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Laurel Thoennes @ Quality Digest

Customer Care

The Otherness of Others

What we resist, persists

Published: Thursday, April 27, 2017 - 13:03

Traffic crawled. Ahead of me was a pickup, its bumper thick with stickers. From the one most cracked and faded, I saw the word “welfare.” Just before the driver switched lanes, I made out the rest: “Work harder—there are millions on welfare depending on you.” That triggered a memory so vivid I no longer saw any traffic.

I was back in my hometown on St. Mary’s Grade School’s playground talking with classmates. An atypical conversation for preteens, we were talking politics. It was 1968; Richard Nixon, Hubert Humphrey, and George Wallace were running for president.

Growing up in Central Illinois, we were proud to be from “The Land of Lincoln.” Most of the kids I knew were being raised to think and someday vote as Democrats. But that morning Kim wanted to know what the difference was between Democrats and Republicans.

“My dad says Republicans stand for less government involvement in our daily lives,” Chris explained. “Lowering taxes, too.”

“Sounds good, like something everyone would want,” replied Kim.

“Well, my dad says Republicans cut taxes alright, but they also cut the programs that Democrats implement for those less fortunate,” said Barb.

“What kind of programs?” asked Kim.

“Like welfare. It gives lazy people a free ride,” Chris snapped with a judgmental scowl. “That’s why Democrats are always raising taxes—to fund all their do-gooder programs.”

There we were defending beliefs that we weren’t even sure we believed. But if our parents complained, we complained, we assumed. Most likely the compulsive faultfinding of Democrats and Republicans would carry on for another generation.

Noticing our raised voices and defensive posture, Father Mike walked over. “Girls, there’s more to it than that,” he said. “Generally speaking (at least it seems to me), Republicans are more concerned about protecting rights... the right to bear arms, the right to free speech, the right to whatever. On the other hand, the Democrats seem more committed to a sense of responsibility... the responsibility to pay taxes, the responsibility to one’s fellow citizen (of the country or the world), the responsibility to maintain and sustain the planet for coming generations.”

That shut us up.

“You know, Abraham Lincoln was a Republican,” he added.

“Whaaat?!” we wailed in disbelief.

“Sure,” he said, stifling a grin. “Republicans are concerned about protecting rights. Lincoln believed plantation workers had the right to be free from slavery.”

As we peered down at our shoes, Father Mike strolled off saying, “You’ve got some catching up to do in history. I’ll speak with Sister Mary Ellen.”

We groaned in unison, which took us right back to complaining. But for a moment, we were open to overlooking the otherness of others; emotions settled, resentment waned.

But today, 50 years later, resentment is thriving. That bumper sticker clearly points to it.

Eckhart Tolle writes about resentment in his book A New Earth (Penguin Books, 2005):

“Resentment is the emotion that goes with complaining and the mental labeling of people and adds even more energy to the ego. Resentment means to feel bitter, indignant, aggrieved, or offended. You resent other people’s greed, their dishonesty, their lack of integrity, what they are doing, what they did in the past, what they said, what they failed to do, what they should or shouldn’t have done. The ego loves it. Instead of overlooking unconsciousness in others, you make it into their identity. Who is doing that? The unconsciousness in you, the ego.

“Sometimes the ‘fault’ that you perceive in another isn’t even there. At other times, that fault may be there, but by focusing on it, sometimes to the exclusion of everything else, you amplify it. And what you react to in another, you strengthen in yourself.”

Democrats and Republicans, them and us. One way we separate ourselves from others is through complaining. Tolle says that every complaint is a little story the mind makes up that you completely believe in. By implication you are right and the person or situation you complain about is wrong. It strengthens your feeling of self.

When resentment, the emotion that often goes with complaining, is long-standing, it’s called a grievance. A grievance is a strong negative emotion connected to an event that is kept alive by compulsive thinking, by retelling the event story. And when you carry that grievance you are in a permanent state of “against.” Collective grievances can survive for centuries, much like the relationship between Democrats and Republicans. What we resist, persists.

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About The Author

Laurel Thoennes @ Quality Digest’s picture

Laurel Thoennes @ Quality Digest

Laurel Thoennes is an editor at Quality Digest. She has worked in the media industry for 33 years at newspapers, magazines, and UC Davis—the past 25 years with Quality Digest.