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Three women working in a coffee truck having fun

I have a confession to make: I’ve felt some resentment lately. This is frightening to me (hence the need to write it down and, thus, I hope, dispense with it!) because I abhor resentment as much as I abhor self-pity. I was brought up to rise above my petty resentments as quickly as possible, a lesson I’m grateful for.

What I wasn’t taught, however, is how to think more deeply about the unfairnesses of life in the process of banishing my anger about them. Of course, we all know life isn’t fair. That’s as much a given as the rancor that is sure to take root in our hearts if we dwell on what is unfair.

I’ll say more about this in More on the Subject, but if you want a quick fix (I like quick fixes from time to time), I’ll just say that gratitude—deep, genuine, verbally-expressed gratitude—is usually the best and easiest replacement for resentment.

When resentment lingers, it can harden into bitterness. So I’m intentionally practicing gratitude right now in order to run as far away from encroaching bitterness as I can.

More on the Subject

Again, we all know that life isn’t fair. I remember begging for a yellow phone in my bedroom and crying inconsolably when my excitement turned to aggrieved dismay after discovering the BellSouth truck in our driveway was for my mom to get a phone in her sewing room. I was 13 and not at all embarrassed by my entitled histrionics!

In the TV show The Crown, the fictional Queen Mother delivers this line with her own understated version of histrionics: “The history of the monarchy in this country is a one-way street of humiliation, sacrifices and concessions in order to survive. First, the barons came for us, then the merchants, now the journalists. Small wonder we make such a fuss about curtsies, protocol and precedent.”

I have no idea if this is a direct quote, but whatever the case, the Queen Mother was not embarrassed by her entitled histrionics, either!

I’ve discovered that most of the things I resent fade into distant memory because they just aren’t all that important. But sometimes resentment invites reflection. And sometimes it’s helpful to know why a particular unfair event triggers you the way it does.

Lately, keeping up with our financial needs at Refuge has required a herculean effort in trimming costs and garnering funds, either by selling cups of coffee or soliciting buckets of donations. And I am usually filled with a stunned gratitude for all the ways we find strength and provision in our many needs and weaknesses. But not last week. I guess I still have a little of that entitled 13-year-old in me.

There are vehicles and espresso machines to fix, rent or mortgages to pay, ever-more-expensive goods to purchase, and—most importantly—payroll to make. If you’re a nonprofit or business owner, I’m sure you can relate. It can feel like the steepest drop on the Scream Machine at Six Flags. I don’t know why this surprises me. Anyway, last week was one of those dead drops.

For a day or two, instead of gratitude, I felt the pangs of being beholden to others. I felt as if Refuge (all of us, but mostly just me. That’s the thing about resentment, it’s pretty self-centered) was a lowly “vassal” state, relying on the benevolence of those with the power and wealth to help us, the “suzerain” states. I felt keenly aware that I was on the weaker end of a power differential. Victim thinking if there ever was…

I even made the mistake of saying out loud to someone (whoever it was, please forgive me!!) that although I’m often aware of my position as a white, privileged American, I could relate to our refugee employees and trainees who came to the U.S. as vassals, dependent upon a wealthy nation for their existence because Refuge was dependent in a similar way. Then I read about Trump’s speech after winning the South Carolina primary. His comments sounded eerily like my own words. He said:

“And a lot of people said that that’s why the Black people like me because they have been hurt so badly and discriminated against, and they actually viewed me as I’m being discriminated against,”

I realized that in my self-pity, I’d been emboldened to co-opt another’s suffering as if it was the same as mine, to tell a lie. That’s what resentment can do, squeeze all the gratitude out of you, and replace it with lies.

So, I confessed my resentment to our support staff. I told them that although the power differential does indeed exist, I wanted them to join me in turning any resentment we might harbor toward gratitude. In our discussion, gratitude led to these commitments as a way of turning the power differential that can often lead to resentment on its head:

We will not grovel, treating ourselves as less than others in any way. We will stand tall.

But neither will we treat others as less than. We will raise others up.

We will affirm the words my husband spoke from a video at his own memorial service to his 13-year-old grandson and put them into practice: Everybody matters.

In confessing, in making these statements, and in asking for accountability to follow through, my resentment is–for now–gone.

Hallelujah for short-lived resentment and long-term gratitude, 


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