Family Business Matters 02/23 04:55
Forgiveness: Hard Work in a Family Business
Forgiveness is important to all of us, but it is especially important, and
often difficult and emotional, in a family business.
DTN Farm Business Adviser
Living and working in close proximity with family members creates
challenging situations. Miscommunication, misunderstanding and conflict between
business partners are commonplace. At some point in the family business, you
will hurt, and be hurt by, those you love. Forgiveness, then, is a difficult
but necessary element of being in business together.
In 2022, Pastor Tim Keller wrote his final book, "Forgive: Why Should I and
How Can I?" He uses the biblical parable of the unforgiving servant (Matthew
18:23-35) to suggest that the human capacity to forgive is dependent on God's
forgiveness. Along the way, he offers a view of how forgiveness is seen in
society today and gives compelling arguments for why forgiveness is important
to all of us.
THE STATE OF FORGIVENESS
Keller highlights three models of forgiveness in today's society. The first
is "nonconditional forgiveness," where the entire focus is on the offended
party recovering from anger and pain. Confronting the person who caused the
pain may or may not happen; the point is for the victim to get over his or her
The second is a "transactional forgiveness" model, where the focus is on
making the person who caused the pain "earn" forgiveness. If he or she shows
enough remorse or makes the right apologies, forgiveness by the victim is
The third is "no-forgiveness," which focuses only on justice. The only
recourse is to make the offending party pay for what they did. The problem is
that the first model doesn't hold the perpetrator accountable, and the latter
two models are based not on forgiveness but on elements of revenge.
Keller argues all three models are supported by a modern "therapeutic
culture," where society's focus is on the individual and the pursuit of
personal goals. We miss the biblical emphasis on community and forgiveness as
central tenants of the Christian faith. Moreover, the secular models don't
satisfy the hunger we have as humans to be in relationships, and to be
reconciled, with others.
THE COST AND PRACTICE OF FORGIVENESS
Knowing society's models don't satisfy, how should we approach forgiveness
in our relationships? First, the forgiver must realize the high cost of
forgiveness. Knowing someone hurt you, you make a decision to accept whatever
reparation that person will make, even if none, and let go of the issue that
caused the pain. In a word, you are "absorbing" the cost of letting go.
Keller suggests forgiveness "is a practice before it is a feeling." We
should think about the ways we could make the other person pay for their
offense and, in refraining from doing so, realize that we are practicing the
act of forgiveness. Then, we "promise not to keep bringing the matter up to the
person, to others or even ourselves."
Forgiveness also involves going privately, and perhaps more than once, to
the other person in as courteous a manner as possible and confronting the wrong
behavior. Two caveats apply here. First, be open to the idea that you may also
have wronged the other person. Second, focus on the other person's behavior,
what he or she did, versus character, who that person is.
A final step, if necessary, is to involve another person or two to
facilitate healing. Can a third party help the perpetrator understand or hear
more effectively, or hold you both accountable for creating a different
relationship going forward?
Forgiveness takes substantial internal and external work. It will challenge
you beyond any management, ownership or operational issue you face. It is
costly from an emotional and relational standpoint. But, a reconciled
relationship, particularly with a family member, positively affects both
current and future generations.
Lance Woodbury can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org
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