A Mother and A World Leader Offer Lessons In Forgiveness To Apply At Work

Photograph of Larry Johnson, Professional Speaker, Author, and Corporate Culture Expert

Recently I was involved in a project that was being coordinated by a friend. She was under a lot of pressure managing all the details required to successfully complete her tasks. She had complained in the past that project participants didn’t always respond to her emails and texts in a timely manner. It not only made her job more difficult but she thought it was just plain rude of them not to get back to her as quickly as she needed. She expressed this sentiment at one of our project meetings and we all nodded in agreement while sheepishly looking at our shoes.

It was a little embarrassing but she had a good point.

A couple of weeks later, she sent out a text to all of us, asking if someone would take responsibility for bringing a cake to our next meeting because we were going to be celebrating one of the project member’s birthday. It was going to be a surprise.

I normally hate doing stuff like that, but after her “shaming” lecture two weeks before, I figured I’d step up to the plate, so I responded to her, “I’ll bring the cake.” During the following week, I sent reminder texts to myself so I wouldn’t forget the cake, and the day before the meeting, I made a special trip to Costco (my favorite store in the whole world) and bought the cake.

The night before the meeting, I got a text from her, that was copied to the entire team, saying that she would bring the cake. I replied that I thought I was bringing it. She replied “I got NO responses to my cake request, so I played the martyr and got it.”

I replied, “So we have two cakes. Hope everyone likes Red Velvet cake.” Her response was “Well, if you had answered me, I wouldn’t have gotten it.”

I, however, had responded to her and she either hadn’t received it or didn’t bother to read her incoming texts (I suspected the latter) That really got my ire up because based on her earlier statement, she was now accusing me of being rude. Man oh man, was I ready to let her have it!! Fortunately, after reading her text, I had to get in the car and couldn’t send a response text until I stopped driving.

During that brief interlude, I heard an interview on NPR with Nelba Marquez-Greene, a mother who lost her six-year daughter, Ana, in the Sandy Hill School shooting one year ago. She said that although her grief was beyond description, she and her family had decided to forgive and move on. She went on to say,

“People say to me, ‘I can’t believe what that monster did to your baby!” “Well, you know, it’s true, something terrible happened to Ana, and that was a terrible day, But if we even use that language, ‘monster,’ if we talk like that, we already make a separation between us and them and it doesn’t work that way.”

Márquez-Greene says her own compassion continues to be tested — like at her conference, when she was setting up a candle for each of the lives lost on Dec. 14. She said she thought of the shooter, who killed both his mother and himself and she asked, should we have 26 candles, or should we have 28? “We put 28, because at the end of the day, it’s a gesture of the compassion that we need to move forward.”[1]

And, of course, she is right. We think of the victims as being the 20 children and 6 adults who were killed that horrible day, but wasn’t the killer’s mother, Nancy Lanza and the killer, Adam Lanza victims as well: she a victim of her son’s twisted thinking, and he a victim of his own mental illness?

It got me thinking that if Ms. Marquez-Greene could forgive them enough to think of them as victims, why was I so incensed and intent on revenge and embarrassing my project manager over an oversight? My issue is NOTHING compared to hers.

Ironically, this week has been spent praising the work of Nelson Mandela and his ability to forgive his tormentors for 26 years of his own imprisonment and the unspeakable cruelties of apartheid that were inflicted on him and his people.

Surely we all have something to learn about forgiveness, even at a miniscule level like who screwed up on a project and what to do with all the left-over cake!
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1. Smith, Tovia, A Grieving Newtown Mother’s Motto: ‘Love Wins,’ NPR, http://www.npr.org/2013/12/14/250786728/a-grieving-newtown-mothers-motto-love-wins

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