoholic intervention the next day. They were a day late. I knew something miraculous was going to come out of this. This emotional maturity to hold two dichotomous ideas in your brain; that is the breakthrough in forgiveness right there.
We see it everywhere. We see it with divorce, with the divorce rate the highest it’s ever been. If we can’t forgive our most beloved, that we have had intimate and beautiful lovemaking with and we have children with, how can we forgive global war? It’s not going to happen. A new paradigm has got to exist.
On that day when my dear friend Tom killed my dear friend’s family, I knew that was the heart of the ability to hold Tom in both places at once; to have empathy for Tom and be angry with Tom for taking away a family. It’s the same conversation with politics when you look at Republicans and Democrats. We’re in a civil war. We hate each other. Everything is based on hate and until we can get to a place where we can hold these two perceptions where I have my beliefs as a Republican and I don’t honor Democrats… until I can respect Democrats, whatever it takes to do that, no movement will happen. It’s an internal conversation.
Can we forgive our husband or partner for leaving their socks on the floor? Can we forgive our boss for not giving us our promotion? It’s a deep, emotional, mature ability. It’s a skill. Part of Project: Forgive is to explore these skills and see forgiveness for what it is. It’s a way of being. To differentiate between forgiving and forgetting and acceptance and forgiveness which are very different things.
Edie: Is self-forgiveness and self-compassion the first step before we can forgive other people?
Shawne: That’s what everybody thinks, but actually, we’re much more generous with other people. We have a tendency to forgive others first and it’s the hardest to forgive ourselves. The practice comes externally first and as we get more masterful at it, then we can start forgiving ourselves. When you can forgive yourself, you can forgive everyone and accept an apology you never received.
Edie: Who are you for having gone through this experience?
Shawne: I have to say that I am the happiest that I have ever been. It’s a funny way to look at it. Things happen exactly the way they are supposed to. If Judy and Sammy and Alex hadn’t died, this movie would never been born and global transformation wouldn’t have been possible. Archbishop Desmond Tutu wouldn’t have jumped on board. Whatever their soul contract was for being here, they created such a service to humanity and I couldn’t be more tickled. It doesn’t mean that I don’t miss them. Over all, I feel like the luckiest woman alive.
Edie: How is Gary doing now? How long has it been?
Shawne: It’s been eight years and this is what is so beautiful about it. Sammy and Alex would be graduating from high school, so Gary doesn’t get to see them graduate. Does it mean he hasn’t forgiven Tom because some days he’s so ticked off that he doesn’t get to see them graduate from high school? No, it’s an ebb and flow. You can be so forgiving and wish Tom the best and hope he can forgive himself and there are some days when you are so ticked off that their lives were cut short. What shifts is the intensity and capacity to get out of suffering and simply feel grief.
Edie: What matters most to you?
Shawne: Ultimately, forgiveness is at the heart of everything. Watching the good gossip go viral and flourish in this conversation of emotional maturity, I am in my passion and mission.
Go to www.projectforgive.com to see how you can get involved.
To learn more about Shawne, go to www.shawnetv.com
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Ed: Sara Crolick