Today I want to talk about forgiveness. I met with my friend Rob today and as we got chatting he told me about an incident where a friend had hurt his feelings and he had now written her off and cut her off for life. I challenged him on his thinking and it led me to document my thoughts. What if that were to happen to me each time I offended someone; would I have any friends or family left? I don’t think so. We are often too quick to condemn others, to write them off because of some small mistake. We need to remember that we are not perfect ourselves.
"Forgiveness is not an occasional act: it is an attitude" (Dr Martin Luther King, Jr). We are not photocopies of each other; we will hurt each other from time to time. Do we not want to be forgiven? Forgiveness – the willingness to let go of pain, resentment, bitterness and anger – is the beginning of a healing process. Often those who caused the pain are long gone, oblivious or uncaring of the effects of their actions. The healing therefore takes place in the person who has the strength to forgive and move on. This healing is holistic – mind, body and soul; for our thoughts, bodies and behaviour are all interconnected and in they in turn affect our soul. Nothing dries sooner than tears (Latin proverb). Life has enough hills to climb; we do not need any more baggage. A refusal to forgive can lead to hatred and “hatred has no medicine” (Ghanian proverb). It eats at your body and soul.
What role does forgiveness play in business? Throughout my study of business I have never encountered any theory that explored corporate error. Is there no place for mistake and forgiveness in business? Sure there is! Do you not forgive your co-worker who fails miserably in pitching for an important contract or a boss who makes bad decisions? In one of my previous roles I was working with a senior colleague who totally lost focus and started to neglect the business because of a dangerous romantic liaison. He was totally blind to the fact that this was hurting the business badly. Consequently, the business struggled and eventually failed, resulting in the loss of employment to several people. Did I forgive my colleague? No one should deny that it hurts tremendously when things like that happen and people deal with those situations differently, taking more or less time as necessary. I can’t deny the fact that for a while I felt disgusted at my colleague’s behaviour and blamed him for the chaos that ensued but I engaged with him and eventually forgave his actions and we are still friends today. The act of forgiving demands immense courage It is freely given to people, whether they deserve it or not. It is not mere words but bold actions that support and bring meaning to those words.
In the workplace it is particularly important to forgive. Your employee may be late because of a host of issues unknown to you: domestic abuse, childcare issues, basic needs, lack of key resources or support. Sometimes our reality is so far removed from the experience of the other person that we simply cannot appreciate the challenges. The Jamaican proverb “A stone at the bottom of the river doesn’t know how hot it is at the surface” encapsulates it well – if you are not au fait with a situation, you cannot truly understand the dynamics. Chances are there is a lot going on that is impacting on that person’s behaviour. If you are affected, express your concerns and offer assistance where possible.
Forgiveness in organisations is also important because customers, clients, suppliers and other stakeholders can suspect discord within the company and may not want to do business with you. Allowing ‘bad blood’ to fester will adversely impact on the company image, staff morale, production levels and ultimately, revenue.
You may find it difficult to forgive. I’ll tell you what works for me: I focus on the good times. I think about moments when that person was good to me in some small way and I recall the good qualities of the person (we all have some!). I focus on the positive and it becomes bigger and bigger until the negative is insignificant. I’ll give you a personal example: one evening, several years ago my partner and I were robbed by armed men as we returned from a stroll. The men were particularly threatening with their long guns and knives. They took our stuff, tied up my partner and commanded him not to move. They then disappeared as fast as they had emerged. We both dashed for home. My relatives were enraged when they heard what had happened. I, however, had a different mindset - I was pleased that I was not physically scarred. I forgave them instantly concluding that I did not know their reality – why they embarked on such an action – but I was happy to have my life. It might have been divine intervention or it could be a case of “cats and dogs don't have the same luck” (Jamaican proverb). As far as I was concerned they had the power to kill and maim and they chose not to use it. Not many people in such situations live to tell the tale. Needless to say, my family thought I had lost my mind but to this day I hold that view.
The ability to forgive says a lot about us. It shows our maturity, sensibility and humanity. It appreciates diversity and promotes tolerance, personal growth and emotional development. We learn to forgive ourselves for our own failures; we learn the significance of an apology. It helps us to rise above the blame culture and find solutions. There is a Spanish proverb Haz el bien, y no mires a quién - Do what is right, not what will gain approval.
Just let it go!