The Real Power of Forgiveness
Jeff HadenGhostwriter, speaker, Inc. columnist - Harrisonburg, Virginia
Back then you didn’t always stay in your car when you were pulled over by a policeman. Sometimes you got to take the walk of shame to the officer's vehicle while other people drove smugly past.
So I trudged back, settled into the passenger seat of the unmarked police car, and sneaked a peek at the radar display.
I looked at the officer. He was wearing a suit instead of a uniform. He carefully straightened his tie and adjusted his cuffs as he began to speak.
“I may not look it,” he said, “but I’m a gamblin' man. When you took off at the stoplight back there I thought, hey, I bet he didn’t notice me.
“I was right. When you hit 65 miles an hour I thought about pulling you over but I thought, nah, wait, I bet he’ll go faster.
“Then you hit 75. I should have hit my lights but I thought, you know what? There aren't any cars around, he’s not really putting anyone in danger, and I don't think he's done yet.
“Then you hit 85 and I was really, really tempted... but then I thought, no, hang on, call me crazy but I do believe this boy’s got a little more in him.
“And sure enough,” he said laughing, “you did!”
You know how just after you do something stupid you desperately wish you could turn back time and do things differently?
That's what I did. I mentally replayed pulling up near his vehicle at a stoplight. While it had looked like an unmarked car there were no lights, no antennas, no snarl of equipment on the dashboard, he wasn't wearing a uniform… so I didn't give it another thought until I looked in my mirror and saw the lights flashing in his car's grill.
Boy did I want those few seconds back.
In the meantime his expression had turned serious. “Now,” he said. “You want to explain why you were going so fast?”
“My alarm didn’t go off this morning,” I answered, “and I was afraid I'd be late for work.”
I shrugged and shook my head. “I know. It was stupid. I'm sorry.”
He sat quietly for a few moments as I considered the future. I wasn’t sure but I figured forty-four miles an hour over the speed limit meant I'd be begging friends for rides for about six months.
The officer raised his eyebrows. “That’s it? That’s all you’ve got?”
“Yes sir,” I said, turning away to look down. “That’s it. I was in a hurry and went too fast.”
“Huh,” he said. I waited for him to start writing the ticket. Instead he sighed.
“Fair enough," he said. "Next time just go ahead and be late. Showing up late for work isn’t the end of the world.”
I nodded and sat waiting. “Go on, son,” he said, pretending to be frustrated. He pushed the reset button on the radar. “You’re going to be late.”
I whipped my head up. “Look, I know that thing is fast,” he said, nodding towards my bike. “Just keep it down. Don’t get yourself hurt.”
I said thank you at least fifty times in ten seconds and jumped out before he could reconsider. As I was starting my bike he rolled up beside me, passenger window down, and leaned across.
“You can still make it to work on time,” he yelled. “Follow me. I'll at least get you to where I turn off for the courthouse.” So for the second time that day I was speeding – only this time while following a policeman.
And here's the funny thing: I had gotten tickets before but getting caught didn't change my behavior. I focused on the punishment. However foolishly, I resented the punishment. I didn't think about the fact police officers just want to keep people safe. I didn't think about the risks I was creating for other people.
Forgiveness made me think about myself and my actions in a way punishment never had. In five minutes I went from an "us" versus "them" attitude to thinking, "You know, I really should slow down..." And from then on, I did.
It was a day I never will forget -- the same way the people you lead, work with, and care about will never forget the day your first reaction was not to scold or punish but to forgive.
"Forgive and forget"?
Not in this case: When you forgive, other people may never forget.
In the best possible way.