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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.

Lance Woodbury
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.


   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.


   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 lance.woodbury@pinionglobal.com  


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