The Ultimate “F” You: Faking Forgiveness
Usually, the story goes something like this: bad stuff happens, perpetrator says they’re sorry, victim forgives and moves on. Yay!—everyone is happy and unscathed, and this is perhaps the best-case-scenario “F-you” (as in “Forgive you”).
Or maybe that is how we would like for it to go if it must happen. But instead it is a little more like: bad stuff happens, perpetrator does not take accountability, victim holds grudge for 50 years or until death, whichever comes first (unless you’re forgetful, in which case the grudge is held until your memory needs to clear room for other stuff—more on this later).
So how often do we hold on to hurt, pain, or disappointment from when someone has done us wrong? We would like to feel like altruistic, high-road-taking champions of mercy by doling out forgiveness like Mother Teresa on anti-depressants, but we usually don’t. Forgiveness takes strength, patience, and practice. Some of us are even savvy enough to know that forgiveness is not for the other person, it’s for ourselves, but then we squirm at how self-centered and egotistical that sounds.
In the workplace, managers are possibly the worst about this, right? It is practically every manager’s purpose to literally keep a record of wrongs, a scorecard that tallies every “oops” and “oh no” for future reference. Employees will make an error in judgment, and what do managers do? We (yes, “we” because I learned to do this myself complete with 3-inch binders) will take the employee aside and tell them how they were wrong, the possible repercussions of their actions, and whether or not they will face immediate consequences. THEN, if it happens again (no matter how much time has passed), we hit them with “remember when this happened last time…” Ouch. That’s got to sting! Sure, this reinforces the lesson, but there is hardly ever any forgiveness for the first error. Consequently, you may have just caused your employee to lose trust in you as their leader, and you have now passed the “unforgiven torch” to your employee to share with someone else. We pretend that everything is cool… until we decide it is not.
Pause. Now, how do you perpetuate this behavior in your personal life? Do you keep a record of wrongs with your friends, your family, your spouse, or your kids?
Why is it so hard to pardon others for their misgivings? It is difficult not to feel like justice must be served in order to level the scales and restore balance and order in the world. How often is this a result of your inability to show yourself just an ounce of mercy? Sometimes the kindest, most courageous act you can commit is the act of forgiveness. More than that, it is a powerful way of setting the stage for your own personal well-being...and it is a CHOICE. Forgiveness doesn’t excuse the behavior; it simply prevents the behavior from eating away at you. Here is how to let go of the crap that is holding you back once and for all:
Dump the judgment…and the criticism, too. Humility is admitting that you don’t know what you don’t know and considering one’s own defects ahead of another person’s shortcomings. Finding a balance between humility and self-deprecation is challenging at times. Letting go of these judgments of others will allow you the freedom of mind to let go before you have even held on! Judgment and criticism starts within yourself and will often be a chastising force that will prevent you from getting to a point where you can talk about what happened. Shift your focus from blaming others to understanding yourself. You have the power to stop looking for things that people do wrong once you realize you have to stop picking yourself apart first.
Talk it over. After the dust clears, find a space where you can calmly talk to the other person. Listen to their side with an open mind and hear their version of events. Explain the situation from your perspective and be open about what was true for you. When it is not an option to talk it over with the offender, find an unbiased, uninvolved third party to discuss it with so you can get closure.
Take responsibility for your role. What could you have done differently to prevent yourself from being hurt? Sometimes the answer to this question does not come easily or may not even apply. However, you may find some small part that, if you could do it all over again, you would not have said or done to keep the problem from escalating. Acknowledge it. To go a step further, create a plan of action to change this behavior if you do it often but do not achieve the benefits you set out to gain.
Stop waiting for an apology. Having a conversation about a difference of opinion or a moment where you feel you were victimized does not precipitate an apology. You might feel like you deserve it, but self-entitlement will not get you any closer to emancipation. Think of an apology as an added bonus. If you do not expect it, you cannot be disappointed. The lack of an apology does not mean that you are not worthy or deserving of it; it means that the other person may not be at peace enough within his or herself to show this level of humility. Not your circus, not your monkey. Drop it and move on.
You can’t fake this. Some things you can fake it until you break it. Do not even try to pretend that you have forgiven someone if you know deep down there is still some unresolved feeling. As a matter of fact, if you are faking forgiveness, please re-read numbers 1 through 4, do not pass GO, do not collect $200. We’ll wait for you here.
Release the resentment. Holding on to resentment is the first early warning signal that something needs to change. Look at it this way: if anger means you didn’t get your way today, and fear means that you won’t get your way tomorrow, then resentment means you didn’t get your way in the past. Eliminating anger, regret, guilt, blame or worry is a great way to drop dead weight, and releasing resentment is the first step in letting go of the past. How much anger, resentment, or fear do you have in your leadership profile?
Forget it. Have you ever FORGOTTEN why you are angry with someone? Or why you don’t talk to them, don’t like them, don’t trust them, etc.? One of my clients was telling me about how she could not stand to run into a former friend. They had parted ways on civil terms and mutually accepted that they simply did not make good friends anymore. It wasn’t personal—it was just a place they had arrived to in their relationship. When my client and her husband had run into the former friend, she smiled weakly and said “hello” and continued on her way. My client’s husband inquired, “who was that?” to which she replied “someone I used to be friends with.” He inquired further, “Used to? Why did you stop being friends?” My client paused for a moment to think and finally she replied, “Hm—I don’t remember!” It was then that my client realized she was holding on to some unresolved feelings around the relationship, which we identified together and created a plan for her to move forward (see numbers 1 through 3). When you stop living in the past, you can stop assigning so much importance to history and allow yourself and those around you the opportunity to create new stories.
Give grace. Please forgive me if this sounds sanctimonious, but show yourself and others grace in big, heaping morning-cup-of-coffee-size mugfuls. Go on, have a sip of some grace right now. If mercy were more like coffee, we might all be a little kinder around the office, don’t you think? Look at forgiveness this way: give someone a grace giftcard the next time you feel like holding a grudge. When you think about it, how would it look if you tried to reach in their pocket and take it back just because you were not ready to give it to them in the first place?
In the end, the choice that you make is the difference between being happy and being right. Which would you rather? Forgiveness is the pathway to mindful freedom. As a manager, I decided that victimless “crimes” where an employee made an error were worthy of forgiveness. I would print it out, discuss it with them, and at the end of the conversation, I would let my employee see that I had ripped the print-out to pieces. Just like that, they were forgiven and visibly relieved. Very seldom did they repeat the same error, and when they did, they felt secure coming to me to admit it and ask for help in correcting the problem right away. These conversations with my staff were a hundred times more fruitful (and those binders I kept began to get lighter), because they were evidence that the employee didn’t only learn a lesson, he or she learned to lead.