When a family owns and even runs a business together, it is usually concerned very much with the same things other business owners are too. How to grow, how to keep the competition at bay, how to finance the next step, these are the things that dominate the day-to-day. However, the added layer of complexity which is often termed an advantage which is brought into the calculation by having family members work together is undeniable and usually of an emotional nature. It is, therefore, important to address the psychology of the family business and realise that its soft issues define the successful tackling of any business move and challenge. The ruling of ones emotions when interacting with other family members can be a determining factor in sustainable the family company ultimately is. Thomas Hubler, Founder of Hubler Family Business, has been working and consulting with family businesses for over 30 years and has collected the following insights on the subjects of compassion, gratitude and forgiveness.
Chinese rulers of antiquity knew that compassion brings true inner peace. The Golden Rule, “Do onto others as you would have others do unto you,” originated in early Chinese rituals. Versions of the Golden Rule exist in the major world religions. In Christianity, as “Love your neighbour as yourself.” Islam states in the Qur’an, “Not one of you can be a believer unless he desires for his neighbour what he desires for himself.”
The compassion we witness and experience in our home inspires us to be more compassionate to others, ultimately strengthening the family business by establishing deep relationships within and outside the company.
Human beings have always known that when life seems tough, home can be a place where we find love, compassion, and warmth. Because it is within our family that we feel reassured that someone understands and cares how we feel, compassion is a crucial element that makes up a strong and united family business. The compassion we witness and experience in our home inspires us to be more compassionate to others, ultimately strengthening the family business by establishing deep relationships within and outside the company.
Compassion happens when you personally acknowledge and understand a suffering person. This kindness arises by validating the other person’s experience, or as Plato said, “Be kind, for everyone you meet is fighting a harder battle.” Acknowledging the other person’s battle brings you closer to their situation, validates their experience, and creates peace in yourself. Like gratitude and love and forgiveness, compassion heals all it touches. It radiates out as it resonates within.
Compassion is a universal human quality too often forgotten in the small moments of life. We underestimate the power of a smile, a kind word, a moment taken to listen. These are qualities each of us can consciously develop and strengthen.
For example, begin each day with a meditative moment of gratitude for your family and all the special people in your life. Then, demonstrate this gratitude by warmly and consciously greeting the first few people you see or talk with that day. Practice being conscious of your compassionate feelings with more and more people. Make it as natural as breathing. Bring your inner sense of love, forgiveness, and acceptance to each greeting, each time. You can do this directly or silently. Scientists say this practice stimulates the prefrontal lobes of your brain that generate compassion and inner peace. In other words, by regularly practicing compassion—acknowledging and validating others—you are physically and emotionally improving your own well-being.
A final, critical aspect of compassion is service to others. I believe this is a learned behaviour. Serving others must be practiced to become instinctive. Mother Teresa committed her life to treating India’s poor with compassion and love. She said, “I would rather make mistakes in kindness and compassion than work miracles in unkindness and hardness.” In that statement, you recognise how committed she was to acknowledging the suffering of others. You feel her courage to place herself in situations where she lived with compassion, gave of herself, and undoubtedly drew resolve from that effort.
Each of us has opportunities every day to express compassion.
Each of us has opportunities every day to express compassion. We can serve by volunteering for our communities, schools, and charities. We serve our families by supporting ageing parents and grandparents. We serve each other by conducting our lives with the compassion to validate others.
Mother Teresa also said, “If we have no peace, it is because we have forgotten that we belong to each other.” Understanding and practicing compassion brings the realisation that we are all one people. The human race is our family tree. Compassion nurtures its growth, extends its branches, and flowers its existence. For, as Jamaican musician Bob Marley wrote, “One love, one heart, one destiny.” It is the basis of morality.
Gratitude is a spontaneous emotion, but not simply an emotional response; it is a choice we make. It is a readiness to express appreciation. Gratitude grows as we develop the ability to recognise the good in our lives. Gratitude is how we remember kindnesses such as cherished interactions with others, the compassionate acts of strangers, and everyday blessings. How often do you consciously consider that life is a gift, employment is a gift, beloved family and friends are gifts? This recognition is the basis for gratitude.
Within the family business, it is often easy to forgo the expression of gratitude. Family members have lived together and known each other their entire lives, making gratitude seem either unnecessary or like an added chore between relationships.
Within the family business, it is often easy to forgo the expression of gratitude. Family members have lived together and known each other their entire lives, making gratitude seem either unnecessary or like an added chore between relationships. However, the health of the family business and its relationships can become damaged or weakened without the element of gratitude to alleviate the stresses of everyday life.
It is easy to slip into negative thoughts and wander darkly in our minds. Gratitude is the antidote. As French author Alphonse Karr wrote in A Tour Round My Garden, “Some people grumble that roses have thorns; I am grateful that thorns have roses.” When we worry or imagine catastrophic outcomes or focus on past hurts or regrets, this negativity separates us from recognizing the blessings in our lives. This is not just regretful, it’s personally damaging.
“You pay in your distress and in your need,” writes Khalil Gibran in The Prophet, “would that you might pray also in the fullness of your joy and in your days of abundance.”
A developed sense of gratitude provides significant personal benefits such as reduced stress and anxiety, enhanced health, appreciation of one’s own talents and gifts, and the clarity to live a more purposeful life. A strong sense of gratitude increases not only your personal happiness, but also improves your relationships, helps protect you against adverse life experiences, and scientists say, improves productivity and even your sleep.
Gratitude is natural and can arise like a laugh in some situations. However, every person also has the ability to increase gratitude. The process is intentional. It is made simple by being mindful. It costs nothing and takes little time. For example, you can take a moment before you get out of bed each morning to be thankful for the special people in your life. You can increase gratitude by taking walks in nature or with activities like gardening that build your appreciation of nature’s bounty. You augment an intention for gratitude by being kind to the people you meet during the day. It becomes especially important to treat family members and loved ones with love, care, and respect.
Finally, we extend our expression of gratitude by serving others and through philanthropy. Service is on the outside is like prayer on the outside. Gratitude is the intentional habit of recognizing our blessings in how we live and serve others.
In the flow of life, it is certain that individuals in a family business will anger, offend, or upset another family member. It frequently happens with people we love because we share such a special bond. The successful family businesses I encounter have learned how to forgive each other, how to create a new beginning in their relationships. Business (and household) families who don’t practice forgiveness stay mired in past hurts and negativity. It damages everyone: transgressor, victim, and other family members.
It is your choice to forgive someone who wrongs you. You do it voluntarily. In fact, I suggest that a person cannot move forward until they forgive. And when you forgive, you relieve your own suffering and stress.
It is your choice to forgive someone who wrongs you. You do it voluntarily. In fact, I suggest that a person cannot move forward until they forgive. And when you forgive, you relieve your own suffering and stress. Forgiveness leads to a healthier life, improves relationships and releases you from the negatives of the past.
Forgiveness provides a feeling of peace. As Khaled Hosseini writes in his book The Kite Runner, forgiveness occurs “not with the fanfare of epiphany, but with pain gathering its things, packing up, and slipping away unannounced in the middle of the night.” When you forgive you take responsibility for how you feel, which allows you to give and receive more love from important people in your life; it re-energizes relationships.
To reach the peace that forgiveness provides you must begin with an open heart. You feel vulnerable and, at the same time, courageous. “The weak can never forgive,” said Mahatma Gandhi, “Forgiveness is the attribute of the strong.” That’s why it is important to recognise that you are doing this for yourself; you forgive as a way to heal and make your own life. You have compassion for yourself.
You also have compassion for the person who caused the hurt. You choose to forgive; the perpetrator cannot successfully demand it. This is another reason why forgiveness comes from strength, not weakness. You learn to forgive gracefully to reduce the burden on the person you forgive.
A final, important aspect of forgiveness is that it is a polite acceptance of life’s imperfections. It comes from gratitude rather than expectation. Through forgiveness, we learn to understand and appreciate the blessings we receive, broaden our world view, and live life with greater ease. As my teacher, Amit Sood, said “Since you didn’t write the script, there is no reason to think you should be able to edit it.”
We must learn to accept the many things in our lives we cannot control. This life-long endeavour requires regular, conscious practice. Living a life of forgiveness is a gift to yourself that resonates inside of you even as it radiates to others. As activist and author Maya Angelou stated it, “I’ve learned that people will forget what you said, people will forget what you did, but people will never forget how you made them feel.”
Practicing forgiveness in your family business is crucial. Getting past conflict between family members can sometimes mean the difference between passing the legacy down another generation or having to close down the business. Forgiveness is the feeling that ever expands and never reduces. It ennobles you and renounces anger on those who wronged you. It just might be the most powerful prescription for bettering your family business and our world.