Written by Jayanth Narayanan, PhD.
One of the most difficult things to do when we feel wronged upon is to forgive those who have inflicted harm on us. Great leaders are able to channel such anger to bring about social change. In fact the very reason why some leaders are thought of to be great is because of their capacity to forgive. The interdependence in organizations creates the potential for people to knowingly or unknowingly betray each other’s trust leading to feelings of vengeance and forgiveness. It is also this interdepence that creates the possibility for care and compassion in how we relate to one another. In our research, we sought to examine whether there is indeed a benefit when leaders respond with compassion. We also sought to examine whether there maybe costs to holding onto grudges.
We examined the consequences of recalling grudges. In a study we did at the National University of Singapore, we asked half our participants to recall an incident in their lives where they had been transgressed upon and they had still not forgiven the perpetrator. We asked the other half of our participants to recall an incident where they had been transgressed upon and they had chosen to forgive the perpetrator — a very emotional exercise for our participants. Nevertheless, there were no differences in the severity of the incidents people recalled in the two conditions. Following this procedure, we got people to perform various tasks to see if this mere recollection affects people in anyway.
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