If you’ve read any of my posts, you will realize that my academic ride hasn’t been the smoothest one. I have come face to face with conflict and confrontation on more than one occasion. Every time I’ve engaged with these situations, I have had a choice either to retaliate in anger or to turn the other cheek. Although I have (almost always!) turned that proverbial cheek, I am learning that if I don’t forgive others, bitterness can settle in my heart quite quickly and can cause a host of problems (e.g., stress, frustration, and resentment).
Most recently, the topic of forgiveness was highlighted by the families of the nine people murdered during a Wednesday night Bible study in Charleston, South Carolina. As the confessed murderer stood handcuffed before the family via a television screen, numerous family members spoke through their pain to say that they prayed for the killer’s soul. A barrage of media commentators voiced astonishment at how people could forgive in the midst of such vicious assassinations.
The theme of forgiveness resonated with me, and I reflected on how forgiveness plays a role in my professional life. In true Reverend Dr. Monica Cox fashion, allow me to break down why you need to forgive your professional colleagues even when they don’t seem to deserve your forgiveness.
1. You delay your happiness.
A few years ago, I was involved in a research misconduct case. A team of individuals across several campuses and I worked together to submit a $2.5 million grant to a federal agency. Our proposal was not funded, but I realized after several months that content from our grant was duplicated in another grant that was eventually funded by the same agency. I chose to follow proper protocol and file a complaint against the only person who was engaged on both grant teams. After 1 1/2 years of research investigations and questioning across two institutions, the research misconduct committee confirmed that duplication had occurred, but they couldn’t prove who duplicated the content.
Imagine my anger and distress. I had worked diligently to lead efforts on this grant submission, and at the end of the day, no one would be held accountable for the “duplication.” I could not understand why someone would lie about copying my work, but I realized that I couldn’t force this person to come clean just because it was the (seemingly) right thing to do. Just three weeks ago, I saw my work on the funded grant’s project website. Surprisingly, I didn’t blow up. In my heart, I knew that the ideas on that page originated from my team, but I actually had compassion for her, an individual who felt the need to copy someone else’s ideas. That woman had moved on with her life, and I should do the same.
Takeaway: You can kick and scream, but sometimes bad things happen to good people. After you’ve done all that you can ethically and from a policy perspective, know that the people who are dishonest must live with their actions. Forgive them, because you have other ideas to pursue and other people to impact.
2. You remain connected to people who add little to no value to your life.
My Pastor presented a great analogy about forgiveness. He said that unforgiveness is like a poison that you drink while the person who does you wrong sits back and watches. In other words, you are killing yourself, yet the other person is walking around as free as a bird.
This hit home for me when I realized that if anything important happened to me, the people who had done me wrong would not care, and if the thing that happened to me was negative, some of these people would be quite happy about my demise. Birthdays would come and go, and there would be no message. A significant life event would happen, and there would be no acknowledgment of it. The more I thought about it, the more I realized how stupid it was for me to expect a person who had hurt me to care about me as much as I cared about them.
Takeaway: You can stalk a person’s social media page all day to see what they are doing, but they aren’t giving a rat’s tail about you. Count your losses and move on. Learn from your experience, and forgive them for trespassing against you. Believe me when I say that they forgot about you a long time ago.
3. You strain relationships with those closest to you.
Thank God that I married a patient man. When I go through drama with people, I talk about it, talk about it some more, and then talk about it again. Then I analyze it, flip it 50 times, and analyze it once more. Believe me when I say that doing this is extremely unfair to those closest to you. Fortunately, I have a great Bad Day Buddy and amazing spiritual mentors and friends. They can listen to my drama only so long, however.
While your haters are sipping on mimosas and living the good life, you are torturing those closest to you with the most intimate details of the wrongdoing. STOP IT! If you are used to being in control of most aspects of your life (like me!), you must learn to count your losses for the sake of your personal relationships. My faith gives me assurance that for every loss, I will see many more successes in the future. The sooner you adopt this philosophy, the sooner you can move on and strengthen your relationships with those closest to you.
Takeaway: Identify a way to release those who have done you wrong. Although you may secretly await their public humiliation (not a good look, by the way!), move on with your life. Keep your loved ones out of this mess. If you have to, immerse yourself in your work, pray, or take up a new hobby. Whatever you do, try to expel your perpetrators from your mind and life.
4. You stifle your creativity.
When you are focused on drama and revenge, you’re not focused on your purpose and potential. You have too much to do in life to dwell on who did you wrong and how you’re going to pay them back. What’s done is done. Get over it.
You only have so many hours in a day. If you spend 30 minutes dwelling on how much you dislike someone, you want to spend another 30 minutes talking to someone else how much you dislike them. You then spend an hour processing the conversation. By then, it’s lunch time, and you haven’t done a lick of work. Why waste your day on foolishness? Start your day focused on YOUR purpose, and you won’t have time to dwell on those who have done you wrong.
Takeaway: Fast from negativity. If you are reminded of negativity and who did you wrong via social media or TV, turn off your computer or TV. If you are tempted to call someone to discuss your disgruntlement, turn off your phone. The lesson is to be extreme in your focus. Until you can control your thoughts, control your environment in a way that helps you to remained focused on your work and goals.
5. You stay in a holding pattern.
There’s nothing like doing the same thing over and over. Although routines are good in some instances, engaging in a routine of revenge and unforgiveness isn’t cool at all.
My most recent challenge involved an entrepreneur with whom I had devoted a lot of my personal and professional time. I helped his professional brand via my resources, yet, when I challenged him, he cut me off. There was no professional courtesy (e.g., this is how we are going to handle issues of intellectual property) or anything. Just a “straight up” dismissal. Although I think that doing business this way is extremely tacky, there is really nothing I can do to make this man respond to me, particularly in a positive, mature, and professional manner. If I saw him on the street today, I’m not sure how I would respond. I know, however, that knocking him in the head with my 20 pound purse several times is not an option, although it might make me feel like a real winner at the time. I am a work in progress, and I’d like to think that one day I’ll see him and sincerely promote him and his brand.
Takeaway: Although it may be really, really difficult, you have to let go of your anger so that you can soar. We have all been taken advantage of at some point in our lives, and we will probably be taken advantage of several more times in the future no matter how much we think otherwise. The real victors are the people who move beyond the hurt and the pain. You have an entire life to live with people who want to sow good seeds into you and want you to succeed. Connect to them, and leave the negative people behind.
In conclusion, unforgiveness will keep you from reaching your destiny at the appointed time that you are supposed to reach that destiny. Let today be the day that you say goodbye to the past and to any hurts associated with it. Start anew, declaring that you will be surrounded by people who lift you to higher professional levels. Be thankful that the ones who caused you grief have been revealed and are no longer in your life. After all, life goes on.