The deception of resentment

Resentment is a moral pain that results from an offence. The person who suffers from it is unable to forget that offence. And often it is the same person who imagines it. In any case, he or she feels it again and again (re-feels it). This feeling is accompanied by resentment and antipathy towards those who caused the real or imagined harm. The latter is more than frequent.

There is a story that explains it in a jocular way: Once, a man was driving along a lonely road in his van. After a few kilometres, a tyre blew out. The driver had no choice but to stop the vehicle to fix it, and was horrified to find that the jack was missing! The place was a vast, lonely plain, far from any nearby town. The approaching night would fill everything with darkness. After a few minutes, he caught a glimpse of a small light in the distance. Since there was no alternative, especially at this unearthly hour, he set off towards where the faint glow was flickering.

On the way, he wondered why this should have happened to him, why he had taken that road, why he hadn’t had his tyres and equipment checked beforehand for such an unforeseen event. Besides, at such a late hour, if there were any inhabitants in that distant house, they would be asleep and would probably not have what he needed. He even imagined that they would refuse to help a stranger like him. And so, as he walked in the rain, and in the bitter cold, his head boiled with negative thoughts. Progressively, he was filled with rage inside. When, after a long time, tired and terrified, he reached the house, he knocked on the door and was opened by a sleepy old man in his pyjamas. Our driver, already burnt out by his dark imaginings, without saying a word, blurted out: “Do you know what I’m telling you, you can shove the cat up your ass!“.

The irony of the story conceals a message: it is often we ourselves who imagine situations that have nothing to do with reality; we presuppose unrealistic behaviour in others, supposed grievances that have only occurred in our fevered imaginations. Max Scheler said that resentment, resentment, is a psychic self-intoxication, like a re-feeling, a re-feeling. It is a self-generated poison that I take myself in the hope of hurting another.

But continuing with the thread, as resentment is an emotional passion, it is necessary to rationalise so that the response – I insist, it is often an imaginary grievance – is not an irrational reaction that fills us with bitterness. Because it is not those who offend who want to, as the saying goes, but those who can; and that is because we have previously and voluntarily opened the door to our inner self.

But, and supposing that the offence is real, the only way left to us, so that the poison does not coagulate the circulation and collapse the heart, is forgiveness. Responding right for wrong seems to me to be the most revolutionary thing in the world. The other, paying with the same coin, is nothing new: it is more of the same. We drink the potion that poisons us. Forgiveness is another story.


Juan Carlos cmf

(PHOTO: Jacob Jolibois)


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