The power to undo has become firmly established in our lives. We press the backspace key or type “Ctrl+Z” to instantly undo typing mistakes. We press the undo button in the word processor to change our minds about what we want to say or how to say it. If we decide we don’t like a purchase, we take it back to the store. Undo is the power to “make a previous act of no effect.”
I would not want to go back to the days of “white out”. And, I like to be able to return things that don’t fit or exchange them for something more useful. But when we try to transfer the power of undo to our organizations and relationships, our commitments can be conditional; we don’t have to care too much; we don’t have to risk trusting. Indeed, trust may be broken all kinds of ways. A leader offers false praise, gives inconsistent messages, or pretends the elephant in the room doesn’t exist. It can be broken when a customer service representative stonewalls instead of assists or a product fails five minutes after being unboxed.
Yet, no one or thing is perfect. We make mistakes with our clients and employees, families and friends. And, in our relationships and organizations, there is no undo, no power to “make a previous act of no effect.” A reader recently challenged me by commenting that we need to do “our best to finish well, especially when we need to ask for forgiveness … understanding and healing should not go undone–if possible.”
Asking for, and offering, forgiveness is part of rebuilding trust. In my experience, repairing trust is possible, but it can take time and requires a change in behavior. Paul Boese said, “Forgiveness does not change the past, but it enlarges the future.” It enlarges by making it possible for me to again risk commitment, love, and trust, – remembering that the power of undo is limited.