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ALL IN THE FAMILY

The power of forgiveness

/ 05:18 AM September 23, 2021

Can you recommend another lawyer?” asks Don (not his real name), the head of a food retail business started by his father. “Attorney P told us that this is a hard case, and it will cost us a lot. We want someone with more confidence.”

“Attorney P is skilled and experienced,” I say. “Listen to him.”

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“But Company X should not get away with what they did. We want to bring them to court.”

The much bigger Company X allegedly engaged in certain actions to take over parts of Don’s business. Don initially trusted Company X, so contracts were not airtight, but then Don and his family eventually found themselves on the losing end.

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“We are just trying to make a decent living,” says Don. “Attorney P agreed that they are evil, but he told us it’s hard to win the case.”

“Evil is banal, as political theorist Hannah Arendt reminds us,” I say. “Company X is influential, and it has so much more resources than you. What if you go bankrupt? What will happen to your family? If your father were alive, would he sue?”

“My father was too kind, and some people took advantage. I want to fight for what is right.”

“Your father was good, generous, brilliant,” I say. “He grew your business and left it in good shape for his heirs. By all standards, he was successful and content.”

“What should I do? Forgive and forget?”“Forgive, but not forget,” I say. “Learn from your mistakes, and take steps so that your family will not be taken advantage of in this way again.”“Forgiveness!” Don scoffs. “We’re talking business here.”

I quote INSEAD business professor Manfred Kets de Vries, who said, “Truly transformational leaders are acutely aware of the cost of animosity. They realize the havoc that can be created by an unforgiving attitude … Holding grudges is a form of arrested development; it holds people back.”

De Vries compared Nelson Mandela and Robert Mugabe. Mandela famously forgave those who imprisoned him for 27 years and reconciled South Africa’s various peoples, saying, “Forgiveness liberates the soul … That’s why it’s such a powerful weapon.”

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“In comparison, Robert Mugabe opted for bitterness, vindictiveness and hatred against white Zimbabweans and the nation’s black citizens who opposed him,” says Forbes Asia. “By encouraging supporters to forcibly occupy white-owned commercial farms, Zimbabwe, once the bread basket of southern Africa, became the poor house. Under his rule, unemployment rose to between 70 to 80 percent, life expectancy fell. In mid-November 2008, Zimbabwe’s peak month of inflation is estimated at 6.5 sextillion percent—making the national currency basically useless. A ‘clean-up campaign’ targeting the slums where his most hardened opponents resided left 200,000 homeless.”

“Forgiveness works in business,” I tell Don. “Almost a century ago, a remarkable sibling, one of the heirs in a huge Filipino-Chinese family conglomerate, witnessed firsthand how several factions in the family were fighting it out to get a larger piece of the pie.

“He could have fought for his share, but he decided that peace of mind was more important. He forgave the family members who did not treat him well. He made his own way, and he succeeded. After some time, the conglomerate collapsed from within and without, and no longer exists today.”

“Is this a true story?” Don asks.

“His son, who held top positions in international banking, shared the story with me. This son is now working with a top family business consultancy in Boston, and he never forgot the values his father displayed.

“Avoid hasty decisions when emotions run high. Your business continues to do well, so do not stoop to retaliation. Choose your battles, learn from your mistakes, forgive those who wronged you.”

Queena N. Lee-Chua is with the board of directors of Ateneo’s Family Business Center. Get her book “All in the Family Business” via Lazada, or the e-book version on Amazon, Google Play, Apple iBooks. Contact the author at [email protected]

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