I got going down a rabbit hole recently — the original search was grudges, referring to a little problem I have with a certain someone (who we can call C.S.). I’m not proud of this trying relationship but if you and I were one-on-one with cocktails in hand, I could convince you that I was right, I have always been right and I will always be right. But that’s one of the tricks of grudge holding: one can always find someone to serve up some idiot compassion, that well meaning automatic taking-of-sides that friends do for friends. It’s a way of bonding, of feeling felt, of showing your people you are forever on Team Them. But it doesn’t help.
Another way grudges grip us is adrenaline. I find righteousness as spine-straightening as black coffee. Many times over the years, I have hung up the phone after another maddening interaction with C.S. and cleaned every room in my house to Four Season standards in less than an hour. Visualize me on my knees spraying bleach on the baseboards. Now see me vacuuming the stairs. Now de-griming the shower door. Letting go of the grudge is letting go of the buzz the grudge gives you.
So anyway, the rabbit hole. I watched this video about the science of forgiveness at a thing called The Forgiveness Forum that acknowledged that it is natural to seek revenge or retribution. In fact, grudges are a biological mechanism to encourage positive group behavior. That’s why we need to talk it up. We need to confirm that we all agree that C.S. is wrong and I am right — it’s evolution’s way of validating shared values. We all agree, over and over, that doing this is wrong and should be punished, even just by reputational bruising.
So what does it take to give up the grudge? Here’s what I took away from the elders.
- A belief in what comes next, namely a powerful release and a bit of critical mindshare that can be reassigned to more productive matters.
- An active commitment, often needed to be refreshed daily, to forgive.
- A step toward the C.S. Can you write a letter? Send a birthday card? Celebrate an achievement with them? Making it explicit, and public, even just between the two of you, helps.
So, maybe today is the day, C.S. Maybe today I will think through our last interaction as if I was on your side of the conversation and that will help me see things differently and less clearly. All it takes is a touch of doubt in our point of view to open up the possibility that there are other ways to evaluate our interactions.
Many thanks to Anna Quindlen and Anna Sale for having a hard conversation with me about forgiveness on the podcast. Take a listen if any of this maps to your life.