That will sound a big ask to some people – to transform the hard stuff of anger into the soft stuff of forgiveness – especially when the hurt has been so great. I write this, however on the eve of Australia Day 2016. It is the final day of Rosie Batty’s term as Australian of the Year. If there was anyone in this country who had reason to hold on to anger, it had to be her. She has suffered the most extraordinary pain when her partner murdered their 9 year old son about 18 months ago. Calling her emotionally intelligent is quite an understatement. She has displayed extraordinary self-awareness, resilience and pro-activity in the way she has turned this enormously painful situation into a life-changing positive for herself and our whole nation. She has brought domestic violence in this country out of the closet. She has created great awareness of it through her own tragedy. She has incited the will of the nation to take constructive action to prevent it. While she has achieved a great amount, it has only just begun. Underneath all her activity, however, and what has inspired so many people, is the way she has taken anger and turned it into forgiveness and into something immensely constructive.
What Can We Learn From Rosie Batty?
Many people would see anger as a “personal emotion”, not something they talk about in their professional life. They certainly would not see it as something that may impact on their career or professional development. In fact, many of us see all emotions as “personal”. They are inside us, belong to us and most of the time we like to think we are in control of them. The worst thing someone could say to us is that we are “emotional”.
Trouble is that if we are not aware of our emotions, neither are we aware of how public they are. As Shari Caudron says, they march into the office with us every morning and direct our behaviour for the day.
People who have recognised this have generally taken time to learn how to be emotionally intelligent. They have become very self-aware. They understand their emotions and what triggers the best and worst of them. They recognise how they impact on the people they lead and with whom they work. They manage their emotional life with the same commitment they manage their career or business.
Because of that they are very aware of and sensitive to other people’s emotions, especially their work colleagues. They are able to respond to and manage them in ways that bring out the best in their people and often turn potentially very difficult situations into very good otucomes.
That’s why emotional intelligence is a very important soft skill for leaders and managers.
Let’s come back to Anger.
All of us are hurt at some stage by someone. It may be a partner, a friend, a family member or someone at the footy club. It may be a business partner or a work colleague. It may be our boss.
Sometimes the hurt is a mere rebuff, or it may be a feeling of being overlooked, not being taken seriously, not being acknowledged, not being valued and appreciated – but it still hurts. Sometimes it may be something much deeper.
This is especially the case where there is betrayal or breech of trust. These experiences profoundly impact our lives. It may be sexual abuse as a child or a life partner having an affair. It may be about the person who killed someone close to you while driving a car under the influence of alcohol. It may be a work colleague who embezzles money from the business. It could be a business partner who schemes behind your back to take control of your business. These are all situations that usually create deep and abiding anger and hurt.
It can take considerable time to get over the hurt and to let go of the anger. It is essential, however, that people do that, no matter how profoundly they have been hurt. If they don’t, the anger stays stuck inside them. It blocks and clogs every tissue in their body. It eats away at their personality, their creativity, their imagination and their physical well-being. It severely hampers their capacity to get on with their life, often personally and professionally.
Be the Bridge and Get Over It.
We need to find a way to overcome our powerlessness about what this person has done to us, take back control of our lives.
Most people initially react quite emotionally to the hurt. This is only human, but to resolve their anger and hurt, they need to understand their emotions and use them constructively to get the outcomes that allow them to move forward with their lives.
We need to find someone who can help us do this, especially when there is a breech of trust or betrayal. Most people cannot resolve these situations by themselves. It may be a psychologist and/or a lawyer, an accountant or a financial planner.
This is where another very important soft skill emerges – Resilience – that ability to bounce back from adversity. It takes a lot of energy to maintain anger and that energy could be better used to rebuild our lives and a new future.
Forgiveness Is Not About Them. It is About You.
Finally, people need to be able to forgive if they are to move on. What does that mean? It doesn’t mean that regardless of what someone has done to us, we say to them: “It is all right. I understand why you did it. I forgive you. Let’s forget it ever happened.” It’s not about exonerating them from blame.
Often people will never forget what happened. They will never be able to have a close relationship with that person again. They can and must, however, get to a point where forgiving means letting go. “But if I do that, he’s won”, they say to me. No, he’s won if you let him ruin your whole life by continuing to carry around the poison of anger and hurt he created in you. Taking back control by letting go means you’ve won.
Forgiveness is not about them. It’s about you. It is about empowering you. You refuse to live in the prison of anger and hurt. As Paul Boese says: “Forgiveness does not change the past, but it does enlarge the future.”
Two more bits of inspiration.
“Holding on to anger is like grasping a hot coal with the intent of throwing it at someone else; you are the one getting burnt” – Buddha.
“You don’t die from snake bite, rather what kills you is the venom that keeps pouring through your body after the bite has taken place” – Wayne Dyer.