I’m going to break the cardinal rule of (semi) professional writing by invoking something you’ll see in high school essays year-round, because it hasn’t always been exactly clear to me what a resentment is. Ready?
As defined, a resentment is “… a mixture of disappointment, anger and fear. It comprises the three basic emotions of disgust, sadness and surprise—the perception of injustice. As the surprise of injustice becomes less frequent, so too fades anger and fear, leaving disappointment as the predominant emotion.”
While I feel a little dirty including that (somewhere, my 10th grade English teacher is nauseous and he doesn’t know why), I think that’s a fairly comprehensive definition and it’s important that people really understand that a resentment isn’t just feeling slighted – it’s your reaction to that feeling, and what you do after you have that reaction, that sets resentments aside from grudges or dislikes or what have you. There’s a core pain to resentments that leaves them in a category all their own. It’s not just that you don’t agree with some person, place or thing – you’re offended, perhaps scared, that they exist.
Which brings me to Tom Brady.
I mean, just look at him. That square jaw paired with a boyish, messy haircut. A small smile – maybe a grin, even – paired with steely, clear eyes who see far beyond what’s in front of them. This is a man – a Michigan man, mind you – who can do and see things that most of us cannot. He knows success far beyond what anyone reading this can hope to comprehend, and yet he’s simply not done. He has skill, he’s marketable, he’s got a dream job, a beautiful wife, seemingly decent children and a reputation for working hard above all else. It makes me sick.
I don’t hate Tom Brady, though. I resent him.
I’ve been a Dolphins fan for almost as long as I can remember. When I was very, very young I remember my father bought us very nice tickets to a playoff game where the Bills rolled into Miami thinking they’d continue their streak of getting to the Super Bowl and losing, but that wasn’t the case that night – the Dolphins would win (and then lose, but the child-sized version of me wasn’t there for that, so I didn’t care). Ever since that game, while I didn’t think about the NFL much, the Dolphins were my team. When the Bills faded into.. whatever they are now, and the Jets continued to be the Jets, the primary opponent to my beloved franchise was the New England Patriots.
We’ll call them Boston for brevity. They picked up a “loser” coach (who was the victim of standard terrible Cleveland ownership and management) and cobbled together a team of hard-working veterans who’d all had jobs somewhere else before (mostly). They knew that one thing, above all else, contributed to their success: working together. It’s the kind of story you expect to see out of PG-13-or-less movies starring the Rock or Keanu Reeves where they end up in unexpected situations involving sports. They weren’t the best, but they were willing to work harder than the next guy, and that’s what counts in the end.
At the center of their early success was a backup quarterback who had some embarrassing moments at the draft combine and a reasonable amount of preseason success. When Drew Bledsoe went down, it’s almost as if his life force, football experience and – well, I mean, you’ve seen Highlander right? – everything went into Brady. Brady became an unstoppable machine with a good drop and a remarkably quick release who could read the field twice before moving safeties with his eyes and dropping a fade when he found the 1-on-1 on the sideline. The worst of the worst: a technically proficient quarterback who was also.. cool.
As a Miami fan I wasn’t simply disappointed that Boston didn’t also suffer a never-ending parade of terrible quarterbacks. I wasn’t only angry that they’d found their golden boy sitting on the bench, casually hanging out just waiting to win a few Super Bowls. I wasn’t just afraid that he was going to dominate our division for years (decades, at this point) to come. I was disgusted. I was sad. I was surprised. The Boston team didn’t deserve this; they were the Patriots! They were supposed to be the joke! And year after year, they continued to win, and Miami would not.
Jealousy. Disgust. Disappointment – not in others, but in ourselves. Self-loathing when confronted with something or someone objectively more successful than you, achieving and attaining the things you thought were rightfully yours. Tom Brady, though I’ve never met the man, nor have I spent any time really researching him beyond statistics or embarrassing GIFs for blog entries, doesn’t deserve that level of success; that adulation and winning tradition should be where they belong, in Miami. Dan Marino was one of the greatest, and who followed him, compared to Brady? Yes, it’s pure resentment, through and through.
As you can probably tell by the much-longer-than-planned diatribe about New England’s quarterback, resentments can be a dangerous thing. It’s not isolated to disappointment with circumstances or facts expressed as anger at another person – or even addressed toward a body of persons, a philosophy, or a concept. At times, resentments are a mirror – we resent the things in others we wish we didn’t see in ourselves or our groups, our meetings and our teams.
We criticize others for over-celebrating their victories, acting stoic in the face of compliments, having a wry, sarcastic response toward those who question them – because we see those behaviors in ourselves. We criticize other people for doing what we do, acting how we act; we recognize this behavior. If I learned one thing in high school aside from not including dictionary definition in thesis statements, it would be that it takes one to know one.
At times, we resent qualities in other people we wish we had — it’s not necessarily jealousy or envy, just disappointment in ourselves because we’re so sure we should be one way, but we’re not. It’s more insidious. It’s toxic. And it can wrap in on itself at times, where we resent others for resenting us, the ourobouros of resentment, a snake eating its own tail.
It’s no wonder that, in the Big Book, we find it said that resentment ” .. destroys more alcoholics than anything else.” It’s categorized as the “number one offender.” It’s something that, left unchecked, has the destructive capacity to undermine all goodwill and good intentions. Resentment can create monsters of us all – and in AA, as we should in any other facet of our lives, we need to be cognizant of what resentment is and how to avoid it. It’s the nuclear option in the face of disappointment, and at best it’s mutually assured destruction.
If we’re going to try to heal, and if we’re going to try to become the best possible versions of ourselves, we need to let go of our resentments. Drop them like the anchors they are and float to the surface, reborn of our trials and tribulations and ready to embrace a new life. We need to recognize that our resentments say just as much about us as they do the people, places or things that we resent. We need to let them fall away.
See you in September, Tom.