Producer wearing checked shirt and brown pants walking through green soybean field.

Should forgiveness have a place in your ag legacy?

Conflict is a fact of family life. 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.

You can draw your own conclusions about the 18 percent who report no conflict at all.

Not all conflicts are full-on wars. Conflicts vary depending on the nature of the issues involved, the relationships between the persons involved, the context, and the means used to wage the struggle.

Conflicts can be resolved

Conflicts can be defused and even resolved. De-escalation is an effort to reduce either the severity or scope (or both) of a standing conflict. When considering the best strategy for resolving a conflict, keep the following points in mind, as suggested by Rob Sandelin:

  • Not everyone has the same level of commitment, honesty, or even integrity.
  • It is important to define a process that resolves the problem and encourages the parties to talk, even if the issues are intensely personal.
  • Many people are conditioned to avoid conflict at any cost, that conflict is bad, a failure.
  • A clearly defined process for dealing with group and personal conflicts is critical to all successful family businesses.
  • Sometimes conflicts can’t be resolved and must simply be respectfully accepted as differences.

What about forgiveness?

Writers for Psychology Today suggest forgiveness is the conscious and deliberate decision to release resentment or anger. Forgiveness doesn’t necessarily mean reconciliation. The person who forgives is not required to return to the same pattern of relationship or accept the same harmful behaviors from another. In addition, forgiveness is critically important for the mental health of anyone who has been harmed or victimized. It allows people to move forward, rather than holding them back to re-experience a past injustice or injury.

Rose Sweet suggests one reason we resist forgiving is that we don’t really understand what forgiveness is or how it works. We think we do, but we don’t. Most of us assume if we forgive others who have offended us, it is the same as letting them off the hook and then they get to go on their merry way, while we unfairly suffer from their actions. Further, we might also think we are required to be friendly with them again or to pick up with the old relationship where we left off. Though we may believe in a command to forgive others, that does not mean we are expected to continue trusting those who broke trust with us.

Leaving a legacy through forgiveness

All families experience interpersonal conflicts. Many times, conflicts arise over a failure to practice good communication or where communication has broken down.

Everyone involved must communicate effectively to successfully establish a legacy for future generations. Perhaps even more important, past hurts or conflict can effectively prevent or break the lines of communication. Forgiveness may be the only path forward where a break has already occurred.

Luckily, granting forgiveness is something we can learn to do, and we get better at it with practice.

We will all leave a legacy whether we plan to or not. You might consider forgiveness if the legacy you leave behind is more important to you than making sure that you keep the conflict going to the bitter end. Remember, forgiveness is a gift you give to yourself and your legacy.

See for an online module addressing forgiveness, as well as bulletins and references with suggestions on how to address these challenges.

John Hewlett is a farm and ranch management specialist in the department and Caleb Carter is an UW Extension agriculture and horticulture educator in Goshen County. Hewlett may be reached at (307) 766-2166 or

For more information

An online module, including a recorded presentation covering forgiveness and other information on establishing an ag legacy, is available at our website. For more on upcoming modules, past newsletters, and for information about Ag Legacy, see Requests for additional information may be emailed to

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