How would you feel, if, as part of your job, you had to shake hands with someone who probably ordered the murder of your cousin? A similar situation faced the Queen when she met former IRA commander Martin McGuiness. I would not be surprising is she had felt at least a little resentment.
The meeting was a good thing for the peace process in Northern Ireland where the thirty years of ‘Troubles’ has cost 3,600 lives. However, McGuiness is reputedly the former IRA commander who authorised the blowing up of Lord Mountbatten in 1979. Did she inwardly feel resentment or did she feel a sense of acceptance? We will probably never know.
Tim Knatchbull, Mountbatten’s grandson, writes in the Sunday Telegraph newspaper, that McGinness and his Siin Féin allies ‘deserve enormous credit’ as a modernising ‘force for good’ in recent years.
Overcoming resentment when remorse is shown
Usually it is easier to let bygones be bygones when the person who has done you wrong shows real remorse. But how often does this actually happen? According to Max Hastings in the Daily mail newspaper, McGuiness has never made the smallest
admission of contrition for all the atrocities under his command as late as
1987, the year of the Eniskillen bombing.
How have you actually felt when driving home towards someone who dangerously cuts in front of you and drives off into the distance? Towards someone who is rude
to you or who shows inconsideration for you?
It seems that those individuals, who have had angry and hostile tendencies
throughout their lives, are more likely to harbour resentment, avoid their transgressor and fantasise some form of revenge. On the other hand survey polls show that a majority of people would like to feel less resentment yet report not knowing how to do so.
Benefits of reducing resentment
There is reason to believe that the regular practice of forgiveness can reduce anger, depression and stress, leading to greater feelings of hope, and confidence as
well as better relationships and physical health. Forgiving is thought to open
the heart to kindness, beauty, and love.
Here are some suggestions about how to feel more forgiving.
1. Get in touch with how you feel about what happened and why you are aggrieved and feeling resentment.
2. Make a decision to try to let go of the incident and your negative feelings towards the person who did you wrong.
3. Remember that your main feeling of distress is coming from what you are
thinking and feeling now rather than what the person did some little while ago
to offend or hurt you.
4. Forgo expecting people to behave according to your own rules and let them stay
free to do their own thing.
5. Think about the power over you that you are giving someone by attending to the
hurt they have caused you.
6. Consider the Christian prayer “Forgive us the wrongs we have done, as we
forgive the wrongs that others have done to us.” (Matt 6:12) How can we
feel forgiveness unless we are also willing to forgive?
7. Remember you are not in a position to judge someone as deserving of
condemnation for you do not know all the mitigating circumstances that provided
the context of their actions towards you. For example you may not be fully
aware of what is going on in their life to create stress, or their upbringing
with its standards of conduct and moral values.
8. Consider what worldly or selfish desires in you that have been thwarted by the
other person and reconsider their importance. Pride been wounded? Well what’s
so bad about a little humility? Time wasted by someone? Never mind there is
plenty of time left in life to make up what was lost.
9. Doing well to others and forgetting their wrongdoing may not always be wise if
the behaviour is harmful and persists. Violence within the home and sexual
infidelity are two more serious examples. Acceptance of the other person’s
limitations rather than simply saying we forgive him or her may be a more
realistic goal if there is no remorse or effort to change.
10. In extreme cases sometimes it is better to part with someone who is persistently abusive. Consider receiving professional counselling if the decision is very difficult.
The spiritual philosopher and scientist Emanuel Swedenborg claimed to have
conscious communication with the spirits of dead people. He points out that evil-minded spirits love to find fault and take pleasure at the thought of punishment. On the other hand there are angelic spirits who if they happen to notice anything bad in someone, make allowances for it. He says the attitude of looking for the good in someone is the essence of heaven.
I would say you couldn’t feel much resentment towards someone if you are busy looking for the good in him or her.
Copyright 2012 Stephen Russell-Lacy
Author of Heart, Head & Hands Swedenborg’s perspective on emotional problems