Forgiveness isn’t usually taught as a life skill, except in religious traditions, but it should be. It’s especially important at work. We spend most of our waking hours there, increasing our chances for conflict, anger and hurt feelings.

Forgiveness is a way forward. It transports you out of the past, where nothing can be changed, into the present, where every moment offers a new possibility for trust, understanding and teamwork. That’s why forgiveness isn’t just a virtuous thing to do. It’s a smart thing to do. 

Here are some thoughts on forgiveness, through the lens of The FISH! Philosophy:

Be There

“To forgive is to set a prisoner free and discover that the prisoner was you.”
– Louis B. Smedes

When you hold onto anger, it’s as if your memory is taking the other person’s side. They may have only hurt you once, but your mind uses it to hurt you over and over.

It’s hard to work effectively when you’re preoccupied with all the ways you’ve been wronged. It damages your health, too. Studies confirm that hate and bitterness can lead to a compromised immune system, stress disorders, depression and anxiety.

Be there for yourself. Face what you are feeling right now. Is it helping you? If not, what will help? Can you resolve the situation? If not, is it best for you to let go?

You don’t have to forget. And you certainly shouldn’t take it if the behavior continues to repeat itself. The main thing is do what’s best for your life and health. Make sure the past doesn’t control your happiness today.

Make Their Day

“Forgiveness does not change the past, but it does enlarge the future.”
– Paul Boese

We’ve all done things that require forgiveness. And none of us would want to continue to be judged solely by those actions. Just because someone hurt you once doesn’t mean they’ll do it again or that they won’t change. Forgiveness is about seeing the good in people, even if you don’t see good in what they did.

Some of my strongest, most enduring relationships at work have been forged out of conflict. We put our anger aside to see a new possibility in the other, and in the process each of us grew too. We did more than just make each other’s day; we made each others’ lives better.

The willingness to forgive can benefit the entire office. When a coworker hurts us, we tell other colleagues. We try to draw them to our “side.” Soon the workplace is dominated by an ever-shifting web of alliances, most of them comprised of members who are aligned against people who did nothing to them.

A single act of forgiveness can reverse this. When you show that you have let your anger go, your “allies” are free to join you. They may even look at their own resentments in a new way. When you forgive, it can make everyone’s day.      

Play

“It is the act of forgiveness that opens up the only possible way to think creatively about the future at all.”
– Father Desmond Wilson

Play is about staying open to creative possibilities. So is forgiveness.

There is no prescribed method of forgiving someone. It may not work to tell them you forgive them, if they don’t believe they need to be forgiven. That’s when it’s time to look for another way.

In any case, forgiveness is best demonstrated through action. A smile or friendly word. An offer to help. Doing something nice. It starts from within. If you truly forgive, and view them as worthy of being forgiven, your approach will reveal it.

It doesn’t matter if they think you’re somehow messing with them. If you’re authentic, your actions will speak for themselves. In time they will likely respond in kind. If not, the worst thing that’s happened is you’ve lived with integrity and kindness. And you will have cleaned out the anger that was eating at you.  

Choose Your Attitude

“Forgiveness is not an occasional act, it is a constant attitude.”
― Martin Luther King Jr.

You can’t live fully without being hurt by people sometimes. The only way to avoid it is to live in a cave, in which case you also miss out on the richness of relationships. If you want to experience all the good, be prepared for some bad.

The key is to not let someone else control how you feel. Choose Your Attitude is really about taking control of who you want to be, rather than being controlled by what happens to you. When you are aware that you have that choice, it’s easier to see when anger and bitterness are taking a toll on you, not on the other person.

That’s why forgiveness is an act of courage. There is no guarantee that it will lead another person to change. The only guarantee is you will live the life of your choosing, a life of greater happiness and effectiveness.

“The weak can never forgive. Forgiveness is the attribute of the strong.”
– Mahatma Gandhi