I had a boss many years ago who undermined me and my work incessantly. (I never quite figured out what his problem was with me, but that wasn't the issue.) Eventually I found myself feeling so resentful and bitter towards him that I couldn't look him in the eye, I took steps to avoid him, bad-mouthed him to anyone who was willing to listen and generally hated going to work.
I was in my own prison: no way to change my boss, I didn't know how to change myself and I dreaded each day at the office. Eventually I left the job, but it didn't change my resentment towards him. It just meant there was some distance between us.
It took me another couple of years to learn that my resentment was only causing harm to me: my ex-boss neither knew nor cared about my resentment towards him. I later took the wonderful More to Life training weekend, at which I learnt about the true cost of resentment. More importantly, once I could see the true cost to me, I learnt how to forgive and let go of my ill will towards him.
Some of the cost to me of my resentment included massive stress, even when I was out of the office, inability to connect with others, a hardness about me that I didn't like, a closing of my heart, having to pretend all was well, loss of creative thought, leaving a job which I otherwise enjoyed and a bad taste in my mouth every time I thought about my ex-boss. I've heard it said that resentment is like taking poison and waiting for the other person to die. Well, I was the one dying.
When I eventually saw the cost to me, I forgave him. It took a while, because forgiveness is a choice we make not to hold ill will against others, and I struggled with the choice. I remember saying to my wife, Kazalette, on one occasion that he didn't deserve to be forgiven. She gently reminded me that the forgiveness was for my own well-being, not his. So I did some work and made that choice.
The sense of relief was enormous. It felt like a bad smell that had been following me around for years had lifted and been replaced with rose petals. I was out of my prison and free again.
As it happened, I bumped into my ex-boss some years later in Johannesburg. Our meeting was brief, but the experience was so different from when we had last seen each other. I was able to be my authentic self when I greeted him, not stuck in pretense. He seemed pleased to see me.
That's the thing with resentment. When you let go of your ill-will, it makes you more accessible to the other person.
How different might South Africa have turned out if Nelson Mandela had brought his bitterness and resentment with him along his road to freedom? Think Zimbabwe. Think Rwanda. Think about who's on your list of people to stop resenting. And to forgive.