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Hannah asked in the comments in the last post, “where is the place for personal humility in overcoming resentment?” I was thrilled she asked because I now get to write more about my two favorite subjects: Resentment and humility. I love humility because it is so largely misunderstood. Hopefully I can shed some light as to what humility is and how it works in our lives.
A few weeks ago, I described humility as “honest arrogance.” We are truly humble when we understand what is good about our character, and what needs improvement. Humility is not an easy characteristic at attain, but we can strive for humility.
However, Hannah’s question specifically asked how we can use humility in overcoming resentment. So, I will attempt to answer the question by telling a very long story…
Humility aka The Rules Apply to Me
Years ago, when I first moved from Cincinnati to this small town in Illinois, I neglected to register my car. I’m not sure what I was thinking – maybe that it automatically would register itself because I had done everything else at the DMV. But alas, red lights behind me showed me I was wrong. The (very nice) policeman, Officer V, informed me that he had stopped me because my registration was expired. He gave me a ticket to remind me that it should have been done in a more timely manner. After the ticket had been written, I thanked him for being the constant police officer that my congregation annually hired to help us with traffic control during our busiest holidays. When he realized who I was, he said, “Rabbi! I’m so sorry! Why didn’t you tell me who you were? I wouldn’t have written you this ticket.”
I answered, “Even clergy people are not above the law and should get tickets when we break the rules.” I even gave a sermon about this the following week and sent a copy to him.
Humility and Not Losing an Opportunity to Give Someone A Hard Time
Flash forward a few years later, our congregation held a 5k walk/run. This police officer was one of the officers assigned to the route. I had to pay the 8 officers for guarding the runners and I had been waiting years for this chance. When we were doing the pre-race meeting, I told he and his colleagues the story of how Officer V had stopped me years earlier to give me a ticket. And now, here he was. And wasn’t it ironic that the same amount of that ticket was how much we were paying him that day? I took the check and put it into my pocket. Officer V was gracious and laughed with his comrades. (Don’t worry, I paid him!) Thus a friendship was born.
Humility And Resentment
Flash forward another few years later. I was sitting with my friend who was telling me about a DUI she had gotten and that she was still angry about it. She felt she had been the victim of really bad circumstances. I mean, sure, she had been drinking, but if the police officer hadn’t stopped her that night for an expired registration, he wouldn’t have known she had been drinking. It really wasn’t her fault, she claimed. But I had some directives to give her. If she really wanted to be free from the resentment toward that policeman, she had to go face him and apologize for making his life more difficult that night. Needless to say, she was resistant on many levels. She still thought she was the one harmed. But then I told her what my spiritual advisor told me. She warned me not to fall into the trap of victimhood. She said, “There are no victims, only volunteers.” Do I have to even mention, I didn’t like hearing that.
Humility and The Rest of The Story
My friend desired to be free from the resentment, which meant she was going to have to be humble and actually find that police officer and apologize. She was finally willing, she told me, but she wasn’t sure how to contact him. I asked her where she had gotten her DUI and she said the name of my small town. I then asked her what his name was and she said, “Officer Vivo.” I said, “Well, it just so happens, I have his phone number in my cell phone. Why don’t we call him right now?” So we did, and we arranged for them to meet. She made her amends to him and walked away free. She no longer resents him and saw the value of having humility. And Officer Vivo confessed that in all of his years as a police officer, no one had ever come back to apologize for putting him in the position to have to arrest them!
Another Story of Humility and Resentment
So, another story about needing to have humility amidst resentment happened to my friend Suzanne. (Boy, I am just full of these stories today, aren’t I?) Suzanne called me in distress. She had just had a bad and heated exchange with a female employee at the gas company. When Suzanne perceived that the woman couldn’t fix her problem, and in her irascible way, became irate. She had yelled at the employee, and after she hung up the phone, started to feel really terrible about it. When she called me, I told her she had to call the gas company back and not only apologize to the employee, she had to ask what she could do to make amends. I explained that it wasn’t fair of her to lose her temper toward someone who had no power to defend herself. Suzanne was sheepish at first. She didn’t want to call the gas company back. But because she desired to be free, so she did it.
Resentment Treated with Action and Humility Equals Freedom
Suzanne called the company. She eventually found the employee and she not only apologized, she asked what she could do for the employee. The employee was silent for a moment and then said, “you could speak to my supervisor. I got into a lot of trouble because of your call.” So, Suzanne spoke to the supervisor and owned her behavior. She not only had the humility to take the action to make amends for her outburst, she walked away resentment free.
Hence, when we treat a resentment with the action of self-assessment, plus the proper dose of humility, it produces the product of freedom. And isn’t that what we are craving right now? The sweetness of freedom and a life lived to a higher purpose.
Please continue to send me questions and I will do my best to answer them. Until we meet again, may you be blessed on your spiritual journey!
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