Be Grateful, Not Hateful

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.


8 responses to “Be Grateful, Not Hateful

  1. Jessie Podolak says:

    Great Post, Paul! Thank you for sharing your story, and from practical experience, I couldn’t agree more. The discipline of gratitude consistently fosters well-being and perspective in my life. I recently read an article in which OA patients were treated with psychological interventions, including the practice of gratitude (Hausmann LRM, et al. Testing a positive psychological intervention for osteoarthritis. Pain Med. 2017 Oct 1;18(10):1908-1920.​) Patients in the positive (vs neutral) program reported significantly more improvement over time in osteoarthritis symptom severity, negative affect, and life satisfaction. It’s cool to see how much ancient wisdom is now being validated through science!

    I think gratitude is possibly not only an antidote to resentment, but to a large extent, a healing balm for pain. Gratitude, forgiveness, acceptance, hope… not necessarily skills we learned in PT school, but life skills and lessons that we learn along our journeys which prove invaluable to our quality of life! Thanks again for this reminder.​

    1. Paul Potter says:

      Jessie well said. Thanks for bringing to light the healing effects of gratitude not only emotionally and spiritually but physiologically. Humans are truly holistic beings.

  2. Scott Harmon says:

    Great article and thanks for sharing your struggles Paul. It reminds me of a recent conversation I had with my college age kids. There was complaining about having to go to school and having to do some other household tasks. “Why do I have to” was used a couple of times. I let them know that it’s not that you “got to but you get to.” I followed up by saying #Get2notGot2 to help the thought catch on with my kids. There was some eye rolling I am sure but they did not make it visible to me.

    Coming from a place of gratitude and starting your day out with thankfulness everyday changes your brain chemistry.

    I am thankful for insightful articles by Paul. Keep up the good work and thank your for your witness. Godspeed!

  3. Paul Potter says:

    Scott thanks for your addition to the conversation. You are a shining example of a grateful heart for your family and others. I think of all those kids and parents you impact at your peds practice with your positive attitude. The kiddos easily pick up on our moods and it effects the success of our treatments.

  4. John Seivert says:

    Paul, thanks for sharing. I leave in 3 weeks to fly to Phoenix, AZ. to spend a week with my 4 living siblings to “clean out” our only home all of kids grew up in. My Mother passed away a year ago and Father is in an extended care facility for Alzheimer’s patients. Its going to be intense, sad, happy, and I am sure quite grateful. We all grew up in a pretty positive environment with some good old Catholic guilt thrown in to keep us all honest. I’m already feeling pretty grateful for what my parents gave me. Cheers,
    John Seivert

    1. Paul Potter says:

      John, all the best for the upcoming ‘clean out’ family time. I hope and pray that the time with your siblings will be enriching and bind you closer together. Perhaps you can influence the mood towards gratitude. :)

  5. Noel says:

    He said “having resentment is like drinking poison and hoping your enemy dies. ” I thought if he’s not resentful, why would I be resentful? I saw the stupidness of that and dropped my resentment toward the person I was [angry with].

    1. Paul Potter says:

      Well said, Noel. Perhaps your inner work of gratefulness will be the medicine that can help the other person to change.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *