In 1984, Wilma Derksen’s 13-year-old daughter, Candace, was abducted and murdered in Winnipeg. Over 30 years later, the case is still before the courts. First, it took 22 years to find a possible offender and since then there have been three court cases – and the outcome is still uncertain. How have Wilma and her husband, Cliff, managed to live a fruitful life and raise two other children while also engaging in the often re-traumatizing justice process? One word – forgiveness.
On Sept 11, 2001, Elizabeth Turner’s husband, Simon Turner, was killed in the World Trade Centre attacks in New York. Pregnant with their first child, Elizabeth’s life was catapulted into a new direction. She struggled to get her life back on track and to be an effective parent. She said it was forgiveness that helped her gain perspective and move forward: “It was only then I knew there was no need for bitterness or retaliation and I found peace inside myself. From then on, I was able to re-engage with life – I wasn’t normal again, but I was able to laugh and be a whole parent.”
In these tragic cases, the key to effectively moving on has been choosing to let go of vengeance and retaliation, and accept that you must – for your own good – forgive the person(s) who wronged you. In the case of murderers or terrorists, this does not mean the victims’ families give up on justice or do not take part in trying to hold the offenders accountable. It just means they accept that whether or not some justice is done, they must let go of hate for the sake of their own health and well-being.
When it comes to dealing with people doing less evil acts, but acts that nonetheless make us feel attacked or embarrassed, we also need to let go of hate, bitterness, and the desire to seek vengeance. How to do this is the subject of entire books such as Wilma Derksen’s book, The Way of Letting Go. One method that works for me is thinking through what could have led the other person to act against me. Were they abused as a child? Are they lonely? Are they in physical pain? Do they have serious financial problems? Do I remind them of someone they fear or despise? Many times, I can imagine scenarios like these that help me think, “if that was the case, I could forgive this.” There are many other methods to help generate compassion and love in tough circumstances. My main point is that if Wilma Derksen and Elizabeth Turner can find forgiveness, so can we when we are dealing with the people we lead and the people we love.
Before you snap at an employee who made a silly mistake, embarrassed you in a meeting, or caused a needless expenditure; or before you scold your child for breaking a window or making a mess, take some time to get over your immediate emotions. Then, forgive them for their mistake and deal compassionately with the situation. Your main objectives should be to prevent a future misstep and to help the person learn and grow. Using your energy to get even with someone is for lesser leaders than you.