Friday, November 5, 2010

Resenting the Cat

resentment: a feeling of indignant displeasure or persistent ill will at something regarded as a wrong, insult, or injury.  Merriam Webster

I once read a joking remark in a novel.  One man criticized another, and the second man said complacently, not “I resent that” but “I resemble that.”  Cool, I thought - admitting what others see as a fault, instead of our usual defensiveness/aggression right back.  Somewhere John Tarrant writes about this - people tell him he’s fat, he says.  His reply is, “Well, yeah I am.”  So why would you be upset.

When I look back at my sssssself, I am humbled by how often I resented some action or failure to act on someone else’s part.  Something I thought wrong about the way they treated me.

One of the flaws with that thinking was what you call Taking it Personally.  That is, you think someone is doing something to you when in fact, they just like to get drunk.  Or they gossip about everyone, or forget everyone’s birthday.  This is allied to the belief that you are the center of the universe, much in other people’s thoughts.  You can be very into that if you had a hyper-aware and critical parent, for instance.  But I also think we are born that way, concerned only about being fed, warm, and dry.

Moreover, you can think that other people should live up to your standards.  I did at one time resent a man at church whom I had entertained, and who said to me every time we ran into each other, “We’ve got to have you people over.”  I thought that would be nice, but the invitation never came.  After a while he was in danger of being put into The Difficult Person slot in my lovingkindness meditation (but there were other people in line ahead of him).  Finally, somehow I realized that this might be a cultural habit of speech, and what he meant was, I like you.  There could be a lot of reasons the invitation wasn’t forthcoming, including the fact that a lot of people just don’t entertain. 

Tom pointed out that resentment grows out of desire, such as my desire for that invitation.  Yes, desire again.  I suspect the antidote in this case - since I’m talking about problems with humans - is compassion.  Think deeply about that person, their constraints, all the possible reasons they didn’t invite you to their big party, reasons that may have nothing to do with you and everything to do with their generally scattered ways, or the fact that a lot of liquor will flow, and they know you don’t drink, or the fact that they think you don’t like one of the other guests, or . . . 

An odd example came to me just now, as Sheba forcefully yowled for a petting (and maybe thinks it’s lunch time).  When I was in college, I had a friend who was on the impulsive side.  Once she told me her cat had chewed one of her new kid leather pumps and ruined them, and when she discovered that she hit him. 

Since she didn’t catch the cat in the act, I said, “Susan, he wouldn’t have any idea what he was being hit for.” 

“I don’t care,” she said.  “I was mad.”  I don’t think she understood the nature of cats. I bet that leather smelled good to the cat.  It was the most natural thing in the world for him to chew on it a while.  He certainly didn't like being smacked, but I doubt that he was equipped to resent it.

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