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Guest opinion: The gift of forgiveness

By Dr. Susan R. Madsen - | Dec 23, 2020

This holiday season, the world is in desperate need of healing, from our health to the economy to politics. And while we may feel powerless as individuals to solve these big issues, I believe there is a means for each of us to improve our personal and professional lives: the gift of forgiveness.

Many years ago I encountered this insight from some management scholars: “Humans working together have endless opportunities to offend or harm others, intentionally or unintentionally. An organization (or a family) is a melee of relationships alternating between firm and sound, unconnected, sordid, broken and angry, and changing.” And some of the most important work we can all do is to heal broken, strained and ever-changing relationships. These actions can make a profound difference in our lives and the lives of others. Forgiveness is critical for anyone working with others in their homes, churches, schools, businesses or in the communities. It seems to me that this includes everyone.

First, let’s discuss the personal benefits of letting things go. An article I coauthored years ago cites dozens of studies that have found that more forgiving people tend to have better physical health, decreased blood pressure, fewer physician visits, lower stress, better healing from pain and illness, increased personal happiness, reduced anxiety and depression, and increased compassion.

From a job performance stance, research has discovered potential connections between forgiveness and productivity after downsizing, higher morale and satisfaction, willingness to cooperate and greater social capital. When team members are bitter or hold grudges or resentment, job performance has been shown to decrease and there is an increase in disagreements, hurtful rumors, inaccurate performance appraisals, ethical and legal issues, unjust employment decisions, lack of support for initiatives, acts of retaliation, workplace violence, bullying, and anger and resentment.

The bottom line is that unforgiving individuals and organizational cultures can lead to lower levels of performance and increased mental and physical problems. So, what can be done to support a more compassionate culture? The following three research-based recommendations should provide some helpful ideas to promote healing:

1. Talk about conflict resolution and communication. Seminars and workshops that focus on things like values, character, conflict management and communication skills can raise awareness. For example, USU Extension offers various programs that do just this. Similarly, openly addressing conflict resolution in our personal lives can help us move forward and work toward creating a culture of forgiveness. Conflict is inevitable, but it is what we do or don’t do to resolve it that matters most. As we increase our understanding of self and others, we are more likely to forgive.

2. Use writing and journaling to process events. These can be effective activities to aid in conflict management and interpersonal communication at work and at home. People who express their thoughts and feelings through writing seem to process situations more accurately and objectively, no matter the setting.

3. Service and giving. When we think beyond ourselves, we tend to be more considerate and forgiving. Organizations that focus on corporate social responsibility tend to encourage cultures of care and community engagement, activities that promote patience and forgiveness. Families find bonding as they serve those around them.

The world feels upside down right now. I believe that if we all reach deep within ourselves and find ways to be more forgiving, we’ll be better equipped to rebuild our families, companies and economies in sustainable ways. And, as we provide opportunities for others to live and work in forgiving cultures, they will increasingly thrive — and that is just what we will need to heal in upcoming months and years!


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