Resentment is like taking poison and waiting for the other person to die.
~ Malachy McCourt
~ Malachy McCourt
I held on to a lot of anger for years after my divorce. The bitterness ate away and corroded the true me, but it happened at slow pace – so much so that I barely noticed the change. And I carried this hatred with me for a long time and without being aware of it.
It became so much a part of me that my reactions to perceived threats nearly ruined the chances for me to remarry. Fortunately, my fiancée (now wife) has a spirit of grace and forgiveness, and we were able to seek appropriate counseling to help us with this and other prenuptial issues.
Of course, much of this and other character renovation has begged the question: who am I really? If this embittered man of the past several years isn’t really me, and I can’t really go back to who I was because I have all new life experiences, then the only answer left is also a question: who do I want to be?
I think this is a great question. And it is a question I think I should ask myself frequently. Who do I want to be?
You see, I think “who I am” is larger than my role, my career or a list of characteristics. “Who I am” is something that transcends circumstance and mood.
That’s a hard one to grasp too, especially the circumstance part. I’ve had to consider the number of times I’ve justified an action or even a mood based on what another has done. Think of a small child rationalizing his anger or misbehavior with those classic words, “But you don’t know what he did!” Of course, we know the script as the mature adult or teacher counters with, “This isn’t about him; it’s about what you did.”
And that’s really my point. It’s not a lesson for grade school kids. Okay it is, but it is also for us! We forget this kindergarten lesson as adults or we dismiss it away as a child-answer to a child-problem. But it is not. It works the same way even now that I’m a grown up.
What someone else does around me or even to me is not really about me; it is about how that person is choosing to behave. Even if I am hurt or insulted, I don’t have to take this personally because they’re actions are not about me but merely reflections of who they are, who they are choosing to be.
Only what I do next, in reaction or response, is about me. This is where the question “who do I want to be” becomes critical. How would the person I want to be react or response? Do I want to be a spiteful, mean-spirited vengeance-seeker? Do I want to be a coward? Do I want to be a person who returns kindness regardless? It is a critical question.
Just as what the assaulting person is doing has nothing to do with me, the same is true about my reaction. I can choose to react as the person I want to be – and in doing so, I become that person and fulfill my destiny. And the catch is – whether I choose or let my mood decide, either reaction is the person I become.
If there are forces of my past, like there once were in my life, controlling who I am and choosing my reactions to the circumstances, then I cannot be who I want to be. If I have bitterness, grudges and anger that I continue to carry, then it is very difficult for me to choose to be who I want to be. I have to work through those things to get to place where I really get to make my own choice.
Also, I have to realize that I can only do my best, and on some days my best won’t be as good as it is on others. My mood may have a better grip on me on one day more than another. I might be sick and just not as patient as when I’m healthy. So, circumstance cannot even be completely removed, but so long as I do my best every time, then overall, I become and remain who I want to be.
These are my thoughts in stressful times, when I find my ex-wife’s decisions frustrating, when my teen won’t do what I have asked, when my disabled daughter throws an inexplicable tantrum. This is what I recall when my job puts extra demands on me, when someone cuts me off in traffic, when a gamble I took falls on the wrong side of the odds. This is what I remind myself when I want to say, “The hell with it” and “I’ll show you!” It is in these times, I ask myself is my reaction, right now, who I want to be. It’s not perfect, but many times it helps, and slowing I’ve been becoming a better man.