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In 1965 a story was published that teaches a beautiful and powerful lesson. It is the story of a paroled convict. A friend of Prison Warden Kenyon J. Scudder happened to be sitting in a railroad coach next to a young man who was obviously depressed. Finally the man revealed that he was a paroled convict returning from a distant prison. His imprisonment had brought shame to his family, and they had neither visited him nor written often. He hoped, however, that this was only because they were too poor to travel and too uneducated to write. He hoped, despite the evidence, that they had forgiven him.

To make it easy for them, however, he had written them to put up a signal for him when the train passed their little farm on the outskirts of town. If his family had forgiven him, they were to put a white ribbon in the big apple tree which stood near the tracks. If they didn’t want him to return, they were to do nothing, and he would remain on the train as it travelled west.

As the train neared his home town, the suspense became so great he couldn’t bear to look out of his window. He exclaimed, “In just five minutes the engineer will sound the whistle, indicating our approach to the long bend which opens into the valley I know as home. Will you watch for the apple tree at the side of the track?” His companion changed places with him and said he would. The minutes seemed like hours, but then there came the shrill sound of the train whistle. The young man asked, “Can you see the tree? Is there a white ribbon?”

Came the reply: “I see the tree. I see not one white ribbon, but many. There must be a white ribbon on every branch. Son, someone surely does love you.”

Warden Scudder’s friend said afterwards that he felt like he had witnessed a miracle that day. The love and forgiveness extended by the convict’s family gave him the power to change.

The most rewarding role of a leader that I have experienced, is to see the potential in others that often they do not see in themselves – and then bringing it out. This potential is often enabled through the gift of forgiveness. Helping people to let go of their mistakes, to get back up when they stumble and cheering them on as they struggle is a catalyst for mighty change. Understand this – your love is someone else’s power to improve. Withhold it and they can fail. Give it in abundance and they can succeed like never before.

Surprisingly, this is also a principle of responsibility. We often can be cross at others for their failings whilst remaining blind to the fact that our love and our forgiveness can actually empower them to eliminate such weaknesses. Are great leaders simply lucky that they just happened to pick a great team? Or do they make them great? Where does the ownership lie? For me – it is in the hands of the leader. We make people great by loving them abundantly.

My invitation today is to put a white ribbon on every branch of the tree. Empower someone to change by loving them and forgiving them.

(The story of the paroled convict came from The Readers Digest, 1965 and was referenced by Thomas S. Monson here:

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