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All About You: Practicing forgiveness

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EDITOR’S NOTE: Motivating employees to work safely is part of the safety professional’s job. But who motivates the motivator? In this monthly column, veteran safety pro and professional speaker Richard Hawk offers his entertaining brand of wisdom to inspire safety pros to perform at their best.

“Forgive and forget” is age-old advice that’s not always easy to follow. Sometimes it seems downright impossible to heed it when someone wrongs us or says something hurtful. Not being able to forgive can gnaw at us and sap our happiness. It can even mar our work performance. You can “thicken your skin” so you don’t get offended as easily, but you’ll still experience times when you’re smacked emotionally by something someone does to you.

I’ve gotten better at forgiving over the years, but I still need to work at it. Even as I write this, I’m in an unpleasant situation that was partially caused by a vendor who is also a friend. So although I’m not going to reveal details about what happened, working on this article is helping me – and I hope it will help you, too.

One technique for reducing emotional pain you experience after a slight is to remind yourself that you can’t change what happened, but you can change how you feel about it. And as with any negative life event, you can learn from it.

Why forgive?

There are many reasons to let go of grudges and be forgiving. Here’s a short list of the benefits of forgiveness from the Mayo Clinic:

  • Healthier relationships
  • Greater spiritual and psychological well-being
  • Less anxiety, stress and hostility
  • Lower blood pressure
  • Improved heart health
  • Stronger immune system
  • Higher self-esteem

Obviously, forgiving is good for you! If you want to know what damage holding on to bad feelings causes, simply reverse each of the benefits above. In no way will staying peeved help you. It may be wise to change your behavior toward a person by reconsidering the way you interact with them in the future, but staying upset about whatever they did to you in the past is a harmful waste of time.

What about revenge?

This topic is a bit tricky. Social scientists believe revenge has helped us survive as a species – and that’s why we seek it. Thoughts of revenge can be pleasurable. However, in a 2013 article posted on the Psychology Today website, psychologist Karyn Hall writes, “While the anticipation of revenge may feel pleasurable, the actual carrying out of revenge brings little satisfaction and may create more problems and suffering.” So, even if the person you’re mad at gets what you believe they “deserve,” it’s unlikely to make you feel better.

How to forgive

Stop focusing on the other person. Yes, they shouldn’t have done whatever it is they did to you. Maybe they have a flaw in their social skills or are selfish. You’re not going to change them. Instead of dwelling on the offender, use that energy to better understand yourself.

Reading about forgiveness has helped me as well. If it’s a minor insult – so what? If it’s something that is constantly bothering you, then it’s worth the effort to read about ways to forgive and follow through on what you learn.

You may never forget

We can always forgive even if we can’t always forget. I still remember certain personal affronts that happened to me over 20 years ago. Even though I haven’t forgotten them, I haven’t stayed angry about them. Grief, fear, regret and other negative emotions weaken with time. Although the memories can sometimes remain in our mind for many years, that doesn’t mean you haven’t forgiven the person – it’s just a part of being human. We all make mistakes and do things we wish we hadn’t. That’s another reason why learning to forgive and trying to forget is good advice.

This article represents the views of the author and should not be construed as a National Safety Council endorsement.

Richard Hawk helps companies around the world create more vibrant safety cultures by showing them how to make safety fun. As a professional speaker, author and musician, he also inspires employees to focus better and enlightens safety leaders about ways to increase their influence. To learn more about Richard, visit makesafetyfun.com.

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