Letting go of spite, in spite of ourselves

Were you ever driving along on the highway when someone behind you flashed their high beams because they wanted you to speed up? Such rude and unwarranted behavior can be upsetting. Did you deliberately slow down instead, just to annoy the car behind you? If you did, the other driver just got angrier and probably started tailgating you.

Why do we allow trivial things to upset us? When someone offends us, why do we have to strike back or get even? Why do we retaliate, seek vengeance, or act vindictively? Do we really think being spiteful will improve the situation? If someone flashes their high beams on me, I can either get out of their way or I can contribute to road rage. Why should I become another lunatic driver when there are already too many on the road?

If I’m bothered by the high beams, all I have to do is change lanes and allow the driver behind me to pass. Isn’t that simple enough? For many it is not. After all, they were reared in a society that preaches, “Don’t get mad! Get even!” None of this “turn the other cheek” or “forgive and let live” for them. No way. They don’t want people walking all over them. They don’t want to be meek or weak. They demand respect, and if they don’t get it, they’ll fight for it.

But what if the driver behind you was your brother or sister? Wouldn’t you want to be more forgiving? Well, who do you think the other driver is? We’re all brothers and sisters, you know. Brothers and sisters with faults. If we can accept that, we’ll be able to get along a lot easier.

The problem is many people don’t use their brains to think with, instead they use their heart to feel with. They’re not logical or rational. They’re emotional. So, when someone treats them abrasively, they strike back by making snide remarks, complaining, pouting, and spreading gossip. Or, they may choose to belittle, criticize, ridicule, and humiliate their “opponent.” Even those who are supposed to be in love, husbands and wives, may substitute warm hugs for cold shoulders and the silent treatment.

Why do we act so spiteful whenever we think we’re being treated unfairly? There are several reasons. First, our sense of justice. If someone causes us pain, we feel it is pay back time. Time to make them suffer. But what if the party that offended us acted inappropriately because they were thoughtless, careless, or just plain stupid? What kind of justice is it that strikes back on the weak?

Another reason is based on the distorted logic that if I make them feel the pain I experienced, they will feel remorseful and apologize. If we were to think with our brain instead of our emotions, we would realize that striking back doesn’t solve the problem, it only escalates it. Tit-for-tat, an eye for an eye never works. Ask the Israelis and Palestinians, they know all about it.

Perhaps the biggest reason for refusing to forgive those who offend us is because blaming them for our pain allows us to escape the responsibility of looking after our own happiness. Once we take responsibility, we’ll be able to shed the limiting beliefs and negative behavior that blocks our loving nature and natural happiness.

So, how do we take responsibility? Begin by growing in awareness. Understand the nature of life and humanity. Realize the pain you feel is not caused by the actions of others, but by your reactions to their behaviour. Why are people so mean to you? Because they are in pain; they are insecure; they feel threatened by you; they are immature and weak. Once you fully understand this, you will respond to their cry for help with compassion instead of anger. You will act with kindness instead of spite. As you grow in understanding, you will be able to place yourself in their shoes and discover why they feel as they do. And after doing so, you will be able to offer them comfort by accepting them, respecting them, and guiding them by your example. By doing so, you will ennoble yourself and others.

Another way of taking responsibility for our own happiness is by letting go of resentment, anger, and spite. We do this by forgiving those we believe have offended us. If you’re still harboring ill feelings toward others, it’s time to let go. For as Confucius taught, “To be wronged is nothing, unless you continue to remember it.” Instead of focusing on how you have been wronged, focus on how you will ennoble yourself and unfold your extraordinary potential. Heal yourself with the balm of forgiveness and allow it to soothe your soul.

Take responsibility for your own happiness by embracing humility. Don’t become ensnared in feelings of self-importance. Ironically, it is only by being humble that we have value or importance to the world. For those who are proud are easily offended. They are quick to become outraged by the actions of others. But those who are humble and forgive all, discover happiness. Remember, as Robin Casarjian writes, “Forgiveness restores our hearts to the innocence that we knew – an innocence that allowed us the freedom to love.”

Practicing the principles already discussed leads to self-empowerment, growth, and strength. You will discover that when others shoot you with bullets of insults, contempt, and abuse, they are shooting blanks. For when you are loving, accepting, and forgiving, who is there to fear? Who is there to be threatened by? You will be secure in your own love and unharmed by the attacks of others. Each affront that we face is an opportunity to become MORE than what we are, so welcome the barbs thrown your way and dissolve them with your love.

When we abandon retaliation and embrace understanding, we create a better world for ourselves and our children. We will also free ourselves from regrets, guilt, and self-inflicted pain. Seeing everyone as our brother or sister is more than an act of ennoblement, it is a shift in consciousness, a clearer awareness of the web of life.

Instead of acting OUT of spite, we can act IN spite. That is, we can act in spite of our anger, pain, embarrassment, or humiliation – we can act with forgiveness. In spite of ourselves, we can let go of spite and create a better world. I’ll close with the words of the former British Prime Minister, Arthur James Balfour (1848-1930), “The best thing to give to your enemy is forgiveness; to an opponent, tolerance; to a friend, your heart; to your child, a good example; to a father, deference; to your mother, conduct that will make her proud of you; to yourself, respect; to all men, charity.”