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I've written elsewhere about changing my mind. It can be equal parts exhilarating, disorienting, and destabilizing. Whether you're "deconstructing" the fundamentalist religion of your upbringing, or walking away from the "cult" of "wokeness", shedding beliefs that limit your ability to apprehend truth almost inevitably entails a patchwork of emotions. But the elation of finally admitting what you've been avoiding all along is frequently followed up at dismay towards your past self for holding such beliefs in the first place. It's hard not to feel profound resentment.
Resentment is an emotion that I've been pondering lately. It's often associated with bitterness and a deep grievance toward being wronged. And in a sense, we have been wronged — when we hold to ideologies and beliefs that require us to look away from reality as it is, we are often compelled by another to do so. Whether for cynical or sincere reasons, someone else is often advocating for us to remain a true believer. But similarly, we've often wronged ourselves — we hold to limiting beliefs because we want the goods that those beliefs can afford us. Either way, whether we've been wronged by others or ourselves, the pain nonetheless persists.
I think "pain" is a good word for thinking about resentment. The New Oxford American Dictionary (AKA the Dictionary app on macOS) contains an interesting footnote on the etymology of resentment. According to it, "resentment" comes from the
obsolete French resentir, from re- (expressing intensive force) + sentir ‘feel’ (from Latin sentire). The early sense was ‘experience an emotion or sensation’, later ‘feel deeply’, giving rise to ‘feel aggrieved by’.
It's interesting that the association of being "aggrieved" at some wrong came later — the original expression of the term was more associated with intense feeling. I think this earlier sense is especially indicative of the felt experience that accompanies changing beliefs. Anger and grievance are not the only emotions that seize us. Sadness, despair, and lamentation are equally plausible, as are positive emotions — relief, mirth, and even joy. And such emotions are not entirely unwarranted. We weep for lost time, what could have been. We let our shoulders slump and breathe a little easier at the thought of new possibilities that are open to us. We laugh at the folly of old thought patterns.
But these feelings can become resentment in the modern sense when we attempt to channel their "intensive force" into an intensive force that is more hostile than hopeful. We seize the emotion long after it seizes us. And in so doing, we allow ourselves and others to continually wrong us. The pain that was once inflicted now becomes a choice.
I'm not saying that it's easy to let go of resentment, or that it's a rationally chosen thing. But the fact that it comes so easily ought to give us pause. Why do we feel compelled, long after we've supposedly changed our minds, to revisit the wrongs done to us, or those continually done to others? Why is it so much easier to recapitulate what is wrong out there than to cast a positive vision of what could be?
I don't have obvious answers to those questions. Our frailty and culpability may be accounted for by sin, trauma, or biology; I would guess all three, and that the boundaries between them are not always clearly delineated. What I do know is that as long as we have breath, there is hope. And that in the weakness of our resentment, strength can still be found.