The Power of Forgiveness to Free Yourself and Bless Others #9

Warwick Fairfax

January 29, 2020

Few things are tougher when moving beyond a crucible experience than forgiving others, or even yourself, for the pain you’ve experienced from a failure or setback. Crucible Leadership founder and BEYOND THE CRUCIBLE host Warwick Fairfax explains why it’s essential to muster the character and courage to extend forgiveness — or risk being emotionally and practically held back from pursuing a life of significance. How does forgiveness  help you and those you forgive? Is it possible or even necessary to “forgive and forget?” Why was it so hard for him to forgive himself after his failed $2.25 billion takeover of his family’s 150-year-old media dynasty? Warwick discusses this and more with co-host Gary Schneeberger in this enlightening new episode.

Few things are tougher when moving beyond a crucible experience than forgiving others, or even yourself, for the pain you’ve experienced from a failure or setback. Crucible Leadership founder and BEYOND THE CRUCIBLE host Warwick Fairfax explains why it’s essential to muster the character and courage to extend forgiveness — or risk being emotionally and practically held back from pursuing a life of significance. How does forgiveness  help you and those you forgive? Is it possible or even necessary to “forgive and forget?” Why was it so hard for him to forgive himself after his failed $2.25 billion takeover of his family’s 150-year-old media dynasty? Warwick discusses this and more with co-host Gary Schneeberger in this enlightening new episode.

Hightlights

  • What true forgiveness looks like and how it is defined (1:34)
  • Is it really possible, or wise, to “forgive and forget”? (2:55)
  • Why forgiveness is a critical part of moving beyond your crucible experiences (6:21)
  • Some amazing historical lessons in forgiveness from the Fairfax family (9:12)
  • Warwick’s personal experiences with forgiveness as the heir to his family’s media company (11: 25)
  • Why forgiveness is not easy (14:09)
  • How Warwick struggled with forgiving himself after the failure of his bid to take over his family’s media business (17:17)
  • How to forgive when you don’t feel like it (21:20)
  • Mark Twain’s surprisingly powerful quote about forgiveness (22:49)
  • How forgiveness frees us from a self-imposed prison (25:03)

Transcript

Gary:
Welcome everybody to Beyond the Crucible, the podcast that focuses on what we call crucible experiences. I’m Gary Schneeberger, the cohost of the show and the Communications Director for Crucible Leadership. And as I said, we talk about crucible experiences here, not because we want to kind of camp out there, not because we want to wallow in them, but because we believe that those experiences, those difficult trying, painful failures and setbacks in your life can be the launchpad for a new chapter in your life, a life of significance. In fact the subtitle of this podcast is Live and Lead with Significance, and that’s what we hope to encourage you to do as we go through the conversations and interviews that we go through.

Gary:
And today we have a conversation on a subject that can be very difficult for folks. It’s on forgiveness. Joining me as always is the host of the show, the founder of Crucible Leadership, Warwick Fairfax, and he and I are going to talk about forgiveness in just a little bit. Warwick, it’s great to be back.

Warwick:
Absolutely Gary, great topic and look forward to it.

Gary:
The interesting thing about forgiveness… You know, Warwick and I talk a little bit before every episode, and we don’t talk too much about what we’re going to say because we want to keep the spontaneity and we want to catch each other by surprise. We want to have a true conversation and not kind of a rehearsed conversation. So we talked a little bit about forgiveness yesterday.

Gary:
One of the things that we thought we needed to really start at was to define, right, what is forgiveness? What does it look like? And one of the things I like to do… Noah Webster’s very first dictionary he wrote in 1828, and in that dictionary he defined words in a much different way than they’re defined today for certain. He was a Christian man. He defined a lot of the terms in terms of how they were defined in the Bible. And this is the very short definition of forgiveness that Noah Webster in 1828 gave his readers: “Forgiveness is the pardon of an offender.” That’s the way he described it. Warwick, what’s your reaction to that and how does that apply to how forgiveness works in our lives today?

Warwick:
Yeah, I mean that’s certainly a starting point, is if somebody’s done something to you, they’ve committed an offense. It could be something with legal consequence or not. Yes, forgiveness is forgiving the person that has, I guess, speaking of the Bible almost, has sinned against you.

Gary:
Right.

Warwick:
It’s not a word we tend to use, but it’s certainly when somebody does something to you, you kind of feel that what they’ve done is a sin from your perspective.

Gary:
Right.

Warwick:
You feel like it’s bad, which makes forgiving them a challenge.

Gary:
And it’s not all the time just forgiveness. We hear this phrase a lot when forgiveness comes up. We hear the phrase forgive and forget. And there are different points of view on whether you truly can forget, if you should forget, how do you forget? How do you approach that idea of forgiving and forgetting? Are they always separate? Can they be together? How does that work?

Warwick:
You know, it’s a complex question. There’s different elements. So when we talk about forgiveness, one of the hangups people have is, I don’t want to forget or condone the horrendous thing somebody has done to me.

Gary:
Right.

Warwick:
So often extreme cases make the case easier to see, so let’s say somebody’s been abused. I don’t want to forget what they did. And I understand that. So in one sense, just because you forgive somebody doesn’t mean there aren’t consequences. There could be legal-

Gary:
Right.

Warwick:
Or again, in the case of abuse, it could be a safety issue. Maybe separation may be warranted. I mean there are consequences that just because you forgive them doesn’t mean you condone the behavior. Nor does it mean that you don’t take actions to safeguard yourself and your family. If you’d been in business with somebody and somebody’s ripped you off, because of it, you would be foolish to go into business with them again-

Gary:
Right.

Warwick:
To let them rip you off again. I mean, why would you do that? I mean that just says let’s just keep hurting myself. I mean that’s just stupid. So it doesn’t mean that you aren’t smart about it.

Warwick:
So where it gets complicated is if you say, “Well, I can forgive them. But every night I spend a couple hours just thinking about how awful they were, and you know, I just keep constantly thinking and thinking and thinking. Oh, I’ve forgiven them, but I think about them 24-7.”

Gary:
Right.

Warwick:
You know, when you’ve had somebody that’s truly betrayed you or let you down, the annoying thing is they’re often oblivious to what they did to you. And often they don’t really care.

Gary:
Right.

Warwick:
You know? But it’s, if you just have this compulsiveness that you cannot stop thinking about them or the offense, that part of not forgetting, I don’t know. I’m not sure how that’s that healthy.

Gary:
You know, this is first and foremost a podcast for leaders. And we’ve talked about it among ourselves as kind of leading from the board room to the living room. And on this subject in particular, forgiveness, I think family relationships, and especially marriage relationships, really come into play. What you just described, right? I do something in relationship with my wife that, I’m frustrated, I’m short of temper, whatever. That’s easy for her in the love relationship to forgive. But if that behavior manifests itself over and over again, she hasn’t forgotten it. She’s not hitting me with it every day. But it is something that you do remember. So you can recognize those things and you can shield yourself from being victimized over and over again. I think that’s certainly a truism.

Gary:
Now because this is a podcast about leadership, and this is a podcast that lots of business leaders listen to, and it’s the Crucible Leadership podcast, it’s Beyond the Crucible. We have to ask and tell our listeners, why are we talking about forgiveness in the context of Crucible Leadership? Why is, Warwick, as the creator of Crucible Leadership, why is this idea of forgiving somebody else, being forgiven, why is this so important in the context of Crucible Leadership?

Warwick:
It’s an interesting question and at first sight you might think, “Well, what does this have to do with leadership?” But typically as a leader, you’re going to hit speed bumps, you’re going to hit crucibles. Sometimes, as we say, it can be setbacks or failures. It can be your fault or not your fault.

Warwick:
So let’s say you’re in a business and you got fired. And maybe you got fired because you made the boss insecure. Sometimes people get fired for not particularly good reasons.

Gary:
Right.

Warwick:
Maybe you spoke up too much. You’re not willing to go with the country club mentality and just go along with what the senior executives and the board says, even though you think it’s wrong or ill conceived. So when that happens, even if you can say, you know what, I was fired. I lost my business because I was let down by a investor, or a partner, or… There’s all sorts of different failures and setbacks.

Warwick:
If you hold on to that and don’t let it go, it will damage and inhibit your ability to move on to the next venture, the next rung. It holds you back. And so as a leader, you need to forgive because you won’t be able to lead well without forgiving. Again, doesn’t mean to say that you don’t learn from that. So if you were in business with somebody that ripped you off, be a bit more careful next time about who you go into business with.

Gary:
Right.

Warwick:
It’s not foolproof. You know, just try to safeguard that next time around. Or if you take a job, make sure the company that you are going to work with is one that you respect and the person you’re going to work for is somebody that you think you can trust and won’t let you down. I mean, you can’t… It’s not foolproof, but there are things you can do.

Warwick:
But if, without forgiving, you can’t move on, and you can’t really get beyond that crucible. So forgiveness is, forget the morality from a faith-based perspective, we’re called to forgive, but from a common sense perspective. If you want to move on and be successful in life, whatever that means to you, you can’t do it without forgiving.

Gary:
Right.

Warwick:
You just cannot. It will hold you back. It will be like having a millstone around your neck. I mean, why would you want to do that to yourself?

Gary:
And this is one of those subjects, Warwick, that I know from knowing you, from talking with you, that this one hits close to home for you. There are stories both from your experience in having to forgive yourself. And that’s one of the… Many times the people we have to forgive is ourselves, and you’ve grappled with that., But in your family, in your own experience, in your own story, there were several crossroads where forgiveness was critical, of yourself or others to kind of move on. Can you unpack those a little bit for our listeners to help them understand how that does hold you back or can hold you back?

Warwick:
Absolutely. You know, when I think of John Fairfax who, I think these listeners will know, is the founder of Fairfax Media in Australia and my great, great grandfather. He founded this business in 1841 that would grow to be a huge media company. But he really had some lessons in forgiveness.

Warwick:
When he had a small newspaper in England, he wrote a story about a local magistrate, a local lawyer, that said the local lawyer was corrupt. The lawyer sued him, twice. The judge found in favor of John Fairfax. In other words, the story was accurate. But the court costs bankrupted him. So he was proven correct, but yet he was bankrupt. And so obviously a lot to be bitter about there. He was so frustrated he left England and went to Australia, which at the time was a four to six month journey. Not an easy thing to do with a young family.

Warwick:
What’s remarkable is years later he went back to England and he did some remarkable things. He paid back his creditors who he wasn’t able to pay. Now recognize in bankruptcy, old creditors are wiped clean. He had no legal reason-

Gary:
Right.

Warwick:
To repay those debts, but he did. He even, and this is kind of crazy, he actually paid the legal costs of the guy that was suing him. Now, he had long since died, and so he was paying his widow. But I mean, who does that? I mean, I’m not advocating that necessarily, paying the court costs of the person who sued you, but he did. And so that was a remarkable story of forgiveness.

Warwick:
Then in the case of my father, again these listeners will know, in 1976 some other family members basically forced my father out as chairman of the company. Which, I was age 15 at the time, pretty dramatic thing for me, to see my father who I dearly loved treated that way by other family members. And so over the next few years, as best he could, he said, “You know, I need to forgive them because that’s what God would call us to do.” And also for the family, for my sake, as the next generation. As best he could, he really tried to forgive them for what, certainly from my perspective and his, was an unjust move.

Warwick:
And then in my own case, when you grow up with power and money, people are going to let you down. It just, it attracts betrayal. I almost think of that image in middle school where, as if somebody put a sign on my back saying, betray me, like kick me.

Gary:
Right. Mm-hmm (affirmative).

Warwick:
You know? That’s kind of what it felt. Whether it was, from my perspective anyway, other family members, advisers, time and time again, there were people I trusted that let me down. And so I guess I’ve had a lot of practice, unfortunately. And I guess I wanted to get beyond the whole Fairfax Media debacle, part of which was my fault. Which, instead of another strand, which we’ll get to in a moment. But for my own mental health I just had to forgive.

Gary:
Right.

Warwick:
And one of the things that I’ve really thought a lot about, about forgiveness, is… Like with family members is a good example. If you understand the way they are, it sometimes can make it easier to forgive. So maybe whether it’s abuse or alcoholism, you often hear that people who were abused were in so many cases abused as a child themselves. It’s a generational thing. It doesn’t condone the behavior at all. But to understand it, for me, has always made it easier to forgive. And so that’s been a huge help.

Warwick:
But just for my own sanity, forgiveness is important. I mean, I know sometimes I sort of jokingly say, it’s often manifested in close relationships, whether it’s parents, siblings, children, spouse. Often there’s behavior that keeps manifesting itself over and over again. And so I would say to myself, okay, I just forgave the last one. And then a new event happens. I mean can you just give me a breather, because I’m, I can’t quite catch up.

Gary:
Right.

Warwick:
You know, it’s like a treadmill. It’s like it’s not just one and done, because the behavior typically continues. But-

Gary:
And if…

Warwick:
Yeah, I think… Go ahead.

Gary:
And it’s interesting what you were just saying in all three of those stories, that none of those experiences, certainly for your great-great-grandfather, certainly for your dad. I’ve heard you talk about both of those situations. And I know what you went through in your own life. Let’s acknowledge for listeners who are hearing this, what we know to be true: forgiveness is not easy. I’ve heard it described as the hardest responsibility you’ll ever have. To forgive another person is a very, very… It can be a very, very difficult thing to do. Fair?

Warwick:
Absolutely. And I think, I mean the biggest reason you hear, as we’ve talked about before, I don’t want to forgive because I don’t want to condone the behavior. I don’t want to forget. But to me, when I look at forgiveness, the person it hurts most is ourselves. And so to me, you know we are worth forgiveness. We owe it to ourselves to forgive. Because by that pain really having a searing experience for us, in a sense we let the other person’s actions win.

Gary:
Right.

Warwick:
They win if we don’t forgive.

Gary:
Right.

Warwick:
Because it hurts us so much. So we’re worth it. And certainly a big part of it is just about ourselves. You know, that kind of pain we shouldn’t live with. You know, the anger.

Gary:
Think about, and maybe you can muse about it. You go back to your great-great-grandfather who founded Fairfax Media. If he had not been able to forgive that lawyer, twice, if he had not been able to do that, how would that have changed the course of the river that was the Fairfax family? Forget about the Fairfax family business and the media dynasty. If John Fairfax had not mustered that, had not understood that forgiveness freed him as much as it freed the lawyer, can you even imagine what your life might’ve been like? What your family’s…

Warwick:
No, I mean… Yeah, I mean, anger, it tends to hold us back. Maybe if he had had some setbacks, it was like, yeah, you know, I’m here in this young colony of Australia. I’m trying to put bread on the table for the family. And hey, it’s not easy in those first few years. Yeah, maybe I should’ve stayed in England. Well I could’ve stayed in England if that wasn’t for that unscrupulous lawyers suing me. Right?

Gary:
Right.

Warwick:
Every time something went wrong, it’s like, why am I here? It’s all this guy’s fault. And you just almost use it as a blame game. Everything that goes wrong, it’s that person’s fault. Even if it’s very indirect. I mean one way or another, it will hold you back in your life. It’s almost inevitable.

Gary:
And that is a perfect segue to talk about your story. And as I’ve heard you talk about it before in podcasts and privately, is it fair to say that the person you had to forgive in the failure of your takeover, the Fairfax Media, the person who was hardest to forgive or took the longest to forgive, was Warwick Fairfax, was you. Is that fair?

Warwick:
That is. I mean, yes, I had to forgive other close family members who threw my father out as chairman in 1976, and I felt like weren’t running the company along the ideas of the founder and letting management do what I thought was not very sensible things. And so, yeah, I mean, I could say, well, if it hadn’t been for all of that, I wouldn’t have needed to do the takeover. Whether that’s fair or not, that’s my perception.

Warwick:
So yeah, I had to do that. But you’re right. I mean, harder than that, with myself it’s like, well, why did I do that? Maybe I could have talked to these other family members and rather than ambush them with the takeover. And we’ll never know if that would’ve worked. I’m skeptical. But it’s like my goal in life was to preserve this 150 year old family business for future generations and make sure it was better run.

Warwick:
And by doing this takeover, the company went under. Yes, it still went on, and is a public company, other people’s hands. But I ended 150 years of family history. So there were years when it’s like, how could I’ve been that stupid. How could I have used the wrong advisors, listen to the wrong people, made so many mistakes. I mean, how could I have been that stupid? And there are probably others like me, that I jokingly say, if there’s a problem in the world, my default is to assume it’s my fault.

Gary:
Right.

Warwick:
You know?

Gary:
Yep.

Warwick:
So, yeah, I mean, I was just very hard on myself, and just sort of crucified myself a bit, and it’s just, how could I have been so dumb? I mean, I have an Oxford degree, a Harvard Business School degree. How could I have made so many stupid assumptions?

Warwick:
I mean just like assuming, Oh, I’ll do this takeover and the rest of my family will want to stay in a privatized company controlled by 26 year old. What sane person is going to agree to that?

Gary:
Right.

Warwick:
How could I possibly have assumed that they would agree? I mean, I have a Harvard MBA. I mean, how could I been such an idiot?

Gary:
Right.

Warwick:
You know? And so those sorts of things. Yeah, I was very hard on myself and that took a while to get over. And look at me. Everything I touch I screw up. And it took years to kind of reclaim my self-image. And yeah, in a sense, forgive myself for being young, naive, idealistic, and stupid as many of us once were.

Gary:
Right. And how did you do it? I mean, this is where the rubber is going to meet the road in this conversation for our listeners. How do you get to forgiveness, whether it’s of yourself or of others? How do you know you’ve done it? How did you feel differently when you forgave those family members? How did you feel differently when you finally came to terms with that, with yourself and you, to quote Webster from 1828 you “pardoned the offender” that was yourself. What did that feel like? What did that look like? So our listeners will know when they’ve truly done it.

Warwick:
Well for other family members, part of it was, I think as I mentioned, when you understand their perspective, which over the years I think I began to. You know, maybe they had some reasons that my father, they thought needed to move on. And I don’t maybe agree with it all, but understanding certainly helps. You don’t have to agree with another person’s perspective, but if you understand it, it can help in the forgiveness process. So that wasn’t as hard as some close family members. Again, wasn’t as hard, but in one sense it’s myself, but though there were moments.

Warwick:
I think there’s several different ways. As I said, one is to understand. Another is from a faith perspective, from the Christian perspective, because we are forgiven, we should forgive others. So you know, if you’re serious about your faith then you have to live that. I think with myself, which was probably the hardest thing to forgive, it’s like over the years it’s like, look, I was young, 26, naive, idealistic, meant well, but I just made a lot of silly mistakes. I wasn’t wired to be a Rupert Murdoch, take-no-prisoners kind of executive. That just wasn’t me.

Warwick:
So as I understood more about who I was, and realized I was really out of my depth, again, that helped. It helped me move on. As I found other things that I actually was good at, that probably helped. It’s like, okay, I guess there are some things I can do without screwing up.

Warwick:
So it’s really a combination. I think for me it started with understanding who other people were and who I am. A faith perspective that, because we are forgiven, we should forgive. And as we find things that we can actually do constructively. It’s several elements.

Warwick:
I think probably at the bottom of it all, forgiveness is a decision of the will.

Gary:
Yep.

Warwick:
It’s not about feelings. Oh I don’t feel that way. Well forget how you feel. That’s not as relevant as you just got to make a decision. You know what, I’m going to do this. And then as feelings would come up of anger or frustration, I would say oh, I’m not going to let that take fruit. I’m not going to pour kerosene on it. Let the flame goes. I might pray for a moment. Okay Lord, you got to help me here. I mean I would just be very diligent about if I saw a weed poking its head up, plucking it out, not letting it take roots. And that’s a practical day to day thing. It’s several things, acceptance, faith perspective, and when you feel that feeling come up, don’t let it take root.

Gary:
Right.

Warwick:
Get it out.

Gary:
And that idea of it being, of forgiveness being a decision of the will. I have often described love as the same thing. Love is not an emotion. Love is a commitment of the will to somebody else. And in some ways the two are kind of the, sort of, not mirror images, but there is a connection. To love someone you overlook faults, you kind of think the best of them. And to forgive someone you have to come to that place where you’re able to let go of the hurt that you felt, whether it’s caused by you or it’s caused by somebody else.

Gary:
I found a quote, I told you I found a quote yesterday, but I didn’t tell you who it was so I could get your reaction to it when I gave it to you. But of all the people who I looked and found quotes about forgiveness on, I was surprised that this individual said this, because you associate him… It’s Mark Twain, who you associate with being kind of funny. And he’s a satirist a little bit. But Mark Twain said this and I want to get your reaction to it: “Forgiveness is the fragrance that the violet sheds on the heel that has crushed it.”

Warwick:
Can you read that one more time?

Gary:
Sure. “Forgiveness is the fragrance that the violet sheds on the heel that has crushed it.”

Warwick:
Wow. That’s an amazing picture. It’s forgiveness almost sounds irrational. You’ve been crushed by somebody’s heel-

Gary:
Right.

Warwick:
But yet it can bless you. It can bless others. Like I think of probably the best example relevant to that Mark Twain quote would be John Fairfax, when these other creditors, years later he’s paying them back and wrote them a note. They were just overwhelmed. They said, you didn’t have to do this. I can’t believe you’re doing it. They were just blessed, overwhelmed. They had such admiration for him.

Gary:
Right.

Warwick:
It was just, then that sense repaying a debt that he didn’t have to repay, that active, I mean in some sense, part of the whole forgiveness aspect. They were so blessed.

Gary:
Right.

Warwick:
So good can come of forgiveness. That’s not always the case, that the people who hurt us and we forgive them, will say, “Thank you. Wow, I don’t deserve this.”

Gary:
Right.

Warwick:
More often than not, they won’t admit they did anything wrong. But some blessing will happen. Maybe it’s friends or family members of them. But yeah, good and great blessing can come out of forgiving.

Gary:
And that is a great place to land the plane on this conversation on forgiveness. And your story, what you just said about how when he forgave his creditors, your great-great-grandfather received something back. Something good came back to him. That is something we can’t lose sight of as we talk about forgiveness. It’s first and foremost for us, but it does indeed… It frees us of being a prisoner to those negative feelings. But it also, blessings can come back to us from doing that. And certainly I think in the case of John Fairfax, the blessings of the family business and his success in life, in his family, all that being true, I think is a good example.

Warwick:
Yeah, I mean just as you talk about being a prison, I mean that is such a great word picture. Lack of being able to forgive, it keeps you in prison. Why do you want to stay in prison? By forgiving, it lets you out of jail. For listeners who may be listening right now that are struggling to forgive, aren’t you worth forgiveness? Even if it’s somebody else’s fault. Isn’t it time to get out of jail? Isn’t it time you’re out there in the meadows and smelling the violets and what have you? Isn’t it time to get out of prison? You are worth it. And so you may not think they are, but you are, so forgive.

Gary:
That. I’m smart enough to know when the last good word has been said. So we’re going to wrap right now on this and I’m going to thank all of you listeners for joining us on Beyond the Crucible. And if you found this discussion insightful and helpful as you pursue your life of significance, we have a favor to ask of you that will help us help even more people just like you who are seeking a way to move beyond their crucible experiences.

Gary:
Here’s the favor. Please subscribe to Beyond the Crucible on the app that you’re listening to it on right now. If you do that, you will never miss an episode, and it will make it easier for others to find us, listen to us, and share the podcasts with their friends and their coworkers.

Gary:
Now, if you’ve heard something today that you’d like to learn more about, we encourage you to visit us on the web at crucibleleadership.com. Warwick writes a regular blog and you can find that there as well as all kinds of other assets that will help you as you’re walking out your life of significance, including you can sign up for regular emails that come out from Warwick where he tackles the latest issues and tips that he’s discussing.

Gary:
So until next time, please remember that crucible experiences can be awfully painful, can be awfully upsetting, can change the course of your life. But the truth is they can become, if you learn the lessons of those crucibles, they can become not thew end of your story, but a chapter in a new story that can be the best story of your life because it leads to a life of significance.

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