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Forgiveness is key to a successful agriculture legacy

by Wyoming Livestock Roundup

Published on Feb. 29, 2020

With an aim to help rural families in creating their own legacy, University of Wyoming Extension Farm and Ranch Management Specialist John Hewlett helps families begin the thought process of succession and open lines of communication. 

            “Most farm families feel as if they have at least taken a couple of steps towards the process of transitioning management to the next generation,” Hewlett explains. “But, oftentimes only the older generation is present in these conversations. Successful conversations must involve multiple generations and be ongoing.”

            Hewlett notes sometimes barriers and challenges may arise that make these conversations more difficult or even impossible. 

            “In such cases, the real challenge is that most people don’t have a good idea what alternatives there might be to get help,” he says. 


            “Conflict is a fact of family life and all families will experience conflicts, it is not a matter of if but when,” Hewlett says. 

            “According to the Family Firm Institute, 20 percent of family businesses report weekly conflict, another 20 percent report monthly conflict and 42 percent report conflict three-to-four times per year,” says Hewlett. “We can all draw our own conclusions about the 18 percent who report no conflict at all.” 

            “Conflict is a clash of interests, values, actions, views or directions,” says Hewlett. “Disagreement among people is the underlying basis of conflicts. People disagree because they see things differently or want different things.” 

            Hewlett notes it is rare to hear anyone describe conflict in a positive way. 

            “Not all conflicts have to be all out wars,” says Hewlett. “There are many levels to conflicts between individuals, whether they are family or not.”

Resolving conflict 

            Hewlett notes conflicts can be defused and even resolved. 

            “De-escalation is an effort to reduce either the severity or scope, and sometimes both, of a standing conflict,” he says. “When considering the best strategy for conflict resolution, there are some points to keep in mind.” 

            “Not everyone has the same level of commitment, honesty or integrity,” he says. “It is important to define a process that resolves the problem and encourages the parties to talk about the issues in a controlled and reasonable way.” 

            He continues, “Many people are conditioned to avoid conflict at all costs, that conflict is bad or a failure. Overcoming this tendency to avoid conflict or view it negatively is a good first step.” 

            “One of the most important elements of all successful family businesses is a clearly defined process for dealing with group and personal conflicts,” he says. “Sometimes conflicts can’t be resolved and must be respectfully accepted as differences.”

Granting forgiveness 

            Hewlett notes writers from Psychology Today define forgiveness as the conscious and deliberate decision to release resentment or anger. 

            “Forgiveness doesn’t always mean reconciliation,” he says. “The person who forgives is not required to return to the same pattern or relationship or accept the same harmful behaviors from another.” 

            “Forgiveness is critically important for the mental health of anyone who has been harmed or victimized,” he says. “It allows people to move forward, rather than holding back to re-experience a past injustice or injury.” 

            Hewlett notes a few points are critical to understanding how to grant forgiveness. 

             “Forgiveness is not letting the offender off the hook,” he says. “Forgiveness does not mean we must continue to be the victim.” 

            He continues, “Forgiveness is not the same as reconciling. We can forgive someone even if we cannot bring ourselves to get along with them again.”

            “Forgiveness is a process, not an event,” according to Hewlett. “Forgetting does not mean denying reality or ignoring repeated offenses.”

            “Forgiveness is not based on others’ actions, but on our attitude and state of mind,” he says. “Withholding forgiveness is a refusal to let go of perceived power.”

            He continues, “Be careful not to forgive too quickly in order to avoid pain or, worse, to manipulate the situation.”

            “We have to watch that we are not simply covering up the wounds and holding back the necessary healing process,” he says.

            “Forgiveness does not mean forgetting,” he concludes. “Forgiveness starts with a mental decision. The emotional part of forgiveness is finally being able to let go of the resentment.”

Benefits of forgiveness

            “Forgiveness has been shown to elevate mood, enhance optimism and guard against anger, stress, anxiety and depression,” Hewlett explains. “Carrying the hurt or anger of an offense leads the body to release stress hormones such as adrenaline and cortisol.”

            “Forgiveness is an act of the imagination. It dares us to imagine a future

based on the possibility that our hurt will not be the final word on the matter,” says Hewlett. “It challenges us to give up our destructive thoughts and to believe in

the possibility of a better future.” 

            “Forgiveness is a creative act that changes us from prisoners of the past to liberated people at peace with our memories,” says Hewlett. “It is not forgetfulness, but does involve accepting the promise that the future can be more than dwelling on memories of past injury.” 

            “Withholding forgiveness is like taking poison and expecting the other person to die,” he says.

            “We will all leave a legacy whether we plan to or not,” Hewlett says. “We might consider forgiveness, if the legacy we leave behind is more important than making sure we keep the conflict going to the bitter end.” 

            He concludes, “Remember, forgiveness is a gift we give to ourselves and our legacy.”

Callie Hanson is the managing editor of the Wyoming Livestock Roundup. Send comments on this article to

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