This past weekend the basketball team at my alma mater Nebraska took a united stand against hatred, racism, and violence. “Hate will never win” was on the T-shirts worn by the Huskers before and during the game. The athletes and coaches unified message was in response to white nationalist videos that surfaced earlier that week by a UNL student discussing his desire to be violent.
Anger over the videos simmered throughout the week. Students protested. Administration held “listening sessions” to discuss first amendment rights. There were those who didn’t feel safe especially among minorities and students from different countries.
Junior guard Glynn Watson said of his reaction to the videos. “I feel like we’re OK (the basketball team) but we want to do it for the people that don’t feel like they’re OK.” Evan Taylor, teammate, and co-captain said “I think it just represents the message to spread love. We’re all human. Whether you play basketball, whether you just a normal student, we’re all human, and we all feel the same emotions.”
What a positive response from the twenty-year-old athletes. They got me to thinking about how I respond when something or someone makes me angry. One of my greatest temptations in life is to become resentful.
What is resentment? Cold anger turned inward. I say, “I’m not angry at him. I’m angry because this is not right, it’s not the way I want it.” If you work in healthcare long enough, you’ll have plenty of opportunities to be resentful.
I resent United Healthcare CEOs making millions when they haven’t increased reimbursement rates for nearly 20 years.
I resent the pressure I feel to provide substandard care to Medicaid patients because of the reimbursement rates.
I resent trying to provide quality care, get my notes done while treating four or more patients per hour.
I resent being called by my boss and told not to come in because we are slow.
Not all resentment is wrong. It shows that you care, respect yourself and will stand up for what is right. Resentment can demonstrate you are a moral person. When you resist prejudice, injustice and inequality against you, coworkers or patients.
But when we do not channel resentment into a positive direction it lingers, it becomes unhealthy. Unchecked resentment can become a part of your identity. No one wants to be known as a resentful person. One of my fears is waking up one day and being a grumpy old man. Some would probably say I’m there already.
Science has shown in many studies that gratefulness is a better alternative to resentment. Let me share with you a recent opportunity I had to be grateful, not hateful.
My father-in-law’s cognitive abilities have diminished quite rapidly in the past year. My wife’s mother is providing 24-7 assisted living and memory care. Their declining situation has needless to say put a tremendous strain on the family. Despite a heroic effort by their children to help them overcome a recent health crisis, they have resisted making any necessary changes.
It’s hard not to get angry at their stubbornness. It’s hard to let go of the inevitable consequences of them not transitioning into assisted living before its too late.
In an intense conversation, my wife Anne and I were talking about what might lie ahead this year and the disruption that will probably occur in our lives. Her parent’s home of 40 years is packed to the brim with stuff. The thought of helping them move out of their home is overwhelming. The uncertainty of their future frequently works its way into our psyches and communication.
We were vehemently sharing our thoughts back and forth about the amount of effort and time it’s going to take to clean out their house when I heard myself say,
“I don’t want to give up my wife, nor do I want to give up my life”.
Later I thought about how I was going to deal with my tightly held anger. I recalled a quote in a Henri Nouwen book I’m reading with a friend.
“One of the greatest temptations in life is to become resentful. The world is full of resentment. Resentment is the opposite of gratitude”.
The way of Jesus is the way downward. Mahatma Gandhi said the best way to find your self is to lose yourself in service to others. Martin Luther King said “I have decided to stick with love. Hate is too great a burden to bear.”
I saw that I had a choice. I could stand my ground and hold onto my resentment from previous wounds.
Or I could choose to be grateful.
Even though my feelings haven’t caught up, I’m focusing on the positive memories we shared with her parents. I pray for them. I’m trying to love them by being grateful for the blessing they have been to our family.
Voluntary displacement downward frees us from being swept along by a river of messages to rise to the top or get even. Gratitude helps to deal with life’s raw disappointments and injustices without becoming a resentful person.
It is a discipline that helps us remember who we really are and helps us to keep in touch with gratitude and compassion.
Gratitude is the antidote to resentment.