Unforgiveness is like drinking a poison and hoping the other will die.
It doesn’t matter how good of a leader you are or how great your team is. It doesn’t matter how much you care about someone else. Sooner or later, you will experience conflict with everyone in your life.
So you’ve got to know how to resolve your conflicts. You’ve got to know how to work through your problems and come to agreement. It’s critically important.
In fact, I’ve spent more than 20 years researching all the methods that bring about conflict resolution. I even wrote my doctoral dissertation on the subject. And I offer a fabulous program entitled “Cooperation and Conflict: Working Together Instead of Coming Apart.” Organizations are constantly bringing me in so I can teach these groundbreaking skills and strategies to their employees and managers.
However, there are times you are just plain stuck in a situation. There is no conflict to resolve and no problem to figure out. You’ve been wronged, and that’s all there is to it. The other person shows no remorse, never apologizes, and makes no amends.
On those occasions you need more than communication skills. You need a particular attitudinal skill. You need the forgiveness skill.
Without it, you’re stuck with bitterness or revenge. And neither one is a very good option.
Steven Arterburn, director of the New Life Clinics, talks about bitterness. He says 85% of those who come into the clinic with depression have some deep hatred or resentment towards someone. Because they refuse to forgive, he says, they remain the victim of the person who victimized them.
Other people respond with revenge. I remember when Lady Sarah Graham Moon was dumped by her unfaithful, aristocratic husband. She sought to get even with him and did so with a passion back in 1992. She poured gallons of paint on his cherished BMW. Then a week later she cut 4 inches off the left sleeve on 32 of her husband’s custom tailored shirts, each costing $1600. The following week she gave away 60 of his finest wines.
Lady Sarah’s anger was certainly understandable. One might even say natural and appropriate. After all, she had been severely wronged. But did her response help anything? I doubt it.
So how do you deal with those times when you’ve been wronged? How do you get through the hurt caused by someone else’s thoughtless or malicious disregard?
First, accept the fact that LOVE AND PAIN GO TOGETHER. C. S. Lewis wrote, “To love at all is to be vulnerable. Love anything and your heart will certainly be broken.” Many people don’t understand that.
A lady in one of my workshops said, “I’m taking steps never to get hurt again.”
I replied, “In other words, you’re taking steps to never love again.”
She said, “No. That’s not what I said. I don’t want some guy to hurt me again.”
I pushed, “So you don’t want some guy to love you.”
She got a little frustrated with me and said, “Look. I don’t want pain in my life.”
Unfortunately, there’s no such thing as painless love. The closer a person gets to you, the more they can hurt you.
It’s one of the sobering truths in life. Unless and until you accept that fact, you will be riddled with unnecessary resentment and anger.
Second, UNDERSTAND THE NATURE OF FORGIVENESS. It is not about letting the other person off the hook. He’s responsible for what he did. It’s about letting go of the negative feelings that are destroying your own life.
Captain Ahab, in Herman Melville’s book Moby Dick, would not forgive. He was permanently injured by a great white whale, and he spent the rest of his life seeking revenge. It drove him until nothing else mattered except killing the whale that hurt him. In the end, his hatred cost him his soul and his life.
More often than not, refusing to forgive someone hurts you more than the other person. You become the rattlesnake that bites himself.
E. Stanley Jones put it this way. He said: “A rattlesnake, if cornered, will sometimes become so angry it will bite itself. That is exactly what the harboring of hate and resentment against others is–a biting of oneself. We think that we are harming others by holding these spites and hates, but the deeper harm is to ourselves.”
Forgiveness is a gift you give yourself. As Paul Boese so aptly said, “Forgiveness does not change the past, but it does enlarge the future.” It enlarges your future.
Third, DON’T BROOD. When you’re wronged, when you feel the anger and resentment building up inside you, deal with it as quickly as possible. Don’t think about it a minute longer than you have to. Don’t allow yourself to sulk or indulge in self-pity.
If you keep ruminating about the situation, you’ll distort the situation. The situation will grow in your mind, getting bigger and bigger, and you’ll get more and more upset.
You’ve got to let it out and let it go. You may go to someone you trust and pour out the resentment until it’s all been said. Or you may write a letter to the offending party, telling her how you feel, without mincing any words. Then fold up and tear up the letter. In either case, let it out and let it go.
Fourth, ADOPT THE ATTITUDE. A lot of people think they can forgive someone and be done with it. In other words, it’s something they do on occasion. Wrong!
A truly healthy, mature individual takes a forgiving approach to life and people. As Martin Luther King, Jr. said so well, “Forgiveness is not an occasional act; it is a permanent attitude.”
Make sure you understand what Dr. King was saying. Taking a forgiving approach does not mean that you become a passive doormat or a pitiful victim.
Dr. King was anything but passive or pitiful. He was a champion. He was a warrior. And he was wronged over and over again. But he didn’t let the wrongs get in the way of his work. He learned to write his hurts in the sand.
It’s like the story of the two friends walking through the desert. During some point in the journey, they had an argument, and one friend slapped the other one in the face. The one who got slapped was hurt, but without saying anything, he wrote in the sand, “Today my best friend slapped me in the face.”
They kept on walking, until they found an oasis, where they decided to take a bath. The one who had been slapped got stuck in the mire and started drowning, but his friend saved him. After he recovered from the near drowning, he wrote on a stone, “Today my best friend saved my life.”
The friend, who had slapped and saved his best friend, asked him, “After I hurt you, you wrote in the sand, and now you write on a stone. Why?”
The other friend replied, “When someone hurts us, we should write it down in sand, where the winds of forgiveness can erase it away. But when someone does something good for us, we must engrave it in stone where no wind can erase it.”
Learn to write your hurts in the sand and to carve your blessings in stone.
Action: Think of someone at work or at home who has wronged you. Then be fearlessly honest with yourself. How do you really feel about that person?
If you’ve got some lingering resentment toward that person, if you’re still feeling angry several days after the wrong, it’s time to stop brooding. Let it out and let it go.