Forgive others

forgive2.001To forgive is to set a prisoner free and discover that the prisoner was you. —Lewis Smedes

In her book The Liar’s Club, Mary Kerr tells the true story of a married couple who had a major argument over how much the wife had spent on sugar. Instead of resolving the simple dispute, both husband and wife held on to their grudge and refused to speak to each other for forty years. As if silence wasn’t enough to perpetuate their dispute, one day the husband took a saw and literally cut their frame house in half. They lived the rest of their lives in separate sides of the house.

Granted, this story is rather extreme, but it does illustrate the damaging effects of unforgiveness. In years of counseling, I’ve never known a couple to cut their house in two, but I have seen couples who were emotionally separated from each other, often for decades, because of unresolved offenses.

Forgiving others brings freedom in three areas.

1. The one who has been offended is set free from harmful emotions.

When offended, our natural response is to become angry, and initially, there’s nothing wrong with that; anger is an instinctual and appropriate response to hurt. But unresolved anger can soon escalate to bitterness, hatred, and other toxic emotions.

Notice who is adversely affected by these dangerous emotions—the offended, not the offender. When we refuse to forgive others, it is often we who suffer the most. So we must forgive for our own well-being.

This is why we must forgive even if our offender doesn’t ask for forgiveness. Our offender may never ask forgiveness so we must choose to forgive, otherwise we will suffer twice: once at the offense and on a continual basis if we harbor anger or hurt.

Marshall Goldsmith said, “Forgiveness means letting go of the hope for a better past.”

2. Relationships can be healed.

Philip Yancey, in his book What’s So Amazing About Grace, wrote, “Forgiveness offers a way out. It does not settle all questions of blame and fairness—often it pointedly evades those questions—but it does allow a relationship to start over, to begin anew.”

In the early years of our marriage, Mary and I argued often, and sometimes the squabble would become so complex we’d even forget what the initial issue was. In the heat of an argument, we would drag in issues from the past, present, and even the future. We returned insult for insult. We’d dig in our heels, choose our weapons carefully, and engage in mental and emotional battle.

But as we’ve matured we handle disputes differently. We still argue, but it seldom gets out of hand. Moments into the conflict we may say something like, “Sweetheart, I love you. Regardless of what happened to cause this dispute, our relationship is more important. Please forgive me for my part in this misunderstanding.” Are we naively ignoring the issues? No, we’re simply maintaining the integrity of our relationship.

Forgiveness is life-giving water poured upon a parched, dry relationship. Without it, relationships can spiral out of control until they are broken or impaired.

3. Forgiveness offers grace to the offender.

When President Lincoln was asked how he was going to treat the rebellious Southerners when they had finally been defeated. The questioner expected that Lincoln would take a dire vengeance, but he answered, “I will treat them as if they had never been away.”

When we forgive others we offer them grace and emotional release from feelings of guilt.

It’s important to know that forgiveness is a choice; it’s a function of our wills, not our emotions.

We must choose to forgive because we will seldom feel like forgiving. I often illustrate this by holding a pen in my hand and then, as an act of my will, I drop the pen on the floor. Forgiveness is like that; we must drop the issue and the offense. Just let it go.

Forgiving an offense doesn’t mean we will forget what happened. It may be hard if not impossible to forget the details and memories surrounding an offense. But forgiveness will provide emotional relief, and in time it will ameliorate painful memories.

Forgive one another.

[reminder]What are your thoughts about this essay?[/reminder]

What? Forgiving others will bring relief to both the offender and the offended.
So what? Make forgiving others a consistent part of your life.
Now what? During a time of quiet reflection, make a list of those who have offended you. As an act of your will, forgive them.

Leaders – The mental and emotional condition of your team members will, for better and for worse, affect their work and ultimately the organization. Unresolved issues in both private and work relationships will hamper productivity. The willingness to forgive others will resolve many of these issues.

A recent blog—Include these three phrases in your conversations—addressed some of these issues.

Encourage robust dialogue

dialogue-cartoon-300x242In 1997, managers at Samsung didn’t question a $13 billion investment that would take the company into the automobile industry because the idea’s champion, Samsung Chairman and CEO Kun-Hee Lee, was a forceful personality and a car buff. When Samsung Motors folded only a year into production, Lee wondered why no one had expressed reservations. (Teams That Click, HBSP, pg. 74)

Robust dialogue could have prevented Samsung’s debacle.

Simply stated, robust dialogue occurs in a group when everyone is encouraged, allowed, and even required to give their unfiltered input on issues. The value of robust dialogue is: Every idea or plan will be improved upon when submitted to the unfiltered wisdom and input of others.

Robust dialogue is not just the right thing to do; it is the best thing to do. It’s not just politically correct, it is practically helpful.

The prelude to robust dialogue may sound like this:

  • The boss says, “I’ve got an idea and I would really value everyone’s input. I want you to be totally honest.”
  • A team member says, “My division is thinking about offering a new service, but before we get very far down the road, I want to get your opinion on the project.”
  • A team member says, “I think we’re going in the wrong direction on this project.”

Bossidy and Charan teach that robust dialogue is based on openness, candor, and informality.

  • Openness—people are not trapped by preconceptions; they’re open-minded.
  • Candor—people speak candidly and express their real opinions. Truth is valued more than harmony.
  • Informality—informal dialogue invites questions, mental experimentation, and creative and critical thinking. Formality suppresses dialogue and leaves little room for debate.
    (Execution: The Discipline of Getting Things Done, pg. 102)

Robust dialogue will help maintain a transparent and healthy workplace. It’s amazing how often there’s an elephant in the room, but no one is willing to acknowledge it. Clarke and Crossland warn, “Every time your team avoids the critical ‘real issues,’ you lose. Every time the discussion outside the meeting room—physical or virtual—is dramatically different from the discussion inside the room, you lose.” (The Leader’s Voice, pg. 118)

Often, we avoid challenging dialogue because we value unanimity and harmony. But when we ignore the tough issues, we inadvertently dilute any sense of consensus; true alliance is achieved only when all the major issues have been identified and wrestled with. Consensus is good, unless it is achieved too easily, in which case it becomes suspect.

Robust dialogue is not only helpful in the workplace, it will also improve dialogue among family members and friends. See a previous post—Don’t go to Abilene—for an example of how robust dialogue might help family communications.

[reminder]What are your thoughts about this essay?[/reminder]
What? – Robust dialogue should be present in all conversations, particularly when decisions are being made.
So what? – Robust dialogue will empower individuals and strengthen organizations.
Now what? – Integrate robust dialogue into your life and career. If you lead a group, make robust dialogue part of the culture; if you are a member of a group that doesn’t benefit from it, share this post with the group leader.

Leaders – Click here for more thoughts about how robust dialogue can enhance your organization.

Maintain a bucket list

DSCN1302A bucket list is a list of things you want to accomplish in your lifetime. They are typically out-of-the-ordinary experiences, not mundane, predictable ones. For instance, you wouldn’t include maintain personal health on your bucket list or buy a car; but you might include tour Europe or plant a vineyard. They are usually big, challenging goals (get my pilot’s license) and not small, simple activities (buy a water bed).

Most people think that a bucket list is just for old people: “I’m 70 years old. What do I want to do before I die? On my deathbed what will I regret having not done?” But a broader perspective would suggest that everyone should have a bucket list and that the earlier you start your list the better. In a recent post I wrote about the advantages of setting goals early in life.

I’ve had a robust bucket list for years. It’s fluid: I’m constantly adding, subtracting, and tweaking the items. Here are a few items on my list.

  • Attend the Art Basel art show (in Switzerland) and buy a painting
  • Eat at the best restaurant in the world
  • Taste all the great wines of the world
  • Take a one-week course at Oxford
  • Give a TED talk
  • Have 50,000 subscribers to my blog site
  • Run the NYC marathon at age 65 (I ran it when I was 35)
  • Visit 60 countries (I’ve been to 44; I try to add one new country a year)
  • Visit the source of one of the four great rivers of the world: Nile, Amazon, Yangtze, Mississippi
  • Stand for 30 minutes by myself in 130°F and -30°F temperatures

In his good book, never eat alone, Keith Ferrazzi posits a strong argument for setting life-goals.

“In a study cited in Success magazine researchers asked Yale’s class of 1953 a number of questions. Three had to do with goals: Have you set goals? Have you written them down? Do you have a plan to accomplish them?

“It turned out that only 3 percent of the Yale class had written down their goals along with a plan of action to achieve them. Thirteen percent had goals but had not written them down. Fully 84 percent had no specific goals at all, other than to ‘enjoy themselves.’

“In 1973, when the same class was resurveyed, the differences between the goal setters and everyone else were stunning. The 13 percent who had goals but had not written them down were earning, on average twice as much as the 84 percent of students who had no goals at all. But most surprising of all, the 3 percent who had written down their goals were earning, on average, ten times as much as the 97 percent of graduates combined!” (page 23)

If you aim at nothing you will always hit it.

I have also found that sometimes the journey is just as satisfying as reaching the destination. Planning how you’re going to accomplish a goal and taking incremental steps forward is, in itself, fulfilling.

For instance, I’ve been strategizing for years about how to spend 30 minutes in 130° F temperature (see the above list). Early in 2015, Mary and I planned a trip to Dubai (United Arab Emirates) and I did some research into how hot it gets in that Arab emirate. The hottest temperature on record is 125° F in the city, but Dubai is on the Persian Gulf and is cooled (relatively speaking) by the sea breeze. Perhaps I could get closer to my goal by going south into the desert.

So when we were in Dubai I hired a car and driver and ventured out into the desert. When we were far from civilization the driver dropped me off and I walked the dunes, taking temperature readings as I went. Fortunately for me, a heat wave was ravaging the area that week DSCN1305 (2)so I recorded 132° F where I stood. Mission accomplished. I asked my driver to take my picture.

Maintain a bucket list.

[reminder]What’s on your bucket list?[/reminder]



Be grateful for the sacrifices of others

wellsWe drink from wells we did not dig; we are warmed by fires we did not kindle. —Ancient proverb

Summer of 1998 saw the release of Steven Spielberg’s film, Saving Private Ryan. The story takes place during WWII.

Chief of Staff, General Marshall, is told that three of a woman’s four sons have been killed and that she’s going to receive the notifications of their deaths in the same week. When he learns that a fourth son, Ryan, is engaged in battle and is unaccounted for, the general sends a unit to find him and bring him back, despite being told that it’s highly unlikely that he is still alive and the area that he was known to be in is very dangerous.

The military assigns Captain Miller (played by Tom Hanks) the unenviable task of leading a small squadron of eight men behind enemy lines to find Private James Francis Ryan, who parachuted into German-held territory the day before.

The squad makes its way across the devastated countryside, losing two members in skirmishes with the Germans. Eventually they find Ryan dug in with his unit, awaiting a German counter attack. He refuses to leave his comrades and Miller agrees that his squad will stay to help them defend their position. The Germans attack in overwhelming numbers and Miller and most of his squad is killed, but Ryan survives and makes it home.

The film ends with an old Private Ryan, now in his 70s, with his family at the military cemetery at Normandy, looking at the grave of Captain Miller.

Upon remembering the sacrifices that were made so he could live, Ryan asks his wife, “Have I been a good man? Have I lived a good life?”

In many ways, we all drink from wells we did not dig. We benefit from the farsightedness and unselfish sacrifices of those who precede us. We, then, should be grateful and humble and strive to give to others as we have been given to. If not, we may harbor the illusion of self-sufficiency and secrete the putrid smell of ungratefulness.We need to ask ourselves probing questions, similar to what Private Ryan did in the Normandy cemetery. Questions that will reveal our core motivations and prompt us to pursue altruistic goals.

  • Am I living an unselfish life, devoted to the wellbeing of others?
  • Am I fully engaged in life, making the most of my gifts and talents?
  • Am I investing my life in things that will benefit others even after I am gone?

When I was in high school, my church choir went on some exotic and expensive trips. My sophomore year we toured Europe for three weeks. When I was a junior we went to Mexico. My senior year we traveled in Asia for three weeks. Being raised in a low-income family, we didn’t have the funds for those opportunities, but somehow I went on every trip. Who paid for my trips? What anonymous donor provided the funds? I’ll never know. But just thinking about it gives me pause. I am filled with gratefulness and prompted to give to others.

[reminder]What are your thoughts about this essay?[/reminder]

What? – Be grateful for predecessors who gave of themselves for your benefit. Then, motivated by gratefulness, aspire to live a life that will benefit others, both now and after you are gone.
So what? – If you are unaware of and ungrateful for what you have inherited, you may become increasingly self-sufficient, self-centered, and wrongly motivated.
Now what? – Identify specific individuals who gave so you might have. Be grateful, and aspire to give to future generations.

Leaders – Does your organization have altruistic goals? Are you digging wells from which others may someday drink?