When I was 17 years old, I betrayed my best friend. I went behind her back and dated her ex. When she caught me, she was angry and I knew I was dead wrong. Months later, she invited me over to talk about it. As we sat in her bedroom like we had done so many times before, I awaited her wrath and my fate. But then she did something remarkable: she forgave me. She explained: "My mom and I talked it over and we know you didn't have your mom around to guide you, and you're going to make mistakes, so I forgive you." Nearly 30 years later, this remains one of the kindest things anyone has ever done for me. Forgiveness heals.
Betrayal occurs quite often in work settings. There's a well-known work phrase: "thrown under the bus" which means someone took a bad situation and unfairly blamed it all on you. Business can be competitive and sometimes someone you trusted with your trade secrets or ideas steals them as their own. It is common to feel betrayed when passed over for a promotion by a trusted boss. Betrayal also comes in the form of feeling abandoned when someone you trusted doesn't show up for you in a way you expected. Chances are, you've felt betrayed at work somewhere along the way. What do you do?
One option we often forget about is forgiveness. We forget this option because it is not the norm in work culture. What we do instead is judge the person as guilty without trying to truly understand why they acted the way they did and then we cast the person out of our inner circle forever. It seems justified, and I certainly expected my friend to do that to me at 17.
What we forget in casting people out is that there are REASONS people do things that hurt us. They are usually acting out of their own pain, fear, and insecurity. And if there are places we do this more often, work is definitely one of them. Our work cultures often foster acting from fear. Employers and managers coach us to be competitive, while enforcing the idea that we must be the best, that we must meet their standards or we're not good enough. This promotes acting in our own self-interests to avoid pain and get ahead at any cost without considering the consequences to others. When we remember that inside the workplace we are all susceptible to making errors or not considering others, forgiving becomes easier. Indeed, if you can admit you've ever acted in fear, it is hypocritical not to forgive.
Not forgiving also costs us peace and growth that can be available if we face the situation directly. Our peacefulness is lost in the resentment we feel and our dark thoughts that turn someone we once cared for into a guilty criminal who is beyond redemption. These thoughts and feelings punish us more than anyone else. Until we forgive, we are haunted. And then, in this fog of focusing on the bad that happened to us, we miss the opportunity to explore and grow out of any lessons the situation had to offer.
In adulthood, forgiveness can feel like one of the hardest things we can do, but, the good news is: to forgive is in our divine nature. We know this is true because we can see it in children who forgive with ease. We also know this is true because we are made in the likeness of God and God forgives all human error. So when we find ourselves in that fog of resentment sitting in that judge's chair, we need a tool to help us shift back into our divine nature as compassionate, loving beings. Here are three questions I call "Forgiveness Activation Questions" to support you to do just that:
What do I know of this person's background, trauma, stressors, fears, or insecurities that might have prompted their behavior - and can I be more understanding that this seemed like the right thing for this person to do at the time?
Can I look at the whole of this person and recognize that this act was merely one transgression or one area of struggle this person faces and has not yet overcome - and from that can I allow this person to be human and make an error?
Have I ever made a mistake that hurt someone and felt either the pain of not being forgiven or the healing of forgiveness - and can that guide me here?
Try out these questions if you are living with the darkness and pain of non-forgiveness with someone, and know that if a betrayal comes up for you later, you've got a powerful new tool. By learning the extraordinary practice of forgiveness, you clear the slate for peace and freedom to love your work. You also become a healing force for yourself, for the other person involved, and even more, your generous heart will inspire others to be more forgiving, just like my friend's generosity to forgive inspired you.
Spiritual practice: A prayer to open to forgiveness
When we feel we have been betrayed, our minds have been conditioned to see only the guilt and wrongfulness of the person whose actions hurt us. God does not see us with guilt. He only sees us with love, even in our errors. To cultivate forgiveness and bring forth our divine nature, we can offer in prayer our willingness to see the situation differently and ask that our minds be aligned with God's loving thoughts. This is our invitation for grace to enter and show us how to open our hearts to forgive. Here is a sample prayer: Dear God, I feel betrayed and abandoned by this person. My mind goes to his guilt and I judge him and only see his errors. I am willing to see this differently but I don't know how. Please come into my mind and align it with yours. Help me to wash away the fear and lovelessness. Help me see newly. Help me see this person's innocence as you do with your loving eyes. Help me to understand his actions and hold them in compassion and light. Help me also to have compassion for myself in any errors I have made. Please bring healing to us both and let us be made more loving forevermore out of this experience. Thank you. Amen.
Specialized Service: Peacemaking coaching
Some professional relationships are such an integral part of your career that a serious strain in the relationship means your business closes or someone has to leave the company. With consequences this serious, your conflict may require the support of a third party. If you feel stuck in a relationship with a professional partner or colleague who may be willing to sit down to resolve the situation with third-party support, let's chat. Although I am trained as an attorney and bring that knowledge, this is a more peaceful approach to take before the expensive and adversarial step of hiring lawyers. For this type of coaching service, I bring specific training in peacemaking. Sign up for a free, no obligation 30-minute phone consultation HERE.