I would like to think that I don’t hold grudges—if you wrong me, I let it roll off my back; I don’t hold it against you, and I certainly don’t look for ways to get back at you. For example—the kid who ran me over at the plate when I was 14 and broke my left wrist, I don’t harbor any ill will towards you. To the teacher who told me that my interpretation of “The Cask of Amontillado” by Edgar Allan Poe was wrong, I hardly ever think about it anymore. And to the junior varsity coach who told me I wasn’t good enough to play high school ball… I took no pride in you eating your words when I was awarded the team’s most valuable player award. (Ok, maybe I did a little…)
Just the other day I was thinking about our world and the numerous wars that have been fought and how, generations later, the warring countries have not only settled their differences but have become allies. Perhaps the most horrific and unthinkable atrocities took place during World War II and yet now, three generations later, the United States and Germany are more allies than enemies. Or consider the birth of the United States- within a 50 year span, America fought two wars against Great Britain, yet now consider the UK one of its strongest friends. Vietnam is a tourist destination; Japan is key ally in the global economy. It is surprising how many former enemies are now friends or, at a minimum, peaceful co-existers.
And yet if you bring it down to a personal level, we as human beings find it very difficult to forgive individuals who have wronged us. It is easier for us to forgive an entire country of nameless, faceless people than it is to forgive someone we know. It is easier to hold a grudge than it is to let bygones be bygones. And so much of my practice, so much of litigation in general, is incited by such grudges.
I understand that there are some disputes that cannot be resolved without the involvement of a decider or, at a minimum, a neutral peacemaker. But even still, the concept that another party has wronged you makes for a difficult barrier to overcome when considering settlement or resolution. Instead of viewing a situation pragmatically or even practically, we have blinders to reason and instead focus our energy on destroying the other party. It isn’t enough to make the other side pay; they need to feel the same level of pain that we felt as a result of their conduct. And until they feel that level of pain, there can be no satisfaction.
Now consider the disputes that involve family members, siblings or even parents against children. You think that business partners can bear grudges against each other as a result of business dealings? Consider one sibling who, for 40 years, believed that mom loved his younger sister more than him. She always got new clothes for school; she got to go to summer camp; she got her education paid for. All the while, her older brother had to scrape and fight for every advantage. Need new clothes? Get a job. Want to go to college? Apply for student loans. Forty years is a long time to hold a grudge. Now that mom and dad are gone, it’s the time to exact revenge.
Think I’m joking, or exaggerating? Walk in my shoes and you’d be amazed. We as human beings have an amazing ability to sympathize, to be compassionate for those less fortunate than us. But we also have a remarkable ability to allow one who wronged us to fully encompass our lives. I handled a matter once where three children sued their father because they felt that he had taken advantage of their mother and forced her to deplete the assets of a trust against her will. After over two years of litigating, the matter finally settled, however the children were still not satisfied. The negotiated settlement was a tremendous victory, yet the children would have preferred their father to be left with nothing. On second thought, they would have preferred that the litigation go on long enough for their father to simply die. And when it was said and done, the children had a terrible time dealing with the conclusion of the matter. They had allowed their hate for their father to dominate their lives for so long, that now that the matter was resolved, they didn’t know what to do with themselves.
I would like to think that I believe in karma, that what goes around comes around and that bad people will eventually get their comeuppance. Many a time have I counseled a client that resolution of a matter is necessary and, despite the fact that my client may feel like she is getting the short end of the stick, I have to remind her that forgetting is far more preferable to letting the wounds fester. On numerous occasions my client and I have come to the exact same conclusion. We may be compromising for our own sanity and happiness now, but the bad guy will eventually get his in the end. If he has wronged us, he has likely wronged other people and at some point, it’s going to catch up with him.
For our own sanity, isn’t it better to give up the grudge and get on with our own lives instead of focusing so much attention on hate towards another person?
Have a great week.