The secret to living well that too few people know

The secret to living well that too few people know

Giving up resentment and revenge are the keys to a better (and happier) life

Resentment is a form of reciprocal behavior: I’ll do to you what you did to me. It’s nursing a grudge and waiting until an opportunity occurs to pay the other person back in kind.

During that time, the real or imagined insult grows ever larger through constant repetition in the mind; and although resentment isn’t a spectacular emotion, it’s long-lasting and easily becomes a way of life. When that happens, it blocks all possibility of successful and healthy relationships.

Resentment is becoming endemic in many parts of society. “Don’t get mad, get even” is part of everyday behavior for many people.

But the Rule of Reciprocal Behavior says bad actions produce others still worse. When people feel resentment, they draw back into defensiveness to avoid the possibility of still more hurt. Good performance, good relationships and good living become impossible.

Since resentment is also an entirely negative emotion, nothing productive ever comes from it, while it easily progresses into more violent states like anger, hatred and cruelty. People hurt by others often inflict identical hurt of their own in a vicious circle.

The abused child becomes a child abuser. The despised failure seeks weaker people to despise. The bullied employee becomes a bullying manager.

Resentment causes us to become ever more sensitive to the behaviors we resent, so that we continually find further sources of resentment and still harsher ways to hit back. It reveals itself in petty cruelties,

pointless obstructions and childish acts of sabotage. When you inquire into the causes of the resentment, you mostly find multiple acts of unkindness and cruelty. Managers, browbeaten by their superiors in the all-out demand for ever higher profits, take to crushing their own subordinates with similarly impossible demands. Afraid of losing their jobs, people plot to put others in the firing line.

Turning things around

The Golden Rule exhorts us to treat others as we would like to be treated ourselves. The Rule of Resentment seems to be a direct perversion of it, causing us to treat others as badly we were treated — or even worse.

Yet this type of reciprocal behavior — doing to others what was done to us — also holds good for positive situations and responses. People treated kindly are more likely to be kind to others. People who are helped and encouraged become helpers in their turn.

If bigotry and scorn breed ever greater negativity, tolerance, openness and honesty produce their own harvest of growth and mutual support. In place of the vicious cycle of carping and frustration, it’s possible to set up a cycle of ever more positive behaviors.

When people consider ethical behavior and ask “What’s in it for me?” the Rule of Reciprocal Behavior gives the answer: unethical, unkind behavior is a potent source of resentment and will nearly always provoke an unethical and unkind response. The most effective response to unkindness is to ignore it or respond positively.

If you want to be treated kindly and ethically by others, you must start by being ethical yourself.

Mostly, we don’t act this way. We imagine that refusing to pay back a hurt or an insult makes us sound weak and put upon. That leads to an unwillingness to think independently and look beyond what’s generally accepted. It produces people who take revenge on others, not because it’s the right thing to do, but because everyone else does.

Truly kind and thoughtful people are anything but predictable in this way. They question the whole notion of “paying others back” in kind. Instead, they look deeply into the causes of negative behavior, finding there past experiences that produced hurt and unhappiness. That’s why they continually try to reduce the sources of cruelty and malice by refusing to respond to hurt by inflicting hurt in return.