Excerpt from pages 37-38 of the book, The Forgiving Life by Dr. Robert Enright:
Richard Branson is one of the world’s most prolific entrepreneurs. Since starting Virgin Records in London in 1970 (and selling it in 1992 for $1 billion), he has grown his Virgin Group brand into more than 60 Virgin companies worldwide, employing nearly 71,000 people in 35 countries.
Branson is the only person in the world to build eight billion dollar companies in eight different sectors. His current highest profile activity is Virgin Galactic, which is on track to become the world’s first privately funded commercial space line, and his SpaceX Interplanetary Transport System.
But after nearly 50 years of building companies, Branson says there is one attribute that is key to his success and that of his companies — forgiveness.
“One of the most important lessons I have ever learned is the power of forgiveness. Forgiveness has become a cultural policy within Virgin,” according to Branson. “We give second chances, and have reaped great rewards as a result. It’s amazing how much people lift their game when you put trust and hope in them.”
“My life and career could have been very different if I hadn’t chosen to forgive one of my very first business partners. After finding a note outlining his plans to oust me as Student magazine’s publisher and editor, I felt incredibly betrayed and we decided to part ways.”
From Student, Branson’s first business, came the idea for Virgin. But as the operation took off, Branson decided to let bygones be bygones and called up his former partner and asked him to re-join the team.
“Forgiving him was one of the best decisions I have ever made,” Branson said. “I retained a great friend, became happier at work and in life, and gained the confidence to grow Virgin. Forgiveness brought us both peace and success.”
According to Branson, one of his employees was caught stealing in the early days of Virgin Records. Instead of letting him go, Branson decided to forgive him and offer him a second chance. “And thankfully so,” Branson recalls, “as he went on to discover talent like Culture Club, Human League and Phil Collins and sign them to our music label.”
Citing another example, Branson says “Nelson Mandela’s life is a powerful tale of forgiveness. After being unfairly jailed for 27 years, he forgave the people who imprisoned him. This forgiveness enabled him to become one of the greatest leaders the world has ever seen. Together with Archbishop Desmond Tutu he set up the Truth and Reconciliation Commission after apartheid was abolished, and the spirit of forgiveness shown in the process continues to enable South Africa to move forward.”
Branson’s advice on forgiveness: “If you’ve fallen out with someone, I urge you to call them up and arrange to meet and talk about the situation. You’ll most likely both think that the other person is to blame, but give each other the benefit of the doubt. Life’s too short to hold grudges. Everyone deserves freedom to move forward – and forgiveness is the fastest route to peace and happiness.”
Branson is the world’s most followed person on LinkedIn. He maintains a daily blog on his virgin.com website discussing everything from entrepreneurship, conservation and sustainability to travel, music and humor. He has more than 11.5 million followers across five social networks and has also written six books, including his autobiography Losing My Virginity.
Editor’s Note: This is a Guest Blog written by Elior Nerel, a Holistic Coach and Educator in Indigenous Healing. Her web link is at the end of the blog.
Growing up in one of the most violent regions in the world has taught me that anything I care about can be taken from me at any second. As a child, I recall witnessing horrifically violent images constantly appearing on the television screen, and I still have memories of being confined in a bomb shelter during the 1991 Gulf War. Somehow because we were children, my peers and I accepted this routine –the common ritual of periodically fitting gas masks on our heads in case a chemical attack should occur— as “normal”. We internalized the fact that any time we rode the bus there might be a terrorist attack against it (and many times there was), and we would be left to deal with the turmoil which was the reality into which we were born. We grew up with friends whose family members were brutally murdered in the middle of the street and who lost body parts or suffered horrific burns in terrorist attacks. Under these conditions, it was, and is, easy to hate and stereotype these “terrorists”, to wish them harm and never to consider what their lives are really like and what kinds of trauma they too have suffered.
But who are these “terrorists”? Do they have a name? A family? A dream for a safe home to return to? Is our pain from their attacks any greater or lesser than their pain? Although comparing pain is a slippery slope, one cannot help but wonder if we would all become “terrorists” if we were living under the same circumstances. As it is simply expressed in the Native American proverb:
“Great Spirit, help me never to judge another until I have walked in his moccasins.”
We can easily dwell on our personal traumas and forget that violence and loss are universal conditions that people experience every minute all over the world. Perhaps an even greater challenge is to remember which roles each one of us passively plays in the construction of violence and abuse, such as through discrimination, consumption, and unfair trade. We fight and compete for resources, land, jobs, and recognition. The battle is real, and we may even have evidence to justify it to a certain degree, but what does it do to our bodies, our health, and to our past, present and future relationships?
What I have learned from my personal experience and relationships with those families who have lost loved ones is that forgiveness is a practice. In order to move through the trauma of my early years as an Israeli I chose to adopt forgiveness and peace-work as a way of life. I understand how extremely short and fragile our lives are, and how crucial it is to place harmony with our environment as a priority. I have determined that spending our time in bitter punishment instead of restoring balance doesn’t help anyone. Forgiveness is not easy, but when done authentically and with a supportive group of professionals, it is a sustainable alternative to entrenched hatred and violence. A successful practice in forgiveness can become a building block in the joyful and meaningful lives we are all seeking to build. Practicing forgiveness has been restoring lives in many conflict stricken areas around the world such as Northern Ireland and South Africa.
How can we balance our needs to survive in our competitive modern world with the need to be compassionate and forgiving? For me, this juggling act of balancing the fragile scales of justice and mercy became easier once I uncomfortably realized that the capacity to inflict harm dwells in all human beings and that I myself cause harm unintentionally pretty much every single day. This understanding created an overwhelming emotion which left me feeling stuck in some surreal Stanford experiment. But I do believe we have a choice in transcending these animalistic tendencies by daring to embrace forgiveness and compassion, for the lives of all those involved in the conflicts. This path of action is not a quick fix, but nevertheless, it is possible. As my colleague Siobhan Chandler (Ph.D) explains, sometimes the first step in understanding how to move forward in a situation where there are multiple competing interests is to be intentional in asking for an outcome that is for the highest good of everyone involved. I believe that when we compassionately and respectfully consider the needs of others, we open a new gate of communication which re-humanizes our enemies and inches us towards a solution where it is possible that everyone’s needs are met.
My exposure to violence and conflict have opened me to participating in the growing forgiveness movement. More and more groups around the world have formed councils, restorative justice programs and healing circles, and have learned to overcome the trauma of human violence, to sit together, to talk, to listen, to forgive and to co-exist peacefully. These are people who have lost children to murder; who have lost their homes to bombing; who were betrayed and were left penniless. They have still managed to overcome the loss because they have realized that the enemy has a name, and a face, and a family and a story, just like we all do.
When the wounds of human violence are open and bleeding, delicate care and emotional sensitivity is required. The healing process often requires material and verbal reconciliation and restoration, but the foundational step is to recognize that a lack of forgiveness or justification of anger and revenge only destroys us, not our “enemy”, and makes us more physically sick, emotionally lonely and socially isolated. What if this form of “justice” doesn’t work, since whether it is us, or someone else committing a crime, when we place the stereotypical innocent victims against heartless criminals, both sides lose their humanity? As author David Wong said: “But remember, there are two ways to dehumanize someone: by dismissing them, and by idolizing them.”
I believe that deep down we all want to heal from the pains of losing that which we care about, to make sense of the losses we all experience in this hurting world. I wonder if at the heart of healing and forgiveness is the recognition that we all share excruciating moments (whether we admit them or not) of losing the irreplaceable – loved ones, romanticized dreams or unique possessions which we have cherished so deeply. Perhaps through this fundamental human recognition, we can decide to start healing by taking a small step and make forgiveness the topic of discussion over our next meal with those dear to our hearts.
by Elior Nerel
Holistic Coach and Educator in Indigenous Healing
niyitabiti.net, Lagos, Nigeria – A 24-year-old Nigerian man, Iniubong Ime, was roused from his sleep just after midnight on March 6, 2017. He stumbled out of his bedroom and opened the front door where he was confronted by his longtime girlfriend, Lucy Daniel. Before Ime could say a word, Daniel splashed his face, chest and arms with acid then ran off.
Today, after nearly a month in the hospital recovering from the acid burns, particularly in and around his eyes, Ime says he has forgiven Daniel who is being sought by the police but is still at large.
When a reporter from the Nigerian newspaper Daily Trust interviewed Ime in his hospital bed, he asked the victim, “When you recover, will you seek vengeance?”
Ime responded, “That wouldn’t solve anything. I have decided to let it go and forgive her. In fact, I forgave her from the very day it happened. I thank God I’m still alive. I won’t take her back because I had long broken up with her before the incident. But I can relate normally with her. I have no hard feelings towards her. We won’t be lovers again, but she won’t be my enemy either.”
Read the full story at: Victim forgives lady who poured acid on him to punish him.
Although some people can begin to feel quite good upon starting to forgive another, these positive feelings can take time because the process of forgiving itself can take time. So, it is typical that a decision to forgive can and does open the door to feeling well, but we then need patience to keep on the path of forgiveness. As we do that, anger begins to diminish and feelings of well-being begin to emerge. Even if the anger does not go away entirely, many people then say that their anger no longer controls them.
Can people feel well if they do not forgive? This depends on the severity of the offense. If the offense is profound and shocking, then a person may not feel well in a general and on-going sense without forgiveness. I do not say that to put pressure on anyone to forgive. I say it, instead, because this is what I observe in those with extremely challenging injustices against them.
In the process of forgiveness that we have outlined in two different books (Forgiveness Is a Choice and The Forgiving Life) there is one part of the process in which we ask the forgiver to “Do no harm” to the one who has been unjust. This idea of “Do no harm” is actually transitional to the even more difficult challenge to love the one who has hurt you. Yet, “Do no harm,” even though an earlier and supposedly easier part of the process, is anything but easy.
To “Do no harm” means three things: 1) Do not do obvious harm to the one who hurt you (being rude, for example); 2) Do not do subtle harm (a sneer, ignoring at a gathering, being neutral to this fellow human being); and 3) Do not do harm to others. In other words, when you are angry with Person X, it is easier than you think to displace that anger onto Persons Y and Z. If others have to ask, “What is wrong with her (him) today?” perhaps that is a cue that you are displacing anger from one incident into your current interactions.
It is at these times that it is good to take stock of your anger and to ask, “Whom do I need to forgive today? Am I ‘doing no harm’ as I practice forgiveness? Am I being vigilant not to harm innocent others because of what I am suffering?”
My challenge to you today: Do no harm to anyone throughout this entire day…..and repeat tomorrow…..and the day after that.