While visiting with a friend over coffee one morning, a young woman complained, “Every time my husband and I get into an argument, he gets historical!”

The friend interrupted, “Don’t you mean hysterical?” “No, I mean historical,” the young woman replied. “He always brings up the past.”

Her husband could benefit from the words of motivational speaker and author Wayne Dyer: “Hold no grudges and practice forgiveness. This is the key to having peace in all your relationships.”

We are living in a time when being offended is in fashion. It’s just too hard to let things go. We seem to have forgotten about forgiveness. Forgiveness requires people not to keep score — a human tendency when we feel we have been wronged.

Sadly, this tendency affects our professional as well as our personal lives. If we have a problem with someone else being smarter, richer or more successful than we are, working together becomes much more difficult. That doesn’t enhance cooperation in any arena.

Are you a grudge-holder? Do you go around making lists of everything that is unfair in the world? This age-old practice is linked to our evolutionary history, according to an article by Nando Pelusi in Psychology Today magazine. Pelusi writes that it’s particularly difficult to let go of grudges because there are high emotional payoffs involved. This, he writes, is a sensible motive, because our ancestors had a huge investment in making sure they got their fair share in the ancient world — a place where unfairness could result in the death of you and all the people in your group. This gives humans a reason to be hypervigilant when it comes to uncovering cheaters or swindlers.

Injustice collecting, however, entails more than resentment toward those who are benefiting unjustly. It is, as Pelusi points out, resentment building on a mass scale. We become outraged when the world isn’t absolutely fair, and this can lead to unending anger, hopelessness and depression. It is also a way to avoid responsibility for our personal circumstances. But how do we change something that seems to be so hard-wired into our systems? Pelusi makes these suggestions for giving up a grudge and moving on:

• Make a list of injustices. Write down the things that weigh on your mind. This will get your mind to focus in a productive way.

• Stop thinking in all-or-nothing terms. Ask yourself whether the injustice you are experiencing has to affect all aspects of your life.

• Ask yourself if your life can still be meaningful despite the injustice. If not, Pelusi says you have to realize you are making a choice to refuse to get over something.

• Will being upset change your situation? Ask yourself this question if you seem stuck in a quagmire of your own anger.

• Frame your situation accurately. Is something really unfair — or just irritating? Keeping perspective is key if you want to move on.

• Realize that you are going to come across unfair situations. Make a decision about how you will handle these circumstances in the future.

• Question how much a particular example of unfairness will affect you in the grand scheme of things. Try not to fall victim to the temptation of wallowing in grief over something that just doesn’t matter that much.

Here’s another story to explain what I’m talking about. While a Zen master was away one day, a cleaning lady came to tidy up his house. As she was dusting, she accidentally knocked over his favorite vase, and it smashed into a million pieces. The cleaning lady was horrified and didn’t know what to do.

She contemplated leaving without telling the master what had happened, but decided to stay and confess that she had broken his vase. When the master returned, she showed him what she had done and begged his forgiveness. The master said, “Do not worry, dear lady. I bought that vase for pleasure, not pain.”

I like the advice in this Arabic proverb: “Write the wrongs that are done to you in sand, but write the good things that happen to you on a piece of marble. Let go of all emotions such as resentment and retaliation, which diminish you, and hold on to the emotions, such as gratitude and joy, which increase you.”

Mackay’s Moral: Forgive. Forget. Then get on with it.


Harvey Mackay is a Minneapolis businessman. Contact him at 612-378-6202 or e-mail harvey@mackay.com.