Even the word is indicative of what we do with it – we resend it (Howells, 2012). We send it on to everyone around us; family (mostly), friends, work colleagues, to students. Once we open the door to resentment, usually via the hallways of unforgiveness, it can be a difficult place to come back from. Not impossible – but difficult.
If there was one thing in life that I would say was one of the most important things to deal with, it would be resentment. It really is poison. It rings true that resentment, as unforgiveness, is like drinking poison and hoping someone else will die. I wonder how much of my life has been overshadowed and hampered by resentment? As I have aged, I have begun to realise that it does not hurt anyone else to resent – it only hurts me, and usually those I love. If I allow it, resentment can creep into my everyday interactions and overshadow the precious moments with my family.
As I enter my role as a pre-service teacher, soon to be teacher, thinking about strategies and ways of dealing with resentment is of the utmost importance. Daily, there will be opportunities to either quickly forgive and move on, or hold onto disappointments, disagreements, disillusionment and lots of other ‘disses’! Let’s be honest: no one will survive very long in a classroom of twenty-five adolescents if they hang on to unforgiveness and carry resentment. I know I wouldn’t. And no student will want a teacher who is resentful and bitter. Yuk.
Life is hard when you carry resentment. It feels heavy – like a cement block constantly tied to your spirit, heart and mind. And if I was carrying a cement block around all day, I would get tired, irritable and I’m sure I would complain – a lot! As Howells says, “negative complaint usually arises from resentment” (2012, p. 105). When we complain, we often have no intention of finding a solution to the problem or making a change to our situation (Howells, 2012, p. 104). Yet, it is possible to “complain proactively” and make a conscious decision to “act upon rather than react to the situation” (Howells, 2012, p. 105).
This week, I phoned my sister to complain (I know, shocking, right?). I didn’t actually want her to give me a solution (wow Michelle, full of suprises today!). I just wanted to vent. The next day, I phone my Dad (my dear, ever-patient, long-suffering Dad) to complain about the same situation. But this time, I actually did want a solution. I wanted his advice. I wanted to move past the irritation, face the resentment that I knew was building, and I wanted to know what I could do to change the situation. It was within my power to hold onto the anger I was feeling and allow it to fester and evolve into soul-destroying resentment, or make a conscious decision to “act upon” and not just reflexively “react” to the circumstances.
I really want to live resentment-free. But alas, can it be done? Well yes, I think it can.
History is littered with people who chose a different path than resentment. They chose to take control and make change instead of allowing bitterness to create in them, a paralysis of power. Palmer discusses Rosa Parks in his book, The courage to teach (2007). Parks was a courageous woman who challenged the status quo and live an “undivided life” (Palmer, 2007, p. 173). But what does this mean? Palmer states that “an undivided life” is when:
“individuals who suffer from a situation that needs changing decide to live “divided no more”. These people come to a juncture where they must choose between allowing selfhood to die or claiming the identity and integrity from which good living, as well as good teaching, comes” (2007, p. 173).
A powerful example of this is drawn on by Palmer of Rosa Parks. Parks was an African American woman who challenged racial inequality in America in the 1960’s, by refusing to stand on a bus to allow a white person to sit down. Palmer (2007) uses the example of Rosa Parks to show that she decided to one day, to not live a divided life anymore.
Rosa Parks had been preparing herself, whether she was aware or not, of one of her greatest moments which helped forge the way for African American people to experience some level of equality. Rosa Parks’ refusal to give up her seat helped initiate the bus boycott which then led to Martin Luther King Jr addressing three hundred thousand people in the march on Washington to share his “I have a dream” speech.
“There is only one way to find friends close to home, one way to plant a seed from which a community of congruence might grow: one must make visible one’s decision to live divided no more. Visibility is not easy because it may bring recrimination. But when we declare our values in a visible and viable way, we will sometimes be amazed at the way allies gather around” (Palmer, 2007, p. 181).
Rosa Parks decided to live an undivided life. Her courageous decision created a wave which reverberated across generations and still does to this day. She is spoken about, written into school curriculums and celebrated as an icon of historical change.
Rosa Parks did not bow to oppression and curl up in a resentful foetal position until her last breath. No, Rosa Parks chose to act upon complaint, rather than just react and in doing so, she took up the challenge to live a life undivided (Howells, 2012; Palmer, 2007). It is my belief that Rosa Parks denounced resentment and instead, chose the path of forgiveness, faith and action. Why do I think this? Because in my experience, resentment and unforgiveness often render one powerless, paralysed and overcome by anger and negativity. Rosa Parks was anything but powerless that day. Having studied the path of non-violent resistance, Parks showed that there is indeed power in the one.
“But when great moments in history are reconstructed with the intentionality that comes only with hindsight, we forget the lone individual in the moment of her decision and the anxiety or doubt she may have felt. And when we forget that, we forget our own power” (Palmer, 2007, p. 175).
I do not want to live divided. What I desire, is a life that is outwardly, reflective of all that I hold dear and count as worthy, inwardly. What my students require and need from me, is a teacher who is authentic, bold and fearless in my persuasions, and determined to create an environment and atmosphere which values and encourages students to challenge the status quo, build new mindsets, forge different pathways, and believe in a movement that will bring like-minded people together – and even those who are not like-minded (yet). To do this, requires a heart which is fashioned by forgiveness, not constantly eroded by resentment. I must be quick to forgive and restore relationships – students, parents, colleagues – and be careful not to harbor ill feelings which if left unchecked, can quickly escalate into resentfulness.
I want to embrace an undivided life – a heart not weighed down by the burdens of yesterday, but brimming with the promises and hopes of tomorrow.
Howells, K. (2012) Gratitude in education: A radical view. Sense Publishing.
Palmer, J. P. (2007). The courage to teach. Jossey-Bass publishers.