|Posted: Friday, October 17, 2014 7:00 am
It’s not only love that makes the world go round. Resentment, too, is prominent in stirring the drink.
In so many ways, our world is drowning in resentment. Everywhere you look, it seems, someone is bitter about something and breathing out resentment.
What is resentment? Why is this feeling so prevalent in our lives? How do we move beyond it?
Søren Kierkegaard once defined resentment in this way. Resentment, he suggested, happens when we move from the happy feeling of admiration to the unhappy feeling of jealousy.
And this, sadly, happens all too frequently in our lives and we are dangerously blind to its occurrence. “Me, resentful? How dare you make that accusation!”
Yet it’s hard to deny that resentment and its concomitant unhappiness color our world.
At every level of life – from what we see playing out in the grievances and wars among nations to what we see playing out in the bickering in our boardrooms, classrooms, living rooms and bedrooms – there is evidence of resentment and bitterness.
Our world is full of resentment. Everyone, it seems, is bitter about something, and, of course, not without cause.
Few are the persons who do not secretly nurse the feeling that they have been ignored, wounded, cheated, treated unfairly and have drawn too many short straws in life.
So many of us feel that we have every right to protest our right to be resentful and unhappy. We’re not happy, but with good reason.
Yes, there’s always good reason to be resentful, but, and this is the point of this column, according to a number of insightful analysts, both old and new, we are rarely in touch with the real reason why we are so spontaneously bitter.
For persons such as Thomas Aquinas, Søren Kierkegaard, Robert Moore, Gil Bailie, Robert Bly and Richard Rohr, among others, the deep root of our resentment and unhappiness lies in our inability to admire, our inability to praise others and our inability to give others and the world a simple gaze of admiration.
We’re a society that, for the most part, can’t admire. Admiration is, for us, a lost virtue.
Indeed, in the many circles today, both in the world and in the churches, admiration is seen as something juvenile and immature – the frenzied, mindless shrieking of teenage girls chasing a rock star.
Maturity and sophistication are identified today with the kind of intelligence, wit and reticence, which don’t easily admire and don’t easily compliment.
Learning and maturity, we believe, need to be picking things apart, suspicious of others’ virtues, distrustful of their motives, on hyper-alert for hypocrisy and articulating every reason not to admire. Such is the view today.
But what we don’t admit in this view of maturity and learning is how we feel threatened by those whose graces or virtues exceed our own.
What we don’t admit is our own jealousy. What we don’t admit is our own resentment.
What we don’t admit, and never will admit, is how our need to cut down someone else is an infallible sign of our own jealousy and bad self-image.
And what helps us in our denial is this: Cynicism and cold judgment make for a perfect camouflage.
We don’t need to admire because we’re bright enough to see that there’s nothing really to admire. That, too often, is our sophisticated, unhappy state.
We can no longer truly admire anybody. We can no longer truly praise anybody. We can no longer look at the world with any praise or admiration.
Rather, our gaze is perennially soured by resentment, cynicism, judgment and jealousy.
We can test ourselves on this. Robert Moore often challenges his audiences to ask themselves this question: When was the last time you walked across a room and told a person, especially a younger person or a person whose talents dwarf yours, that you admire her, that you admire what she’s doing, that her gifts enrich your life, and that you are happy that her path has crossed yours?
When was the last time you gave someone a heartfelt compliment? Or, to reverse the question: When was the last time that someone, especially someone who is threatened by your talents, gave you a sincere compliment?
We don’t compliment each other easily or often, and this betrays a secret jealousy. It also reveals a genuine moral flaw in our lives.
Thomas Aquinas once submitted that to withhold a compliment from someone who deserves it is a sin because we are withholding from him or her some of the food that he or she needs to live.
To not admire, to not praise, to not compliment, is not a sign of sophistication but a sign of moral immaturity and personal insecurity.
It is also one of the deeper reasons why we so often fill with bitter feelings of resentment and unhappiness.
Why do we so often feel bitter and resentful? We fill with resentment for many reasons, though, not least, because we have lost the virtues of admiration and praise.
Ron Rolheiser is a Missionary Oblate priest who is serving as president of the Oblate School of Theology in San Antonio, Texas. A version of this article first appeared on his website and is used with his permission. He can be contacted through his website, RonRolheiser.com, and you can find him on Facebook.
By Molly T. Marshall
My responsibilities as a seminary president require that I spend an inordinate amount of time in airports and on planes. These venues offer a stimulating opportunity to view humanity in all its richly hued diversity. I get to play peek-a-boo with little ones, surely a universal game, granting a little respite to tired parents. On occasion, I get to assist first-time travelers as they navigate unfamiliar security requirements or train links between gates.
I also have opportunity to witness the traveling challenges immigrants encounter and the xenophobia that surprises us. As I prepared to board a plane in Atlanta yesterday, I noticed two young men dressed in Muslim garb, complete with knitted caps. Of Middle-Eastern descent, they were sprouting beards and wore only sandals.
Instinctively, my antennae went up. Even though I regularly participate in interfaith gatherings and seek occasions to find common ground with those from Islamic traditions, I found myself watching these men with a measure of suspicion and fear. I was not alone in this scrutiny, and soon the men had moved to a corner away from others.
The only way to conquer my fearful reaction was to walk toward them and speak. They had an equal amount of suspicion, also, so I made my greeting brief and did not extend my hand, as many Muslim men eschew that practice. I simply extended the traditional greeting of peace: As-salamu alaykum. They nodded gravely and returned the hope that peace would be upon me, too.
The current international crisis surrounding the militant actions of ISIS has raised the question once again about whether Islam is a religion that sanctions violence. Some evangelical writers are quick to see the recent atrocities as warrant for denouncing this Abrahamic religion, and they advocate strong military action against this marauding force. My fear is that this will only exacerbate brutality — by sword and by drones.
Early in his papal leadership, Benedict XVI displayed a measure of insensitivity when he delivered a lecture at the University of Regensburg that suggested that Islam was “a religion inherently flawed by fanaticism.” He spent the remainder of his eight years in office seeking to clarify and soften this assessment. Hardliners today, however, are hailing him as a prophet.
Indeed, the firestorm that followed his early missteps prompted Islamic scholars to broach dialogue with the Catholic Church as well as Protestants. American Baptists have hosted a number of conversations with Muslims, and these have fostered greater understanding and respect. We need to cover so much more ground in our journey toward peace.
In my judgment, Christianity has as much to prove about its relationship to violence as does Islam. When we claim the Hebrew Scriptures as the Christian Old Testament, we are receiving texts that outline a program of herem, the utter destruction of those who stand in the way of conquering the land of promise. Although Jesus commanded his disciples to “put away the sword,” we know that many of his followers were all too ready to take it up against Muslims in the Crusades. And the bloody religious wars that spattered Europe following the Reformation reveal a violent approach to theological conformity.
America as a “Christian nation” is part of the mythos of national identity, and when we undertake military action against nations where Islam is the primary faith, it is seen as Christians against Muslims. When I confer with friends in Southeast Asia, I receive questions about how Baptists feel about our nation’s use of force around the world. Albeit a professed pacifist, I reluctantly mumble something about “just war” theory, realizing that even this construct is an accommodation to a world fallen to violence. I hasten to add that we really cannot find warrant within the Jesus tradition to justify such action.
Fear retains a vise-like grip on the human psyche. Our long evolutionary history, which privileges survival, means that we will fall to violence in order to escape what we fear most — pain and extinction. Human aggression and self-defensiveness encroach in the religious sphere, and this may be where our fear is most pronounced.
Yet, “perfect love casts out fear,” if we have the courage to forgive rather than retaliate. As Bethany Sollereder has recently written in Christian Century, “… love’s endeavor is to approach pain head-on, to stand against it, and to remain undeterred through it.” Love is the antidote to fear, and we are incapable of it without the divine assistance.
I wish I had mustered the courage to inquire further about the well-being of the young men and their hopes and dreams for the future. I wanted to know if they were studying to become imams or simply devout in their religious practices. I would have if I had been more loving and less fearful.