This is the fifth in a series of articles about eight universal spiritual principles for success in any occupation of life. Previously, I wrote about humility, purity, compassion and integrity. Today's spiritual principle is forgiveness.
Forgiveness begins with ourselves, because when we harbor anger or resentment towards others, we are actually dealing with some form of self-hatred. When we hate ourselves, even if the emotion is deeply buried in our subconscious mind, we cannot allow ourselves to extend love or respect to others.
We've all heard the expression "forgive and forget," but most of us realize that it's not quite that simple in real life. Forgiveness is not about forgetting or pretending something didn't happen. It's about acknowledging what happened and learning the lesson offered, without holding onto the pain. On the level of the individual, it is really all about letting go of pain.
Forgiveness is not the same as excusing someone. We excuse someone who was truly not to blame. We forgive a person who has done something wrong, even if the person didn't realize what the consequences of his or her actions would be. In other words, we must establish that a person's behavior has violated standards of right and wrong, or of appropriateness and inappropriateness.
This is the issue that many people faced when thinking about someone like Paula Deen, whose racist actions are inexcusable, even if she was brought up in a time and place when adults of her own race did these things without censure. She definitely did something wrong, but she deserves to be forgiven and allowed to move forward in a new direction.
Forgiveness is not giving permission for a person to continue with his or her behaviors. It does not involve condoning the behavior in the past or in the future. If we decide to forgive Paula Deen, on a personal level or on a business level, it does not mean we condone her behavior.
Forgiveness is not the same as reconciliation, however. After we decide to forgive a person, we must make a separate decision whether or not to continue our association with the person, maintain a distance, or cut off all contact and association with the person. Obviously, many businesses have decided not to reconcile with Paula Deen because they are afraid that her actions will permanently besmirch their company reputation.
Some are simply unwilling to let go of their anger, because the anger serves them in some way. It may make them feel justified in getting revenge, or it may allow them to feel sorry for themselves and take actions that they think will make them feel better, such as drowning their sorrows in drink or going on a huge shopping spree when they don't really have the funds for such an activity. What they don't realize is that they will actually feel much lighter and freer if they can find it in their hearts to forgive.
Some people seem to feel that it's more important to make an example of a person who has done wrong, and that if they forgive the person, the power of the punishment will be lessened. In the case of the companies that Paula Deen did business with, the companies' actions weren't really meant as punishments as much as they were meant to protect the companies' image and distance themselves from the taint of racism. But what about the punishment for the Boston bomber, or any of the prisoners in Guantanamo? Many still feel we need to make an example of these. It is often easier to forgive on a personal level than on a public level, where company reputation or national security is at stake.
Tomorrow: innocence. :-)