The Politics of Resentment and The Practice of Forgiveness

By: Edward-Yemil Rosario

Is there anything more powerful than forgiveness? Is there anything more difficult than to truly forgive? “An eye for eye,” as one famous teacher noted, leaves everyone blind and is the driving force in many of the world’s political conflicts. In its more insidious form, it drives much of our personal conflict.

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The Politics of Resentment and The Practice of Forgiveness

Only genuine forgiveness breaks the cycle of suffering and in practice it benefits the forgiver far more than the one forgiven…

First things first: on the same day set aside to honor the victims of the Tucson massacre, Sarah Palin decided to portray herself as one of them. Apparently, only words critical of her hateful rhetoric are deemed dangerous. Ms. Palin, your argument is really against this woman, who today lies in a hospital bed fighting for her life. It was the brave Ms. Giffords who first pointed out that your rhetoric could have consequences.

This habit of painting themselves as the victims, even whey they are perpetrators of violent acts and speech, is what characterizes the politics of resentment from the right. Sarah Palin had a great opportunity to evolve into a force for unity and healing and instead delivered one of the most despicably politicized defenses in recent memory.

This cynicism plays into the hands of keeping the public apathetic to the political process. Most Americans do not participate in the political process and many are just turned off by the whole bullshit. It’s meant to be that way. One of the founders of the Moral Majority and architect of modern conservatism, Paul Weymouth, once stated, “I don’t want everybody to vote. Elections are not won by a majority of the people. They never have been from the beginning of our country and they are not now. As a matter of fact, our leverage in the elections quite candidly goes up as the voting populace goes down.” Among the attendees that day was Ronald Reagan.

The problem is that the more you abandon the political office of your citizenship, the easier it is for the hypocrites who claim to be truly patriotic and who go on incessantly about “real” American values, and “real” Americans to maintain the status quo. In some ways, I can understand why the American public would abandon its vigilance on our democracy.

The other day, I wrote about addiction and it is my observation that we live in an addictive society. One of the characteristics of addiction is how it erodes the family structure. Addiction is the only recognized medical disease that not only affects the afflicted, but everyone close to the addict. Families plagued by addiction almost never fully confront the dysfunction wrought by addiction. Shame, denial, and anger serve to keep the “problem” a secret and secrets kill:

Daddy isn’t a drunk, he just likes to tie one on every once in a while.

Junior isn’t a dope fiend; he’s really a good kid who’s strayed from the path.

Moms was forced to spend the rent money, she’s just trying to cope, she’s not a pill head.

In this way, the family plays an active, if unconscious, role in maintaining the addiction. No one really talks about it. No one really confronts the lies, the cheating, and the abuse. Most often, the children will tune out in their attempt to find some inner sanity. And if one family member stands up and takes a stand, that family member is often stigmatized and sometimes exiled. Furthermore, all the roles within the family are skewed: the children become the caregivers and the parents become the children. Or the parents co-sign the child’s addiction by indulging him. Oftentimes, the problem is ignored even when there’s a death or tragedy. The ruse that everything is normal must be maintained at whatever cost.

It’s not that these families are bad or evil, or morally bankrupt; it’s how the addictive process works.

I find the same corollary within our political process today. Most of the population has dropped out of the democratic process, turned off as they are from the politics of resentment. The few that do stick around are at a loss and what “leaders” there are out there are more invested in manipulating the confusion to their advantage. Finally, no one is addressing the root of the problem which is that the political process has been sold off to the highest bidder. No one is pointing at the burning cross in the room. No one is pointing out that a democracy with a two party system consisting of center-right/ extreme right factions owned by corporations is not truly a free society. Instead, those with the megaphone are busy demonizing those with solutions and some solutions aren’t even being considered.

You doubt me? Well let’s consider one of the most pernicious of our addictions, the military. Today, it’s considered reasonable to consider closing down schools, dismantling hospitals, and cutting benefits to the most vulnerable. In addition, a coming class war will most likely decimate middle class public sector employees. All these measures are considered “sane.” At the same time, we spend more money on our military than the next ten nations combined. Most of this expenditure is allocated as sweetheart deals for the obscenely rich — “wealthfare,” if you will. Try suggesting that we should decrease such unnecessary spending I will guarantee you will have a target painted on your back faster than you can wink and blurt “you betcha!”

Insanity is doing the same actions and expecting different results and tragically, not one of our leaders, from either party, will stand up and point out the hanging noose in the room.

We live in an addictive society…

Thursday night, like many of you, I heard president Obama’s remarks on the day set aside to honor the true victims of the Tucson shootings. For me, the most powerful part was the Indian blessing performed by Dr. Gonzalez because that was totally about healing. I also loved the way the students cheered when the Dr. Gonzalez proudly said, “… that a barrio kid like me could get an education and not only that, but come back here and teach.” The audience went wild when he stated his Latino and Yaqui Indian ancestry. And when he evoked his right to be standing there — generations of Indians who came to the Tucson Valley to escape genocide. There was no anti-immigrant bullshit, no shit about “real” Americans, just being real. For me that was healing. This wasn’t lost on the youth at the university last night and maybe there’s hope yet…

Many of our conflicts, whether personal or global come from an inability to break free from habitual patterns of fear and resentment. The practice that most directly deals with this is forgiveness. Palin failed Thursday because she failed to forgive herself and instead chose the robe of resentment disguised as exceptionalism. At a time of mourning, Ms. Palin chose to resent, rather than entertain the potential of openness. Forgiveness is an often-misunderstood practice. Forgiveness isn’t mindless acceptance of wrongdoing by another. Forgiveness is the practice of looking deeply into ourselves — into our own emotional reactions. The path to forgiveness demands our open-hearted attention to the obstacles that block our way to it.

Thursday night, President Obama said something that reminded me of the time when I was volunteering at ward for the terminally ill. Me being me, I would ask everyone the same question: “If you knew you had one more disease-free year to live, what would you do?” Mind you, these were people who knew they wouldn’t last past six months, people in pain, many despairing. Their answers profoundly changed my life, how I perceived the process of healing. What mattered most to these people who knew their gift of life was at an end were simple things. Like making sure you let those close to you know how much you loved them. Simple things such as making sure to take walks in the park more often, to let go of resentments faster. Not once did I ever hear someone say they would work longer hours, spend more time in the office, or spend more time fighting or feeling resentful. In other words, they taught me that the things that really mattered were the answers to the questions: Did I love deeply? Did I live fully? Did I honor the gift of life?

Make no mistake about it, “feel-good-ism” and pretty speeches will not be enough. At times during his speech, I heard President Obama trying too hard at being the “professor-in-chief” rather than the “healer-in-chief.” Too often, I heard comfort instead of healing. The two, though not mutually exclusive, are not the same. Please, I am not saying Obama should’ve miraculously healed everyone. If that’s what you’re thinking, then you haven’t understood what I am writing. The president should set the tone, he points the finger, he leads. I felt he took the easy road. I hope I’m wrong, but I don’t think so.

In the past, I have written about something I call the “core wound.” I define this as not merely a psychological issue or birth trauma, it is the basic issue of our existence. It’s our realization that we are both material and spiritual, finite and non-finite. We are at once, limitless and limited. These basic contradictions create the core contradictions of our lives. Mostly, we don’t experience this as a conflict — at least not in a conscious manner. Rather, we experience it as a wound, an almost inexplicable, unnamable pain. We endure it like a gash in the most intimate places of our being. As a species we are unique in this regard. We all suffer this wound.

The major danger is that one response to this wound has been fundamentalism. Fundamentalism festers like an infected wound at the core of our being. This running sore is the violent fault line in our collective psyche from which the molten magma of our hate spews.

Picking up the political pieces of what’s left of our democracy will be a long and hard journey. I despair that we might not even make it. Or perhaps Faulkner was right when he famously said that humanity will not prevail, it will evolve. The paradox of the core wound is that it is also the gateway to our personal and collective liberation. We fear it and hate it because we don’t understand it and we run looking for black and white answers in a world of infinite gradations of gray. Of one thing I am certain, before we can even begin that healing process, we must admit there’s a problem first. And the only way we can get there is by challenging the politics of resentment and in its place create a vision of a society where we are all empowered to search for ourselves the answer to those simple yet profound questions: Did we love deeply… did we live fully… did we honor life…

My name is Eddie and I’m in recovery from civilization.

10 Comments on “The Politics of Resentment and The Practice of Forgiveness”

  1. [Quote=article] Most Americans do not participate in the political process and many are just turned off by the whole bullshit. [/quote]

    Count me among them – it doesn’t matter what politician or party holds what office, the voter gets fucked! Democracy is a sham and probably always was one: whoever takes power in the election is going to serve the interests of those who financed the campaign, not those who went to the ballot box.

    I have long ago dropped out of this half-hearted attempt to legitimize the oppressor called state and now act outside the artificial boundries it erects called “laws” to pen us all in – whilst society’s elite get keys to the gate that allow them to move from one side of the “law” to the other with little hastle and agents of the state plow right over the “law” they are supposed to uphold with nearly total impugnity!

    Fuck “law!” Fuck the state! Fuck the political and financial elite that controls this entity called state! In this establishment, one is either an outlaw or a slave to society – given those options, I’ll take the outlaw position any day of the week…

  2. I am not a big fan of forgiveness unasked for. Nor am I a fan of resentment. If I am wronged, by someone who has done it before or is likely to do it again, I watch and wait if I cannot avoid the person. I will try to understand. Often the meaning becomes clear over time.

    The parallel here is to understand what led to Tuscon (and in Montgomery and Selma and Memphis) and to work for change. Without festering resentment, but with determination. “Who” is less important to me than “why”. What I do is less important than what we do.

    Forgiveness without understanding the dynamic is like forgiving Dad for the Christmas Eve binge that destroyed the tree. Someone needs to say, This sucks and needs to stop. The “how” is so important. Shaming the addict will perpetuate the cycle. Loving the addict while confronting the behavior and telling him/her how it affects the family – that is the start of a process.

    So can I say I love my country, love my countrymen/women, but that they are poisoning us? Can I say it without screaming? I think so. Can I put it into action? I pray so.

  3. “Forgive your enemies, but never forget their names.” ~ John F. Kennedy

    I have that quote on my site right now. I have forgiveness in my heart. First, I have forgiveness for everyone who keeps calling this the Tucson Memorial, when it was called, Together We Thrive. The press wanted us to mourn, we wanted to pull together. Hence, the reaction/s from the audience and the resulting criticism from said press.

    But really…I do forgive. From the assassin to John Boehner, for whom, apparently, this event in Tucson was not important enough for him to accept a ride on Air Force One to attend; rather choosing to attend an RNC fundraiser in Washington, D.C.

    I do not hate Sarah Palin, although many people would seem to feel I would have a right to do so, but I feel she speaks and acts out of ignorance…and I can’t hate her for that reason. I don’t hate the Tea Party for the same reason. They are ignorant. Ignorance is dangerous and it must be combated.

    I certainly can be incredulous!

    But I forgive them for their ignorance. It is up to the informed to educate the ignorant. Problem is that many of these people are ineducable. I do my best to practice forgiveness,even in politics, to the best of my ability, every day.

    I can not give up the hope that more open hearts, more forgiving hearts, may bring less rancor, less hatred and more peace among our leaders so that the work of the people, despite legitimate differences, might be achieved.

  4. As I said before this is excellent in its delivery. Empathy and pathos. I do wonder how in a political environment that has two sides, one being what it truly is a system best served if the people participate, the other the politicians, lobbyist, pundits, and conglomerates working against the people so that apathy and distrust deters many from participation, can we expect any but what we have.

    Saying fuck the system when we are the system only fucks ourselves. That is the tragedy of our system.

  5. Eddie, there are other diseases that affect the whole family, including most psychiatric issues. Depression is especially insidious, because people living with someone who is depressed may not recognize at all how the depression affects everyone present. But unlike addiction, other mental health issues don’t create the dynamic you describe here. There is one thing, other than addiction, that does–and I mention all of this not to be contentious or focus on picayune issues, but because I think this is relevant. That one other thing is abuse.

    In an abusive situation, there is intense pressure on everyone to keep quiet–“blood doesn’t turn on blood” by airing dirty laundry. Excuses are made for the abuser, the abuse is denied, and the excuses and denial enable the abuse. Any family member who tells the truth about what’s happening, within or outside of the family, is branded a liar and a troublemaker. That target you mention in regard to unnecessary spending is also placed on the back of anyone in an abusive family who names the abuse.

    What I’m saying is that you’re not wrong about this being an addictive society, but it is also one in which those in power are often abusive. Addiction and abuse, of course, can feed each other. And so we have a citizenry that, by and large, makes excuses, enables, and is afraid to examine the truth, let alone say it out loud.

    I agree with you about forgiveness. It does mean looking within, and it is incredibly important. And when you talk about Palin not having forgiven herself, you touch on one of the most important things we can do–forgive ourselves.

    Too often, people who are not addicted or abusive but are impacted by those things come to believe that they deserve what they get. And those who deny and enable them can become caught up in doing so perpetually–because otherwise, it’s too hard to look at what they’ve been doing. Self-blame becomes a key motivator in keeping the enabling, the denial, and the excuses going. Even if a person in such a situation can break free of the idea “that I am suffering because I deserve to suffer,” that idea can come back with even more weight in the form of guilt about not having seen or stated the truth, not having stopped the enabling, sooner; the contorted logic of that guilt says, “Even if I didn’t deserve this when it first started, I do now, because by not speaking out, I enabled it to happen to others and didn’t work to get the abuser/addicted person help.” At some level, too, I think there is often anger at the addict or abuser for “making” other feels unworthy or guilty. I don’t think we can let go of that anger or forgive anyone else until we forgive ourselves–for making mistakes, for not having been previously where we are now, for not having rescued the world, for not having been brave enough, smart enough, strong enough, and on and on. In short, for being human. Withholding that forgiveness comes, I think, from focusing on our limits and forgetting that we are also limitless–and thus denying ourselves access to that limitlessness *because* we can’t forgive our limits. How can we heal as long as we condemn ourselves? Or as long as we hold onto condemnation of others in a way that says that we are helpless and they are powerful–as Palin did in her defense of herself?

    For some reason, what you’ve written here reminds me of Forrest Church’s definition of religion–which I quote with the caveat that what he means by religion here is what most people would call spirituality. Spirituality, then, is “our human response to the dual reality of being alive and having to die.”

    I don’t know why, exactly, this entry made me think of that quote. Maybe it’s a response to considering how much of the time we have to live focused on things other than “those simple yet profound questions: Did we love deeply… did we live fully… did we honor life…”

  6. [Quote=Sayntj]Saying fuck the system when we are the system only fucks ourselves.[/quote]

    But that’s just it – we (that is the common people) are *not* the system! We have no real control of what the establishment does or doesn’t do regardless of who gets elected or how many protests are organize: those with the power simply don’t care about what we think or what is in our best interests – they only have to make us think that they care so that they have license to do as they please, this is where futile gestures like voting come in. They convince people that they actually have some say concerning what the state does to them (which is 100% pure bullshit).

    So again I say fuck the state! And fuck the phony elections that elect no one who isn’t a schill for special interests!

  7. The only way i could compare Palin’s behavior with that of an addict is in their mutual refusal to accept personal responsibility for their actions. This is not to say i hold Sarah responsible for the Tucson shooting. I feel that much of the tragedy has to do with the misconstrued sentencing, labeling and faulty definitions of political propaganda. In that respect, Sarah is also a victim as her perspective is limited by her upbringing and confined to a somewhat minimal education. Her glib statements are the product of a common viewpoint that reacts emotionally without a true grasp of the consequences of proposed solutions.

    She stopped being a victim however, at the point where she decided she was an authority with leadership qualities. She stopped being a victim when her ignorance began affecting others. One can never become an authority without examining all the evidence and coming to knowledgeable conclusions. One can not become a leader without taking personal responsibility for the policies and actions inspired by that leadership. Carl Jung was criticized at the outset of World War II for being sympathetic with the Nazi’s. His exact words however, were that Hitler was the mouthpiece of Germany and his rise was inevitable. Palin is the mouthpiece of a common dissent that has no language for articulating its displeasure.

    Palin isn’t responsible for her childhood years and their environmental influence, but as a contender for a leadership role, she is responsible for the emotional reactions she invokes by standing in the spotlight. Publicity is her addiction. For addicts to overcome their destructive paths, they must learn two things; personal responsibility and self discipline. Addicts might state a hundred reasons (excuses) for their behavior, but until they put aside their childhood influences and accept that with adulthood comes maturity, and with maturity comes taking responsibility, they are slaves to those childish impulses.

    Moms does not have an excuse for not paying the rent. If she can’t handle the budget, she must turn it over to someone who can. This won’t stop her addiction, but if she uses a little self discipline, she can control it. By acknowledging she has a problem, she can look at it squarely and begin to deal with it.

    I reserve my forgiveness for those who accept their mistakes and apologize for their damages. Too often i’ve seen addictive behavior destroy not only the relationships around them, but ultimately claim their own lives. The cycle is enormously vicious. It includes not only the drug enamored, the pedophile, control freaks and abusers, there are also the family members so materially minded, they would rather dispossess their parents and their weaker siblings than lose out on their ambitions.

    This is our current political atmosphere; one whose brotherhood lies only in the monetary value the union can bring. It is a brotherhood with no true friends, no family ties, no consideration for the well being of others. I don’t forgive them until they apologize to their victims, utilize a little self-discipline and try to make amends.

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