In this time of change, challenge and turmoil, I sometimes notice resentment about it expressed both around me and within me. As the world groans under our weight and we with her, I hear this idea: that we have been or are being treated unfairly in one way or another.
There’s resentment from those that ‘have not’ (yet) obtained western middle class access to possessions, services or property. It’s the feeling of ‘why do they and I don’t’? And it elicits a feeling of entitlement that, sadly, poses a deadly threat to our planet.
There’s resentment from the western middle class “haves” to the possessors of ‘luxury’
There’s resentment over giving up precious lifetime to a soul sucking 9-5, because that’s what got us here.
As we move up the societal ladder of increasing balance sheets, the resentment often in- rather than decreases. It kinda goes like this: “I’ve worked my fucking arse off (and/or insert: never seen my kids, sacrificed my relationship, health, sleep, everything my heart enjoys) for this, now I’m going to enjoy it”. Ironically, it’s the same for - indeed very genuine - pain of loss, missing out and sacrifice, felt at a whole new level. And even more ironically, instead of eliciting empathy and compassion amongst the ‘have not yet’s’, it elicits even more resentment, a global library of which you can find under hashtags like #firstworldproblems or #privilegetears.
Add to that our ‘everyday’ resentment about things that others “did to us” for whatever reason and the resentment over life choices gone wrong (which, in the old days would be called ‘learning’ but now, paired with our sense of entitlement, is usually someone else’s fault and unfair) and the amount of time spent in a resentful state can reach significant proportions.
So what happens when we feel resentful all this time?
At the mildest level, we bitch, we moan, we complain to others - gaining in return a sense of solidarity with our fellow victims of circumstance whilst further fuelling their own resentment - creating a vicious cycle.
At extremes, we may even let resentment turn to hatred and take actions of violence against our fellow humans that - presumably - have done us wrong.
Resentful envy becomes an ecological problem where, to satisfy our anger and cover up our pain, we consume. We buy stuff because we can, because we think we so deserve to have what others have. We buy stuff because it temporarily replaces anger with satisfaction. While in resentment, we take the opportunity to obtain additional possessions, services or experiences, because we earned it. Because ‘everybody else’ in our line of vision (which mostly glances up the societal ladder) already has it. So why shouldn’t I?
And, armed with our resentment and feeling of entitlement, we continue to pursue - pursue whatever perceived riches and privileges others have and we don’t. We pursue and we sometimes achieve - leading to an increase in consumption and ecological footprint. It is our pursuit of ‘material wealth’ at whatever level (for some this may just be running water, for some it is the third luxury yacht) that requires the ongoing ‘growth’ of our society, the ongoing extraction of resources, the ongoing destruction of our planet.
But here are the facts: even with the ‘tech-fantasy’ of increased efficiency, technologization and automation, our planet will NEVER sustain for all almost 8 billion of us to reach even ‘western middle class’ standard. Let alone the standard of luxury which the middle class now strive for. In fact, we are already using our planet’s resources 3 times over, so we can’t even sustain what we have now.
However unfair this may be, we cannot all reach consumer paradise. Because we’ve run out of planet.
What needs to happen instead, is LESS. Degrowth. Reduce. And those of us who have more will have to give up more to even fit within their permissible resource allocation. And give up even more than that if they want to take up the social responsibility of re-allocating to those who ‘do not yet have’.
Meanwhile, those that ‘do not yet have’ will have to come to terms with the fact that they ‘will never have’ - even if there were so many others who did.
So what about can we do about that anger, that resentment?
1. Realize who and what it is that’s hurting you
As the famous life coach Anthony Robbins says: “Resentment is like drinking poison and hoping that your enemy dies”.
The feeling of pain and discomfort that is your resentment of others, of circumstances is a result of only one thing: your expectations. It’s not ever caused by anything anyone else does to you - it is caused by your expectations not lining up with reality. It’s caused by not having what you think you rightfully ‘should’ have. But as Byron Katie says: “When arguing with reality, you only lose 100% of the time”. And while your lack of ‘privilege’ may be very real - the emotional suffering it elicits is a product of your own making. To quote Tony Robbins once more: “Pain is inevitable, suffering is optional”.
And these expectations never hurt anyone else but you.
The beauty of this probably unpopular take on things is that it gives you full control - you can stop your feeling of deprivation and resentment immediately by adjusting your expectations, by giving things a new meaning. Yes, you’ve worked hard all your life and yet are still struggling to make ends meet. What if you stopped expecting anything different? How does that feel? And how does it feel to ponder all the things you learned from being in those circumstances? To appreciate who you have become? Would you be the same person that your friends and family love if things had turned out differently? And: what else can you learn? Who can you pursue to become next?
2. Accept the pain of others
My very best friend in the world used to say “Each their own hell”. What’s true is that pain knows no class divisions, no standards. The pain of loss, of deprivation, of disconnection, the pain of feeling ‘not enough’ is as real for the multi-billionaire as it is for you, and those less fortunate than you. We all share the same biological makeup, the same physical responses to our thought constructs. And they produce the same uncomfortable results.
So stop the competition over whose pain is greater, or more legitimate. All it does is - increase your pain. All our pain is caused by the same thing: the meaning we give to the circumstances we’re in. And if we hold that expectation that we ‘should be better off’, even at the very highest level, the reality of not having achieved that is going to cause us pain. The same pain, and just as real. It’s a biological fact.
If we can meet each other in genuine compassion for each other’s pain we can open up doors to new possibilities. We can see each other in our humanity. And we can lay down our defenses and potentially our guilt. And if those on the ‘have’ side can be accepted and loved even in their #privilegetears, the same way we accept those in deprivation, they may be more willing to connect, reach out and share.
3. Shift your focus
Resentment is only possible where we focus on ourselves. It’s the result of an inner monologue that begins with “He/She/They should” and ends with “but they don’t”. Or “They have - and I don’t”. Focusing, listening to and believing this inner monologue results in only one thing: pain.
And the truth is, it’s inherently selfish.
So, stop. Take your focus away from yourself and focus on others instead. Work out how you can help someone, in whatever way big or small, and your resentment will evaporate and make way for something else: empowerment.
4. Stop whining
We all know how good it feels to complain, and be understood. Nothing more relieving than a good whining session. And that is, in fact, fair enough.
But sadly, it comes at a high price. By sharing your ‘have nots’ and ‘they did’ with others… or re-running it on single repeat in your mind… All that whinging and whining results in creating super-highway connections in your brain that, long term, achieve nothing but trap you in your pain. It becomes your default emotion, and what’s worse, you’re programming your brain to interpret everything that happens as yet another version of the same. And who is it hurting? Only yourself.
Instead, take your inner and outer monologue and focus it on something else: how can you genuinely help another person (not just exacerbate their pain by amplifying their victim stories)? What do you have that you can appreciate? What can you speak about that you’re feeling grateful for?
Talk about the non-material abundance in your life: the love you share, the people around you, the beauty of nature. Practice radical appreciation. Give empowering meaning to things - at every level. You may not have access to whatever level of ‘luxury’, but it is up to you if you let that make you feel deprived. Maybe it empowers you. Maybe it sets you up to be more resourceful. Maybe it even frees you from the burden of excess possessions. Create whatever meaning makes you feel good, not bad. It’s up to you.
5. Practice sufficiency and ingenuity
I’ll admit, even as I’m writing this, I’m have moments of doubt. Surely, it cannot really be too much to ask to have a warm, safe, dry home for those that don’t yet have that? What about very basic access to food, water?
No doubt, there is a basic level of sanitation, food and shelter that is essential for survival. It is surprising how low this level actually is when we get real with ourselves and focus on gratitude. Human beings are amazing, adaptable creatures - able to survive in the most extreme circumstances. And they have a unique, human ability to consciously experience their emotional world - to love, to connect, to share, to celebrate. To grow their compassion, their understanding of self. This is open to anyone.
There are many inspiring stories of people who created abundance, growth and practiced gratitude in the most adverse of circumstances. People who experience happiness and love on a daily basis - sometimes while trapped in an isolation cell of a war prison.
I’m not saying we shouldn’t pursue basic standards of safety for everyone. What I’m saying is we should ALL, collectively, practice sufficiency, and gratitude. We should cultivate our ability to recognize when we have ‘enough’. I do, actually, believe, that things will then sort themselves. And that with our human gifts of ingenuity, collaboration and compassion we can work on reallocation, and sharing, rather than growth.