The power of forgiveness

December 11, 2016

by LIOR ZOREF @lior

I am writing this post at 41,000 feet inside a United Dreamliner on my way back from Phoenix Arizona, then San Francisco to Tel Aviv. It’s a 13-hour flight in which I have time to ponder the experience I’m about to share with you.

It all started almost 40 years ago …

I was a geeky child in second grade. I hated playing ball so the boys did not want to be my friends. Girls also kept their distance (“Yuck, boys!”). Then, a new kid joined our class after moving to our neighborhood with his family. His name was Ori Eisen. Ori became my best and only friend.

Here is an old picture of the two of us:

oriliorenglish

Ori’s brother, Micha, had an acoustic music room. Ori and I would sit there for hours and play music together. Ori played the guitar and I played the piano. We played the Beatles and other songs we loved. I remember playing John Lennon’s Imagine as if it was yesterday. I was happy.

Ori’s father had one of the first computers in the country. We explored the new PC together in awe of all it could do. We used the dot-matrix printer to print “images” through long pages of paper. When Ori’s father bought a modem, we were amazed to see how computers could be part of a network.

But more than everything, I suddenly had a friend! I loved spending time together exploring things we were passionate about.

Then, when we were about 10 years old, Ori suddenly stopped being my friend. He remained in the classroom but avoided any contact with me. I had no idea why, and I was too ashamed to ask him what happened. I was ashamed of being alone and did not tell anyone, not even my parents. When asked how my day at school was I always said “okay”. The truth is that it was everything but fine. I felt awful. I was alone. Years passed and I was still alone, thinking how being a child is difficult and sad. During my free time (I had lots of it) I learned computer programming. I was drawn into the world of personal computers and this kept me busy while being by myself.

Years passed by and I still didn’t have friends or any social skills for that matter. I was this strange geeky kid who was only interested in computers. I had low grades too, only to realize years later that I had terrible teachers. Without friends and with low grades, I felt that my destiny was to be a nobody. No talent. No friends. Nothing. I did not realize that this could ever change.

35 years later I was busy writing my PhD dissertation, had a chance to speak at TED and planned my book launch tour in the US. One day, I received the following message from Ori:

It would be nice to meet you and talk about the good old days …

I was in shock.

Ori? My friend? Where did you come out from? Of course I want to meet you! I must ask though, why? Why did you stop being my friend?… I thought to myself.

Ori had lived with his family in the US for many years. When the right opportunity came, as I was invited to speak in NY, Ori came to meet me. On the day we met, he came to hear my presentation. In my talk, I always introduce myself and talk about my background as a geeky child with no friends. Ori was listening at the back of the room and started crying. He suddenly realized that he was my only friend.

After my lecture, we sat in a cafe and talked late into the night. Ori told me that he became a friend of mine because he came to school in the middle of the year and I was the only kid with no friends. As such, it was easy for him to be my friend. A few years later, the other kids insisted that if he continued to be my friend, they would stop being his friends. He joined the boycott and stopped being my friend without understanding that I was left all alone.

We sat together. Ori explained what happened and then said “I wish to apologize.” What powerful words.

We cried.

The truth is that now, as I remember those moments, while sitting in business class somewhere over Europe, my tears are falling.

Here is a video with part of our conversation (thanks to the amazing Danny Deutsch, Yonatan Nir and Dani Menkin):

Of course I have forgiven and since then we’ve become best friends again. Sometimes it isn’t until we lose something that we realize how grateful we should have been to have it. Maybe this is part of the reason our connection is so close today.

Ori lives with his family in Scottsdale, Arizona. He’s a very successful entrepreneur specializing in fraud detection and cyber security.

He founded a nonprofit organization called Ball To All. They give away balls to children who cannot afford it. The organization involves volunteers and ambassadors from all over the world. They identify areas of poverty and distress and distribute balls to the children living within them. This is happening in Africa and Arab communities and areas with refugees. Here is a picture of Ori with Shimon Peres and son Dan, after they agreed to cooperate with the Peres Center for Peace.

Ball To All organize an annual fundraising event. A few months ago I received this e-mail from Ori: “I had Michael Phelps cancel (as the keynote speaker) and you are the first person I thought to invite …”

OMG. Michael Phelps was supposed to be a keynote at this event and now Ori asked if I would come and replace him as the keynote.

I almost fainted.

4 days ago I packed a small suitcase and left on my way to a 24-hour adventure in Scottsdale, Arizona.

The event was held at Ori’s. It was packed with guests, donors and volunteers. Some of them flew from all over the US, and there was also one who flew 17 hours and was standing scared on the outside lawn. I remembered the days when we would go and play in the small music room at Ori’s house. What I would give to go back in time, just for a minute. I would turn to the kid sitting there in the most beautiful and rare moments of his childhood and tell him that they are about to end, so he should appreciate them for as long as they happen. My tears have started to fall again… luckily, United provides many napkins …

As the event started, Ori introduced me as the guest keynote speaker, a crowdsourcing expert, without saying a word about our friendship. I was there to speak about an interesting topic and the audience was engaged with curiosity and interest.

The response to my talk was great. People in the audience were interested, asked questions and laughed a lot. It was magical.

Towards the end, I showed the old picture with Ori and me and asked them whether anyone had any idea who that friend was that I was telling them about.

Then it happened. The moment for which I flew halfway around the world.

I told them everything. Our friendship, the boycott, him asking for forgiveness and our exceptional friendship since then. I told them that I feel as if Ori is not only my friend but also my guardian angel, offering help with whatever I do.

I have never received so many hugs after a talk. They each received a signed copy of my book and we hugged some more.

After the guests left (with a record-breaking donation amount), we again remembered the days when we were 8-9 years old, entering the small room and playing music.

Then Ori came and said, “It’s time to play.” He led me into a small music room with musical instruments.

Ori reached to the guitar and I went to the piano. We started to play. Time stood still. We became two children again, two best friends who play and enjoy being together.

The evening came to an end. What wonderful closure.

I returned home full of excitement. Ori gave me a ball as a present for my 8-year-old. He’s at the exact age at which this story began.

And what do you think my son’s name is? …

Ori.

Anyone who knows me knows how much I enjoyed the lectures abroad. Each lecture is a unique adventure. Another friend, Eran, suggested that I ask my network to recommend my talk to others. He said, “Similar to agents who take a handsome commission, why don’t you give a similar commission to people from your network if they help book engagements for you?” So here I am trying. You are welcome to contact me with the details if you’re interested.

Finally, here’s what I learned:

If you hurt someone and they didn’t deserve it, do me a favor – even if it happened 40 years ago, look for them and ask for their forgiveness. Asking for forgiveness is so powerful. It has a healing power and it brings so much love.

If someone comes back to you and asks you for forgiveness, try to make room in your heart to forgive them. Your heart will grow as a result.

And if you have children, I must ask for something else. Make sure that there isn’t any boycott on them. Smartphones have become a very powerful weapon. Children are using Snapchat to have secure conversations and us parents have no idea what’s going on there (all correspondence is deleted). Today it’s much easier to boycott than ever.

And if you want to do something good, go to http://www.balltoall.org/ and make a donation. Every $10 donated is turned into one ball that’s sent to children in need. For them, it’s the only opportunity to play, laugh and dream of a better future.

And my dear friend Ori, I hope you know how much I love you and appreciate our friendship. Thank you for everything you do.

  1. Reghu Warrier says:

    Very touching story with a very happy ending..Brought tears to all our eyes who were listening..God Bless!!

    1. Lior Zoref says:

      Thank you Reghu 🙂

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