Without Resentment

by Christopher Lovejoy on March 2, 2014

Bitter indignation at having been treated unfairly: this is the standard definition of resentment.

I’m willing to believe that many if not most of us have felt (or, perish the thought, continue to feel) this smoldering species of anger, either mildly or intensely, fleetingly or lastingly, on occasion or often.

When someone or something offends our sense of fairness, the impulse to “give back as good as you get” is sometimes quite strong; when we give in to this impulse, resentment is the lingering result.

We have re-sent the original offense back into the world, and with perverse yet short-lived satisfaction when it hits the mark.

Tao Te Ching, Verse 79

This verse teaches us something quite interesting: your susceptibility to feeling resentment is inversely related to feeling contentment: the less content you feel, the more prone you are to resent.

After a bitter quarrel,
some resentment remains.
What can one do about it?
Being content with what you have
is always best in the end.

Someone must risk returning
injury with kindness, or hostility
will never turn to goodwill.
So the wise always give
without expecting gratitude.

One with true virtue
always seeks a way to give.
One who lacks true virtue
always seeks a way to get.
To the giver comes fullness of life;
to the taker, just an empty hand.

Edited slightly by yours truly to enhance the flow of text

Ref: Change Your Thoughts, Change Your Life: Living the Wisdom of the Tao

Here’s another interesting lesson about putting resentment in its place: dealing with an offense to fairness involves the risk of being kind, of extending kindness in the face of unfairness.

My Impressions of the Verse

I like that this verse is succinct, saying much and capturing much with relatively few words.

After a bitter quarrel,
some resentment remains.
What can one do about it?
Being content with what you have
is always best in the end.

Resentment lingers as much from holding your tongue as it does from shooting off from the mouth; also, pretense is favored over presence when resentments build and collect over time.

I have also found that a retreat to contentment (by restoring the natural mind of ease and presence with meditation or contemplation) is an effective antidote to the poison of resentment.

Someone must risk returning
injury with kindness, or hostility
will never turn to goodwill.
So the wise always give
without expecting gratitude.

The offending deed has been done and someone has chosen to “give back as good as you get”, but someone must now risk returning insult and/or injury with kindness if goodwill is to be restored.

But to give without expecting gratitude?

This is a tough one to swallow when you’re captured by resentment. But then, we might ask ourselves: how much does my contentment (and therefore my sense of fulfillment) really mean to me?

One with true virtue
always seeks a way to give.
One who lacks true virtue
always seeks a way to get.
To the giver comes fullness of life;
to the taker, just an empty hand.

Of course, there’s more to living without resentment than meets the eye.

Sometimes, it’s not enough to find solace in contemplation to restore contentment, not enough to rise above an insult or injury with an act of kindness; it also helps to be a giver rather than a taker.

The reference to ‘true virtue’ is a dual reference to the supreme virtue and to the three basic virtues, also known as the three treasures, which I explore in What Truly Matters?

Implications for Personal Fulfillment

Being content with what you have can either be construed as synonymous with fulfillment or it can mean settling for less than your best. If the latter, you could be setting yourself up for resentment.

Are you content with what you have? Are you at ease with your natural mind? Are you able to give without expecting gratitude after being offended by someone or something? Are you a giver or a taker?

Your susceptibility to resentment is a most effective gauge of your level of contentment, of how quickly you can restore a sense of ease, of how easily you can give without expecting gratitude when offended.

If you’re a giver who answered “yes” to the first three questions posed above, then you rarely (if ever) have a problem with resentment. For you, living without resentment is par for the course.

To get a sense (and an extraordinary vision) of what it would be like for a community of people to live without resentment, I invite you to read the next verse (verse 80) of the Tao Te Ching.

Next up: My Utopian Dream (Living Your Own Utopia)

/

This post is one of many in an ongoing series that began here.

Previous post:

Next post: