As either Nelson Mandala or Malachy McCourt once said, “Resentment is like taking poison and waiting for the other person to die.” As a Minister I hear the litany of resentments that fester and gnaw at people’s souls. These are carried forward like mantras, recited in moments of quiet reflection, as if to remind us of a debt owed, something that if we forget will leave justice somehow undone. Mandala in his autobiography had more than enough reasons to feel resentment, the prime of his life was taken from him because he had plotted the overthrow of a racist and unjust regime. Veterans of the Second World War were and are celebrated for their bravery and valour, Mandala went to jail for 27 years.
Mandala carried with him the resentments anyone would feel for losing his contact with family and friends, freedom, the indignities of prison, all of it. He carried these with him every day until he finally realized that the only one he was poisoning was himself. So Mandala began to try and let go and channel his energy to making his beloved country a place where no one would feel resentment based on race. Obviously this work predated his conversion to a new mindset but from that moment on he began to see his captors in a new light. When Mandala was released and later was elected President he placed next to him, at the inauguration ceremony, his former jailor. It was a powerful symbol of a new beginning for a fragile country.
I have been fortunate to have lived 52 years with few resentments, mostly due to the power and privilege afforded me by being male, middle class, Caucasian, and straight in a culture that tilts in all of those directions. Still there have been events that left me bruised. In most of these, as I look back, I see clearly I played the largest part in the events that led to my unhappiness. I could, and did at one time, rationalize these events to blame others but deep down I know the real story. These days when people or groups are unfair to me I lose no sleep and move on. I leave them behind and focus on what is ahead for me. I can honestly say I carry only one resentment and it was not anything done or said to me, rather it was directed at someone I love. I am still working at letting go of that. Lucky for me that event was almost 20 years ago and I rarely never think of it as the person in question almost never comes up in conversation. I never think of her so the resentment only lives when the name randomly comes up in conversation.
I know I am blessed in this way and I realize most do carry these feelings forward. But there is an important lesson to be learned by the quote I used at the beginning of this blog. Resentment directed at someone does no one harm but the one who carries it. And those who carry a lot of resentment often end up so poisoned that everything and everyone they meet moving forward is seen less as a potential friend and more as someone who is apt to take advantage and hurt them. We all know people who sabotage every new relationship, new job, and new adventure, because of an expected resentment. In my experience this person living with the poison of resentment will not share, will not do, and will not care for, others because they feel someone is trying to “put one over” on them. How often have we heard someone turn away from an opportunity to do something meaningful for someone saying, “why are you asking me, why not ask (fill in the blank), s/he does less than me, why are you always asking me?” In the short term this person gets out of the request. The resentment has successfully resulted in less work, effort. But in the long term this resentful person will be isolated, so much so that the poison inside will result in a shortened work term and very limited social supports.
I pray we all are set free from such resentments, free to care for others and be cared for by others. No poison, only healing ointment and new life.