On Sunday evening, the Jewish community celebrated Rosh Hashanah, the Jewish New Year. If you’re not familiar with the holiday, there’s much more to it than a typical New Years Eve. There’s no ball dropping on Times Square, and while it is a celebration, the focus is on family and faith and renewal for the coming year. Yom Kippur, the Day of Atonement, begins at sunset next Tuesday, and the days in between—The Days of Awe—are a time of reflection and forgiveness with the hope of starting fresh for the coming year.
As you can imagine, these holidays have me thinking a lot about forgiveness.
In my work as a financial advisor, I do quite a bit of mediation with couples (I’m trained in mediation as well as financial planning), and in that process I witness a lot of challenges as couples work together to overcome money issues that are causing conflict in their lives. In almost every instance—whether I’m working with a couple alone or along with their extended family—I see amazing shifts take place as individuals face their conflicts, seek common ground, and find new ways to communicate more effectively with each other.
Tamara and Chris have been clients of mine for years. After working with them to mediate some financial issues over a decade ago, Tamara’s favorite saying was, “We don’t fight about money anymore…we just call Lauren!” Unfortunately, they had some pretty big financial hits recently: Chris was forced to take an unexpected early retirement, and Tamara’s business fell on tough times. Without much warning, they had to completely rethink their financial future—which included making some major decisions about how to decrease their monthly expenses.
At first, they both fell into the old trap of the blame game. “Chris promised me we would stay in our home through retirement,” cried Tamara. “I can’t believe we’re in this situation at this point in our lives.” Then Chris chimed in, saying that if Tamara had taken better marketing advice, her business would not have failed. They were angry at each other for the situation they were in, but it was easy to see that their anger was rooted in fear. Fear of the unknown. Fear of change. And fear of being judged by each other. They weren’t exactly fighting about money, but they clearly weren’t in harmony either.
To help get them there, I asked them each to share their vision of the future—regardless of their financial situation. As they talked, we found that neither of them wanted to have to rebuild a career at this point in their lives, so they were both ready to retire. Next, we talked about what retirement looked like to each of them. Family and outdoor activities made the top of the list. And they both saw themselves walking together a lot—in nature, to the market, to dinner—all without getting in a car. In very little time, they had found some common ground, and the decisions that had felt so overwhelming were suddenly so much easier. By the time they left my office (with homework!), I could tell they had begun to paint a joint vision of what their new life would be like together. Harmony was on its way.
Tamara and Chris aren’t alone. So often in families, fear has a knack for causing conflict, even if it seems everyone is fighting over money. We all know stories about families torn apart after a loved one dies because of fights over belongings and money. And just like Tamara and Chris, it seems much of the upset—and the resulting need for forgiveness!—is often caused not by need, (Does Linda really need her grandmother’s candlesticks? Does Jerry really need his father’s car?) but by an emotional reaction to what’s happening, including sadness, fear, guilt, and more.
The legal battle over Robin Williams’ estate is a perfect example. Robin’s death was unexpected, and while he had done some pretty detailed estate planning, it wasn’t detailed enough to prevent a sad fight between his wife of three years and his adult children. Many blame the lawyers for the lack of clarity, but as with most disagreements, I can’t help but wonder if things would have been different if he had just communicated better when it came to his wishes. Not in legal documents, but with his wife and adult children. They’re still in mediation today. When all is said and done, they may all need to ask for—and offer—forgiveness.
Whether disagreements are about money, relationships, rethinking retirement, or myriad other issues, finding common ground and communicating clearly can not only help dissolve issues, but can often help sidestep conflict in the first place. Jewish or not, the “Days of Awe” are a great time to reflect on the fences in your life that may need mending. Perhaps take that step and ask someone for forgiveness. Or better yet, actively seek some common ground and communicate with your loved ones to prepare for your own fresh start. I know that’s my goal for the week.
No matter what your faith, I wish you a Happy New Year 5776 filled with peace, health, happiness, and prosperity. L’shanah Tovah!