Randy Fox Interviews Gary Shunk on Forgiveness

Randy Fox Interviews Gary Shunk on Forgiveness

Article posted in Values-Based on 14 April 2015| 2 comments
audience: National Publication, Two Hawks Consulting, LLC, Gary Shunk | last updated: 14 April 2015


In this interview with Gary Shunk, we discuss the power of forgiveness and how forgiveness allows individuals and families to move forward with their philanthropy and with their lives.

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Randy:    Good morning, this is Randy Fox and I am with Gary Shunk. Gary sent me a quote, which I’m going to read and that is going to be the topic of our discussion.  The quote says, “Forgiveness is a willingness to abandon one’s right to resentment, negative judgment, and indifferent behavior toward one who unjustly injured us while fostering the undeserved qualities of compassion, generosity and even love toward him or her.”  That was written by Dr. Robert Enright and the Human Development Study Group at the University of Wisconsin at Madison.  What I would like to do today, Gary, is to try to understand this quote a little bit and to see how we can apply it to the families that we work with and ultimately how it ties back into the philanthropic backbone of the family.  

Gary:    Thank you.  When I think of philanthropy, it is love of humanity and one of the great things that families of wealth and business families can do together. In addition to their enterprises that they may be engaged in one of the enterprises that they can engage in of course is charitable giving and philanthropy.  And so it’s love towards humanity and the important thing that I see in the work that I do with families is trying to help create what I would call harmonious love inside families and often families encounter differences or conflicts and sometimes misunderstandings occur.  The families that I serve deal with this. In fact, there aren’t any that don’t.  Therefore, the notion of forgiveness has been important. I have a colleague of mine who I actually thought of earlier when I was thinking about, Tom Hubler. Tom has actually created what he calls “forgiveness rituals” for families.  I think forgiveness is important because what it does is it frees the family from a stuck place of emotional resentment. Resentment is a restatement inside the person or inside the family system of a hurt or an injury like this forgiveness quote talks about.  Maybe it’s unjust or it’s misunderstanding.  What ends up happening is that a resentment happens, and when a resentment happens and people don’t resolve that problem or face the conflict or the differences that they have encountered then that resentment can perpetuate and actually get passed on from generation to generation.  That’s the importance of forgiveness.

Randy:    Gary, one of my questions would be, how does one bring to the family the tools to recognize the resentments and then to address the issue of forgiveness?  Because sometimes families just function at their normal dysfunctional level and don’t really know what’s in the way.  They don’t know that forgiveness is needed, because they don’t really understand that someone is feeling wronged. How do we crack that door open? 

Gary:    I think a beginning way is for someone who is hurting to have the courage to name it or to state that you know what, there is something that doesn’t work in my relationship and albeit or you know they could be angry with someone or they could have been hurt by someone.  Typically the person that is courageous will say, “What happened to me is I was hurt by what it is that you said or did.”  For them to be courageous and approach the person or persons where that injury occurred is the beginning of trying to reconcile that.  Along with that is the element of when a person forgives another, the person that is forgiving the one that injured them, that person is the one that gets freed, because they let go of the resentment.  They’re the ones typically that have the resentment and have the injury and want to be free from it.

Randy:    It seems to me at some level families especially, often come to understand that that’s just the way life is in my family.  They don’t see it as an intrusion, that’s just their way of life.  If someone outside or there’s a temporary wronging, someone cuts me off in traffic or steals money from me, I can relate to that, that’s some outsider treating me bad, but when it’s within my family isn’t it kind of normal behavior?  How do I know that I need to forgive that person?  How do I discover that?

Gary:    I think that what you said that’s important, Randy, is this notion of that’s just the way they are, that’s just the way he is or that’s just the way she is.  I’ll give you an example of a family I was working with that we were talking about their charitable giving.  One of the family members said, “Here we are talking about philanthropy, the love of humanity, when in fact you” and that brother pointed over to the other brother, “You have hurt me multiple times.  How can we help others outside of our family if we don’t reconcile what’s wrong inside of our family or what’s injured inside of our family?”  Interestingly they happen to be having a discussion about charitable giving and philanthropy, when, in fact it brought it to the surface.  So what that one family member courageously did was confront himself about this conversation and how we are going right now, because I’m not okay with my brother.  And his brother heard him and reacted a little bit to him, but at the same time he heard him and he said, “What do you need to do to resolve that?”  And there was a mutual misunderstanding that went way back and they ended up talking about it.  I helped them process it and essentially what happened was a mutual forgiveness.  Both of them had been carrying some resentment and they were both able to name those resentments, not in a reactive way, but in a compassionate way.  Both of them in the moment were able to forgive each other in front of the rest of the family members, which ended up being a learning experience, but also a transformative event between these two brothers, which impacted the then ongoing discussion after that got resolved. 
We came back after a break and continued on with the philanthropic discussion, which took it to a new level. 

Randy:    I can imagine that kind of event could be cathartic for the family in a good way.  What I heard you say was brother to brother.  Is it more difficult when its parent to child, child to parent? 

Gary:    Often what a child will feel is that it goes back to that notion that you had said, that’s just the way they are, i.e., that’s just the way dad is or that’s just the way my mom is. I have an example of a father and a son that in a very similar situation as I described between the two brothers.  There was a son who took a risk during a family meeting and confronted his father about something that had happened to the two of them, but he the son was carrying resentment towards his father, when in fact he had no sense of what had happened from his point of view.  As the son expressed and explained this to the father, ultimately what ended up happening is that there was a misunderstanding.  How the son understood something and how the father understood something reconciled and essentially there was a moment of forgiveness and obviously the resentment the son had was released as well.  Child to parent dynamics are powerful as well as sibling to sibling, and also spouse to spouse, obviously. 

Randy:    Yes, I would imagine spouse to spouse is equally important, especially again, focusing back on philanthropy.  It seems to me it’s going to be hard for any family to move forward with a family philanthropy plan when they are harboring ill will toward each other at the same time.  How do we have a common cause when we can’t even get along with each other? 

Gary:    Exactly. I use the words, and I’ll put it in quotes “clearing.”  Sometimes when I do family meetings I will start off a meeting, and do a check in with everybody about where they are in the present moment.  Then I’ll say, “Does anybody need to clear with each other?”  What that equals is that is there any ill feelings as you had mentioned, or are there any conflicts or are there any resentments?  Are there any harbored negative feelings?  Just to give the family permission (or organization for that matter), permission to be able to clear safely, especially in the context of a discussion around philanthropy, but any discussion, opens up the hearts and the minds of the people there so that they can do what it is that philanthropic planning is really about. 

Randy:    Do you see where families want to, let’s call it, stick their toe in the water, and that the early resentments you hear are the petty, minor ones;  “you parked where I normally park,” as opposed to you stole my girlfriend, kind of forgivenesses? 

Gary:    You know what I’d like to, and you can quote this as well:  “It ain’t about what it’s about.”  And what does that mean to and what do I intend by saying that?  Often somebody that parked in their parking space and they blow up about it or that somebody stepped in front of them or whatever it might have been, some small issue—“infraction,” is probably the right word.  And they blow up or a reaction or resentment happens.  And when I say, “it ain’t about what it’s about,” typically family members will understand that to mean that’s here’s a small infraction, but it really goes back to something that happened in the past where there was a misunderstanding and there was an injustice or an injury.  If a family can stick their toe in the water when there’s a reaction to a small infraction and risk the courage to basically talk about what it is that may be in the way, then that’s a moment of forgiveness, and that’s a moment of release and letting go to reconcile and move forward.

Randy:    Thanks for answering that, because that’s I think, although it might have been obvious to you and I, it might not be obvious to everybody else, and I think that’s an important learning part.  Another thing you said earlier, Gary, and I want to circle back to that before we wrap up, is that the forgiver is the one who is released from pain much more than the one who is being forgiven.  Would you just spend a little bit more time on that, because I think that’s really important.  They say that carrying your grudges to your grave is useless because the person you have a grudge against doesn’t even know you have the grudge, so it’s not hurting them, it’s hurting you.  

Gary:    Exactly.  I know the neuroscience and the new brain science about biochemistry confirms that the emotions that we carry create certain types of biochemical reactions inside of our minds and bodies, Cortisol being one of those.  When we are angry afraid, i.e., when we are resentful, we are toxic.  For us to approach someone and to forgive them releases us from that toxicity.  It releases us from the emotional toxicity as well as the physiological toxicity, so the one that forgives gets freed.  There are remarkable examples of people that forgive where there has been a murder of a family. That human dynamic has divine proportions to it.  There is evidence that when the person forgives they are freed, and the person that created the injury, they’ve got to deal with the responsibility and consequences of their actions.  However, the one that’s injured gets free. 

Randy:    What about self-forgiveness, because no one is harder on ones self than ones self?  I see a lot of people who spend a great deal of time lamenting mistakes they have made and beating themselves up, and they just can’t let go of the mistakes they’ve made in the past, even though we all as humans are bound to make mistakes and do make mistakes. 

Gary:    I think that when the conflict is out there in relationships, meaning that say I am in relationship with you and I’m angry at you and the conflict is out there.  The conflict really began inside of Gary and whatever happened inside of me.  And so, what is it that I am in conflict about?  Or another example would be that I did something that I don’t like the outcome of what happened, and so I am therefore critical on myself and I may want to blame someone.  I may, i.e., project my blame onto someone or something.  However, if I really looked at myself, and it’s again this notion of courageousness to really look at oneself and go, “Well, what’s my part in it?”  And if I can forgive myself, if I can reconcile the conflict that’s inside of me first, what that does is create a sense of release and freedom because of that self-forgiveness.  It allows me then to be in relationship with whomever else I may have had some conflicts with about this or it may be if I reconciled a problem that I created myself and I’m better to move forward and do whatever I need to do next to create a positive outcome. 

Randy:    Not forgiving yourself, I think what I’m hearing you saying, holds us back from being more of who we are to become?  

Gary:    Right.  I think self-forgiveness is probably the first place for us to start when we are in resentment, because if I am resenting somebody else, what I am doing is hurting myself.  I am resenting that person and being angry at them and restating the injury over and over as a way to protect myself from them.  However, what I am doing is injuring myself, so what do I need to do to take care of myself?  I need to reconcile with myself and I need to forgive that person. 

Randy:    Here we are in a journal about philanthropy talking about forgiveness.  Gary, I thank you for this really insightful conversation.  I think it’s going to make fascinating reading for our readers and listening for our listeners.  Thanks so much. 

Gary:    Thank you.

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Re: Randy Fox Interviews Gary Shunk on Forgiveness

A remarkably insightful discussion revealing the normalization of selfishness and bad behavior--two notions which are patently contrary to the definition of philanthropy.

It's a shame.

Re: Randy Fox Interviews Gary Shunk on Forgiveness

Thanks for your comment. A lot of respsonse to this article with similar feelings

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