A story from Learning to Dance in the Rain....
Someone wise once said, "Holding onto a resentment is like swallowing poison, and hoping the other person will die." Resentment doesn't hurt the person you're angry at-it hurts you.
You can't feel resentment and gratitude at the same time. One will always drive out the other. So the question is: Which would you rather be-angry or happy? Indignant or grateful? Upset or serene? Would you rather hold onto your self-righteous resentment or fill your heart with forgiveness and gratitude?
My friend BJ Gallagher told me a great story recently, about her own experience with resentment. She once worked as the training manager for a large metropolitan newspaper, where she found the corporate culture extremely frustrating. The company was a hundred years old, steeped in tradition, and calcified with bureaucracy. Their past success had blinded them to the need for change, and they resisted new ideas with "this is the way we've always done it."
As the years went by, BJ grew more frustrated with their bureaucratic short-sightedness and their inability to embrace the brave new world of the Internet and other global changes. Finally, after butting heads with several senior executives one-too-many times, she left the company.
But she found that she hadn't left her resentment, frustration, and anger behind when she resigned. She carried them with her, like "rocks in my stomach," she says. "Weighing me down, always there in my gut."
"I finally decided to write about my experiences and my feelings at the newspaper. I figured it would be a good mental health exercise, purging myself of the negative baggage. I wanted to be rid of that company and those people, once and for all.
"So I wrote and I wrote, enlisting a good friend, Warren Schmidt, to help me in the purging process. It wasn't just a story that poured out-it was a whole book! We called it A Peacock in the Land of Penguins. I was the peacock and those newspaper executives were the penguins.
"My resentment fueled my writing. I was gonna show them! I would write my book; it would be wildly successful; and the whole world would know how stupid those penguins were! Today, I shudder to think how my resentfulness poisoned me. I wasn't just resentful-I was vengeful."
"What happened when the book came out?" I asked BJ.
"Not much," she replied. "The newspaper kept doing what it had always done, and I continued my emotional turmoil. My feelings didn't bother the penguins one bit, but those feelings were sure taking a toll on me.
"It took me several more years to finally get over my negative emotions. Through a lot of soul-searching and reflection, I finally was able to let go of my resentment. I came to see that there was nothing personal in the way they treated me-they were good people doing what they thought best for the company. I was the one who had made it personal. I thought they were making my life miserable on purpose.
"Finally, the time came when I decided to make amends for the harsh, angry things I had said about the company. I invited my former boss to dinner and made my apology. I called the publisher and told him I was sorry for being so resentful. I wrote a letter to another key executive, reiterating my apology. It was a great healing process for me. I finally felt free of the resentment that had been eating me up."
"What was the final outcome?" I asked her.
"Gratitude," she replied. "Not only wasn't I resentful anymore, I was grateful to the company. If I hadn't had those painful experiences, I never would have written a book. And the book became hugely successful-now published in 21 languages-it transformed my business.
"In short, my resentment gave way to gratitude,"
She smiled. "I owe the penguins a debt of thanks-for giving me such a great tale to tell."
Trading resentments for gratitude isn't always easy, as BJ's story illustrates. It can take a long time and a lot of reflection to be able to see the situation with some emotional maturity.
But it's worth it. For gratitude is a far happier feeling than resentment. Just ask my peacock friend BJ.