The Power of Forgiveness

The Power of Forgiveness

July 12, 2015

Holding onto anger is like drinking poison and expecting the other person to die.  –Buddha

As a result of the incredible grace of the family members of the nine people massacred at the Mother Emanuel Church in Charleston, the Confederate battle flag was finally removed after over 50 years from the grounds of the South Carolina statehouse this past week.  It was a stunning reminder of the power of forgiveness and how it can be a potent way to reduce conflict, promote healing, and enable people to work together peacefully.

At certain times throughout our lives, we may find ourselves in conflict with a boss, a co-worker, a neighbor, or a family member.  We are often blind to our own role in the conflict and hold onto the importance of ‘being right’ no matter how much damage is done to the relationship.  We often can’t see how this long-held anger and resentment colors our perception of the situation and brings undue tension and stress to our own lives. “It’s a matter of principle,” we say, digging our heels even further into the ground and eating away at our personal well-being.  This anger also negatively affects those around us as friends, family, and coworkers get tired of hearing the same old complaints and disgruntlement.

Overcoming an interpersonal conflict and healing relationships often involves having difficult conversations.  Here are some tips that may help during those discussions:

  • First, be aware of your own emotional state. It is best not to confront someone when you are in an angry, emotional state. Wait until you have calmed down. As the emotional intelligence research indicates, you cannot access the pre-frontal cortex—or more rational part of the brain—if you are in the midst of an ‘amygdala hijack.’ You won’t be able to resolve the conflict, if your temper has taken over.
  • Identify your own role in the problem. This can be difficult and requires some honest self-assessment. Did you do anything to trigger the disagreement? Are you overly sensitive about a particular subject or reading too much into someone’s comments? Was there a misunderstanding of the other person’s intent?
  • Apologize. Apologizing doesn’t always mean that you are wrong and the other person is right. It just means that you value the relationship more than your own ego. A sincere apology can often break down the barriers and reduce the tension, allowing the conversation to proceed.
  • Listen to understand the other person’s point of view. You don’t have to agree; however it’s important to reflect back what you’ve heard so that the other person feels listened to and respected.
  • Find a common goal. You do not need to be friends—or even like the other person—to work together productively. What is the higher goal that you can both strive for? Can we agree to work towards the success of the business and the well-being of others?
  • Keep working at it. Many interpersonal conflicts are not resolved with one conversation. Follow through on any agreements and keep trying to move beyond your differences.

Most importantly, we have to forgive ourselves in order to forgive others.  We are not perfect human beings, and we often say and do things that we regret later.  We can recognize that other people are not perfect either and, in order to move on, we can learn to forgive the mistakes and sins of others. This is what the families of the Emanuel 9 did, and look at how it brought a change of heart to the state of South Carolina.

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