From “Growing in the character of a disciple”: Chapter 14 – How to forgive people in practical terms – some advice on what to do and how to go about it
Let’s change the subject now and consider how you should act if you are, yourself, in a position of authority as a manager, or as the proprietor of a business. What if you have staff who have done wrong and need to be disciplined or even dismissed? How can that be handled, vigorously and effectively, whilst at the same time maintaining an attitude of forgiveness, and even mercy and grace, rather than one of seeking personal vengeance?
If you are in such a position of authority, then you are going to have to do what is necessary to fulfil your managerial duties. Sometimes that has to mean punishing or dismissing the person. Even so, you still need to do it with the right attitude. On many occasions I have had to dismiss members of staff for various types of misconduct. Sadly, some of those were Christians, or claimed to be.
When that occurs there can be a temptation to abuse one’s position and to try to ‘teach the person a lesson’ or to ‘get even’. That desire for revenge, if it arises, has to be firmly resisted. We must do what is needed, but we must take no pleasure in it. This is a difficulty which most of us never have to encounter, but it is a real problem for those who do have to face such issues. Most managers make the opposite mistake of dodging the confrontation and doing nothing about the misconduct.
A minority may go the other way and tackle wrongdoers, but in a vengeful, abusive way, such that they then become part of the problem themselves, due to their carnal response. To achieve a balance, whereby you act decisively and firmly, and yet without being vengeful or abusing your own position, is surprisingly hard. Therefore it’s rare for managers even to attempt it, let alone succeed in it.
Another problem that one encounters in management is the giving of references for former staff. If you have had to discipline, or even dismiss, an employee and then they get offered a job elsewhere, even years later, you will find that the prospective employer writes to you seeking a detailed reference. These reference requests present a difficulty in terms of the issue of forgiveness. One needs to:
a) tell no lies and avoid misleading the new employer and yet also
b) avoid the temptation to take revenge on the ex-member of staff by giving an unfairly harsh reference, or even an accurate one, but where one’s real underlying motive is to hit back at them by revealing the truth, but in a vengeful way
This problem arose for me some time ago. An ex-member of staff, whom we will call Josephine, had claimed to be a Christian. She worked for me several years ago and had been a major disappointment. She was lazy, had a poor attendance record and was two-faced. In the end I saw through her and was very glad when she left voluntarily. Her departure prevented me from having to sack her.
Then, some years later, I got a letter asking for a reference and sending a detailed questionnaire. If I filled it in truthfully she wouldn’t get the job, because I would have had to be very critical. I couldn’t lie about her but, at the same time, I didn’t want to harm her. So I just didn’t reply.
The new employer chased again so I said I didn’t want to fill in their form, without explaining why. Then Josephine contacted us herself, pleading for a reference. She said she had split up with her partner (not her husband) and was wanting to move area and start again. She made no mention of her past misconduct, and gave no apology.
Even so, I decided to write a very brief reference letter, just giving the most basic details of salary and start/end dates, etc. I was telling no lies, but trying to avoid doing her any harm, if I could avoid it. My aim at such moments is to do what is right, and yet to make sure that I do nothing to hit back or take revenge. One’s aim must be to remain professional and honest, yet with forgiveness, and even mercy and grace, when those are possible and appropriate. That said, there are times when it becomes one’s duty to be much more frank. That could arise where the ex-employee was so bad that one is obliged to feel concerned for the welfare of the prospective employers and/or their staff. Even so, one still needs to take no pleasure from revealing the truth about that person. We must limit ourselves solely to doing our duty, and not indulge in the taking of any kind of vengeance.