Sunday, August 23, 2009


How much professional disdain can you accommodate before it overflows and poisons the personal, and vice versa?

How hard do you try to comprehend a person's motives before you simply write off the individual as a bunghole, even though surely s/he has loved ones who could ably rebut this conclusion, excuse my pun, and might even say that you are the one who is the bunghole? Is it healthier to try to understand/forgive, or to decide that bh is bh and take a persona non grata stance?

Once someone has crossed the line in terms of your own acceptable rules of conduct, how do you deal with that person going forward?

These questions have always been difficult for me, and they have run particularly deep over the last few weeks.

Once, many years ago, I made an edit to a column because it was slanderous. The columnist, with whom I'd been very friendly up until then, screamed at me over the phone after finding out. I stood my ground. The columnist went to my boss. My boss backed me up. More screaming. I've never been talked to like that before by a colleague, and haven't since. It shook me, and shook my estimation of that person.

After a couple of days, all was forgotten -- on the columnist's end. But for me, that relationship was effectively over, and I avoided all but the necessary interactions.

Before the tirade, the columnist had offered to help me get connections outside my company and had already helped me secure one job interview. It would have behooved me to let bygones be bygones and continue to use this person for contacts, but I couldn't ask for any more help from someone who, I felt, had betrayed me.

Similarly, it took me several years to get over a relative's behavior toward my father in the wake of his mother's death and disagreements over her estate. I had to see this relative at holidays, and it took some energy to actively avoid her, to signal that she had done wrong, and that I had not forgotten it.

You see, I've been a grudge-holder for a good part of my life. The grudge is a symbol of principle, of justice, of righteousness, of self-preservation: One so concretely circumscribed by her sense of right and wrong is stronger, less permeable. Debilitating struggles with sympathy or grey areas are averted. Interlopers are swiftly judged and excommunicated.

My brother, unlike me, greeted the offending relative as he always would have. He had no chill in his voice. As far as he was concerned, the shadow was between her and my father. He could never understand why he should get worked up about something that had nothing to do with him. I used to judge this, too. Where was his sense of loyalty? Where was his sense of outrage?

But my father, too, forgave her over time, and I was left with my own righteousness on behalf of no one, slowly sapping my energy during family gatherings even though the original point had been lost. Eventually I had to just forgive and resume normal relations. I did not forget. But the contrast with my brother made me wonder: When is a grudge worth nothing more than the pain it inflicts on its owner?

I'll never be able to adopt my brother's easy approach to things, but I've come to a place of forgiving faster and forgetting sometimes. I come to it only as a white-flag surrender, not as an act of strength. I can no longer grant grudges to everyone. I simply don't have the emotional capital. Only the real bastards can earn it. The rest can languish in the emotional dustbin.

Music: "Running"


Music: "Float On"


  1. This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.

  2. I too am a consistent grudge holder and it is EXHAUSTING. And everyone always thinks its me that is the petty cranky bitch after awhile. I dont know maybe I am. But, for example, my mom cant understand why I dont want to hang out with the boys/kids in my neighborhood who used to bully me and this other girl, the only girls out of like 50 guys when we were younger. But that was like 10 years ago she says. But it hurt too much I say. So I avoid them and my mother accepts it. But everyone in the neighborhood, the now grown up former-$hitheads' mothers mostly, all think I'm just contrary and elitist. What am I to do? Nice post. It really hit home with me. CHEERS, T.


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