Forgiveness as an Intervention in Family-Owned Business: A New Beginning, Part 2 of 2

Forgiveness as an Intervention in Family-Owned Business: A New Beginning, Part 2 of 2

Article posted in Values-Based on 16 July 2015| comments
audience: National Publication, Thomas M. Hubler | last updated: 16 July 2015


Tom Hubler continues and completes his discussion on forgiveness in family business.

By: Thomas M. Hubler

This article explores the notion of bringing a family business's family values and traditions regarding religion and forgiveness into their everyday lives to create healing when family business differences have broken or severed family relationships. The philosophy of the ritual is to pair it with other family rituals and use it as a tool to begin to focus on the future. The ritual helps the family understand that hurts are inevitable in the context of family businesses, but that the ritual is a way to get beyond them and start over again. The forgiveness ritual that is created draws on the family's history and use of religious traditions to create forgiveness and a new beginning.  Click here for part one.

The Ritual

For the clients to understand what the forgiveness ritual is, I explain the different kinds of forgiveness, although the emphasis throughout the Family Forgiveness Ritual© is on the area of acknowledging what you've done to contribute to the problem and/or to hurt other people.

But at the same time I point out and read a series of quotes that are designed to help people develop a positive perspective about forgiveness, to use as inspirations to assist them in identifying both the things that they have done and the things that have hurt them. The inspirations I use come from a book entitled A Little Book of Forgiveness by D. Patrick Miller (D. P.Miller, 1994). He talks in the book about forgiving yourself and forgiving others - two of the most challenging things about forgiveness. His quotes for forgiving others include:

Begin not with the idea that you are doing a favor to someone who hurt you, but that you are being merciful to yourself. To carry an anger against anyone is to poison your own heart, administering more toxin every time you replay in your mind the injury done to you. If you decline to repeat someone's offense inwardly, your outward anger will dissipate. Then it becomes much easier to tell the one who hurt you how things must change between you. (D. P. Miller, 1994, p. 15)

Forgiveness as an Intervention in Family-Owned Businesses: A New Beginning "Forgive and forget" is a popular distortion of the work of surrendering grievances. The real process is "Remember fully and forgive." If it were actually possible to forget everything you forgave, you could teach very little to others seeking freedom from their resentments. When you are trying to decide whether or not someone deserves your forgiveness, you are asking the wrong question. Ask instead whether you deserve to be someone who consistently forgives (D. P. Miller, 1994, pp. 16–17).

The inspirational messages for forgiving yourself include:

Forgiving your flaws and failures does not mean looking away from them or lying about them. Look at them as a string of pitiful or menacing hitchhikers whom you can't afford not to pick up on your journey to a changed life. Each one of them has a piece of the map you need hidden in its shabby clothing. You must listen attentively to all their stories and win the friendship of each one to put your map together. Where you are going - into a forgiven life of wholeness, passion, and commitment - you will need all the peculiar denizens of your dark side working diligently on your behalf. (D. P.Miller, 1994, p. 38)

In addition, I also use some quotes from the Art of Forgiveness, Lovingkindness and Peace by Jack Kornfied (Kornfield, 2002). Kornfield has a series of meditations that allow the reader to focus on the value of forgiveness. His meditations cover forgiveness from others, forgiveness for ourselves, and forgiveness for those who have hurt or harmed us. Each one of these meditations inspires people to forgive themselves or others and makes it possible to start anew. In addition, outside the context of the Family Forgiveness Ritual©, individual discussions have usually occurred to support the positive expectations of people being successful in the forgiveness process.

The actual ritual starts with the presentation from the consultant's point of view on the nature of forgiveness and utilizes some of the previously mentioned inspirational quotes to frame the psychological perspective about forgiveness. In addition, the family's clergyperson, who has been selected by the family, shares the family's religious background, its religious philosophy of forgiveness, and how it fits into the culture of the religion and family.

The second step of the ritual is to allow people to talk about what they want to be forgiven for - what may have occurred with them that they are willing to forgive. For many families this is a very emotional part of the process. Even families that didn't anticipate they would have anything to talk about in terms of wanting to be forgiven are able to share thoughts about their contribution to the problem. Some of the most emotionally moving and positive sharing has occurred in families who thought they had nothing to share.

The next item is an absolution ritual, which has always been uniquely different based on the religion and clergyperson involved. It's an opportunity for people to, ritualistically speaking, wash away the hurts and create a ritual of forgiveness that allows them to heal.

The next step is a Eucharistic celebration. This has been uniquely different based on the family's religious background and minister, so that each one that has been done has been different. Since the ritual has only been done with Christian families, this has been the format that has been used.

The final step of the ritual is the potluck meal. Families have traditionally gathered around meals for holidays and rituals, and so the Family Forgiveness Ritual© incorporates that tradition by asking people to do a potluck meal. In some instances that hasn't worked because of logistics and the family has gone out to a restaurant. But nevertheless, the culmination and celebration of the ritual is the metaphor of the banquet feast.

Case Study

The first attempt at this ritual occurred in November 1998 with the Danz family - a family that had been plagued by family business troubles for 10 years prior to our engagement and had made several previous attempts at resolution of its differences, but had not been successful.

The presenting problem was the fact that the father and oldest son who worked in the business were not speaking and had not spoken for the past four years, despite the fact that they worked side by side. All their communication was run through the younger brother, who was working with them in the business. After many years of frustration, the younger brother finally indicated his unwillingness to continue unless the two of them worked out their differences.

One of the unique characteristics of this family had to do with the father's name, which was Wimp. I refused to call him that until I realized its significance. His father, as it turned out, was a butcher and when he would go to work each morning, he would ask his son what he would like for dinner, and his son would reply, "hamburger." The dad would reply,: "[t]hat's my Wimp," referring to Wimpy in the Popeye cartoon. As it turned out, the boy's father died when he was 10 years old, and that was his most enduring memory of his father. When I understood this and realized the name's significance, I was also able to understand the issues between the father and son and redefined the problem as an issue of loss. The father had lost his dad to a heart attack when he was a young boy of 10 years old. The oldest son in the family business had lost his dad to business tensions and the issues between he and his father and the rest of the family regarding the business. As I began to talk about that issue with the family members who were participating in the engagement, which included the father, the mother, the oldest son and his wife, and the youngest son, each of them identified loss issues in their family. As a result of sharing that, we were able to create some positive innovations and move forward in the short space of three or four meetings.

However, in addition to that, there was a bigger issue having to do with the vilification of the oldest son by the other five children in the family. When I suggested to the family that was the problem and recommended the Family Forgiveness Ritual© and the use of their pastor, they were eager to proceed. I made my presentation on the psychological aspects of forgiveness and the pastor made his observations from a religious perspective. The Danz family was a conservative, traditional Catholic family, and the priest who was participating was a Benedictine monk. His remarks were able to draw on the Church's long tradition of forgiveness and he shared a very positive perspective about it with the family.

When it came time for people to talk about what they wanted to be forgiven for, there was a very, very long silence. I had thoughts running through my mind about whether this was the right thing to do until the silence was broken by one of the middle sons who had flown in from Memphis to participate in the ritual. He said to his father, "I want to ask for your forgiveness for taking so long to tell you that I was gay." He had previously shared with his family that he was gay, but was now asking for forgiveness for taking so long and not trusting his parents.

After another very long silence, the dad responded, "I want to ask for your forgiveness for how I handled hearing that you were gay." At that point, the mother began to cry and each one of the family members in turn went around sharing what they had contributed to the problem. When it got to the daughter-in-laws who had just recently joined the family, they said they couldn't think of much of what they'd done to contribute to the problem, but they certainly wanted to be a part of this process.

The priest then conducted an absolution ritual and the home Eucharist. It was followed by a potluck meal that the family had prepared.

The ritual started at 9:00 that morning and at 7:00 that evening when the family was cleaning up, many of them were sitting in the living room as families do after family celebrations, reminiscing about family stories. The oldest brother, who at the beginning of the ritual was isolated in a corner, was now the heart of the family sharing.

That Christmas, the brother from Memphis brought his partner home for the first time, and they had the best Christmas they had ever had.

In February 2004 I talked with the mother who indicated that the family was getting together to celebrate their 50th wedding anniversary. In that conversation, she mentioned the business was doing very well and the family has never been better. As a matter of fact, she said the whole family was getting ready to leave for a cruise to celebrate their anniversary.

In other families, the absolution ritual has been different. One of the more dramatic instances of this was done with a Presbyterian minister and a family where there had been deep hurts because of business differences.

The absolution ritual included the distribution and collection of family IOUs and an explanation by the minister that the original "Our Father" was worded in terms of debts - "forgive us our debts as we forgive those who have debted against us." He explained that in the Old Testament when you offended someone, that not only were you emotionally indebted to somebody, but you were financially indebted. The use of the IOUs was a wonderful symbolism that allowed the family to get beyond the hurts and create healing and move forward.

In another family, the absolution ritual included olive oil that was blessed by the priest who was conducting the ceremony. Family members dipped their thumbs in the olive oil and blessed each other with the sign of the cross saying, "God's forgiveness, our forgiveness, love."

So you can see, the ritual changes based on the family, but the result is a healing process that allows the family to start anew in a positive way and go forward. Although I recommend Family Forgiveness Rituals© regularly, there are some families who have been reluctant to do them. Several instances have occurred where other professionals, even psychological professionals, have advised a family that they're not ready to participate in such a ritual. My belief is that participating in the ritual opens the door to positive healing within the family that changes their perspective and that it's not necessary to wait until people are completely ready. My belief is that the ritual itself has an inspirational message that allows people to go beyond their hurts to move forward in a positive way. I believe Frederic Luskin's work at Stanford supports the conclusion that people can be taught to forgive and the results are measurable thereafter.

There are some families where participating in a Family Forgiveness Ritual© has not been successful. In one such instance, the family was so steeped in its hurt and wounds that they were unwilling to give up their despair and hurt and move forward in a positive way. Unfortunately, as this article is being written, they are embroiled in litigation where their mutual hurts are being fought over in a courtroom.

Family Forgiveness Rituals© are an opportunity for family members who have been hurt or broken by business and financial differences to create healing in their families and to short circuit the distance, anguish, and hurt that often occurs. The success of the ritual is a function of the family's ability to draw on their deep well of emotional and family traditions as well as their religious traditions. In doing so, they are able to utilize the internal wisdom of their family and move forward in a positive and caring way to create a new beginning.


Hazelden. (1986). Touchstones: A book of daily meditations for men. Center City: Hazelden Foundation.
Kabat-Zinn, J. (1990). Full catastrophe living. New York: Delacorte Press.
Kornfield, J. (2002). The art of forgiveness, loving kindness, and peace. New York: Bantam Books.
Luskin, F. (2002). Forgive for good: A proven prescription for health and happiness. New York: HarperCollins.
Miller, D.P. (1994). A little book of forgiveness. New York: Penguin Group.
Miller, S., & Miller, P. (1994). Collaborative team skills. Littleton: Interpersonal Communications Programs, Inc.
Ryback, T. (1999). The last survivor. New York: Pantheon.
Schachter-Shalomi, Z., & Miller, R. S. (1995). From ageing to sage-ing: A profound new vision of growing older. New York: Warner Books.

Previous Installments:

Forgiveness as an Intervention in Family-Owned Business: A New Beginning, Part 1 of 2

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