Inspiration and teachings can come from all kinds of places. I know that. And yet I was still surprised to discover that I would find a profound lesson about forgiveness and a tool for healing in a business book. In a chapter on communication, I was encouraged to think about how often misunderstandings arose from the separation between words and intentions.
By becoming more aware of my own reactions in conversations and recognizing the frequency at which I assume my responses are exactly what were intended (without actually confirming the veracity of those intentions with other people), I am realizing how often I create unnecessary confusion, pain and suffering for myself.
“…we need to accept that we can only know the impact that others’ actions have had on us, but we cannot know what intentions they had when they acted the way they did. Similarly, we can only know what we were thinking when we took some action, but we cannot know what impact our actions had on others.”
Fred Kofman, Conscious Business: How to Build Value Through Values (Sounds True, 2006), p. 139
This seems like such common sense and, on some level, I’ve known this to be true for some time. I think that is why I try to be mindful of how I communicate (albeit not always successfully – it’s definitely a skill that I am continuing to work on). But something was different about how I took in this information when I read this passage. Maybe it was just the frame of mind I was in when I read it. Regardless of why, I started thinking about how this shows up in my personal life. And when I thought about this in relation to some difficult relationships I have in my life and some hurtful experiences I have had, I suddenly felt a deeper level of compassion and capacity for forgiveness.
If I really take responsibility for my own feelings and own my response to the action rather than conflate my response with the intention of the action, then my response is actually an opportunity to gain deeper insight into my own assumptions, hurts, vulnerabilities and expectations. And that self-awareness can allow for more freedom in communication. If I wanted to (and if it was appropriate and/or possible), I could approach the other person and ask about their intention.
Sometimes just knowing that my reaction is not necessarily what was intended is enough to open up possibilities for alternate responses. And sometimes that knowing can be enough to create the space and possibilities for forgiveness.