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Saturday, September 3, 2011

On Resentment and Forgiveness

Resentments, we are reminded over and over, are the number one "killers" of alcoholic addicts. But just what are resentments? The word, itself, comes from the Latin sentiere meaning "to feel." So, quite literally, resentment (which in medieval English was  resentiment) means "to feel again." We think about past events over which we are still upset, rub our supposed 'wounds' raw, and then act on the basis of the resulting feelings.

Thus, the process seems to be "re-think --> re-feel --> re-act." And the usual reaction? Far too often, the reaction of the alcoholic addict is to drink or use again, proving yet again the truth of the Chinese proverb: "Anger is a toxic poison, that corrodes the vessel that contains it from the inside out." "The problem of the alcoholic," remember,"centers in the mind."

So how do we do deal with resentments? Listing the resentments by name, writing down the cause of the resentment, and how it affects us, is a start. We then look rigorously and honestly about what part, if any, we played in the circumstances that set the whole train of wronged emotions in play. In most cases we find that we have played a part, and where we have wronged that individual we forgive and make amends where where that is possible. But what about the deeply held resentments where,quite honestly, we played no part?

The resulting thoughts and simmering anger surrounding circumstances in which we were victimized are just as dangerous and perhaps more so than the instances where we played an active role. Requiring a one-sided true forgiveness, these instances may offer us the greatest opportunites for spiritual growth that there are. Mark Twain remarked, "Forgiveness is the scent the violet leaves on the heel of the boot that crushed it." But just how do we get there? Perhaps the key is in recognizing that the other person, though his or her wrong actions may vary in kind from ours, is nonetheless just like us - human, fallible and thus prone to all the same soul sickness that we are.

The Roman Emperor and stoic philosopher, Marcus Aurelius advised in his Meditations
"Begin each day by telling yourself: Today I shall be meeting with interference, ingratitude, insolence, disloyalty, ill-will and selfishness - all of them due to the offender's ignorance of what is good and evil. But for my part I have long perceived the nature of Good and its nobility, the nature of evil and its meanness, and also the nature of the culprit himself who is my brother (not in the physical sense, but as a fellow-creature similarly endowed with Reason and a share of the Divine); therefore none of these things can injure me, for nobody can implicate me in what is degrading. Neither can I be angry with my brother or fall foul of him, for he and I were born to work together, like a man's two hands, feet or eyelids, or like the upper and lower rows of his teeth. To obstruct each other is against Nature's law - and what is irritation or aversion but a form of obstruction?"
More simply put, in the Lord's Prayer we are advised to ask God to "forgive us our trespasses as we forgive those who trespass against us. The operative word being "as" in this instance. Thus, so long as our thinking returns to the one-sided wrongs that have been done to us, we can dedicate those thoughts to our Higher Power, recognize our own continuing defects of character, and ask to be relieved of the anger that still resides within us. When true forgiveness comes - as it will if it is sought - we will seldom if ever think of those past injustices, usually only in those instances when sharing such wrongs will help someone struggling with wrongs of a similar nature.

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