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We’re Doing Forgiveness Wrong

Have you ever won an argument only to lose a relationship?

You know that moment: you’ve argued too hard, voice is raised, tone shifts, and you summon an argumentative point that is really a personal attack masquerading as a debate point.

I recently experienced this moment with my business partner—who also is my spouse, roommate, friend, and advisor. We were in the middle of a heated discussion about where our desks should be sitting. (For those keeping score at home, we were both wrong.)

So, there I sat having won the argument—or, at least, pushing my opponent to give up—but, instead, I felt like I had lost.

I thought about how I was going to eat dinner with the person I’d just mistreated later that evening. We were about to talk about another project in 10 minutes.

This is where forgiveness becomes absolutely critical to the future of our relationship. It’s absolutely not a warm, fuzzy ideal.

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Our clients are small business owners who are—for the most part—doing things they’ve never done before. Mistakes, stress, anxiety, money problems, and doubts are common realities that our clients are experiencing on a day to day basis.

Generally speaking, we make art to help them succeed and be more attractive to their audience.

Sometimes we show our clients art, but the rest of the stress in their lives doesn’t leave them with much energy to receive it enthusiastically. (Being okay with this is what makes our team professionals.)

Sometimes we’re vulnerable, brave, and courageous in our work—and then a client rejects it, or focuses on something silly.  

Sometimes that hurts the feelings of an artist. Sometimes.

If one of our customers accidentally offends us, should we fire them? No.

Should we stop working with every single person who isn’t tripping over themselves to compliment our art? No.

But should we just bury our feelings and become soulless, art-making machines? Of course not.

Have you ever been around a creative person who just complains about their clients? How fun is that?

Forgiveness is the only way forward in our world. It’s necessary.

I think we’ve been doing forgiveness wrong. It shows up in stories of oppression and violence and hurt, but it doesn’t show up in the little day-to-day places where it’s just as necessary.

Forgiveness matters because trust matters.

If we want friendship, we must have forgiveness. If we want to grow closer with someone—professionally, personally, or romantically—forgiveness is required.

When you give your forgiveness accurately and generously, the opportunity to become intimate exists.

When you know your customers will forgive your errors, you can serve them more generously. When your boss forgives well, you can take more risks at work.

Obviously, there are a lot of times where we’re faking an apology.

“I’m sorry, but …” isn’t a very realistic apology.

We need to apologize and actually mean it. We need to feel our apologies, or else we risk becoming the boy who cried wolf—in other words, people will become desensitized by your sorries and your apologies will no longer mean anything but a bunch of words strung together.

Forgiveness is active. Feel your apology, express it genuinely, then do something about it.

May 14, 2019
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