Illustration: David Pohl
In 1988 Bette Midler's production company released the film Beaches, a moving homage to friendship and forgiveness. It may seem a bit odd, then, that the Divine Miss M.'s corporate motto was "We hold a grudge." Can love, forgiveness, and holding grudges really go together? Yes, they can—depending on how you define grudge.
Some people will hold a bitter grudge against anyone who looks at them cross-eyed. "Suzy made a 'dumb blonde' joke," a friend fumes. "Well, I'm blonde. As far as she knows. That's it, Suzy is dead to me!"
This is like donning full-on plate armor in response to a playful slap: With anger so heavy and disproportionate, you may end up collapsed on the battlefield wearing an outfit the size, weight, and consistency of a Toyota Yaris. If you're in a constant mouth-foaming rage at someone, get away and get a shrink. But if you simply find your mood dipping whenever you encounter a certain person, I suggest holding a grudge.
A good grudge is simply an acknowledgment of another person's foibles—it keeps you at a safe emotional distance from people who could mess up your life. Depending on the person, you might hold a grudge as light as a parasol or as solid as a titanium shield. Here, in order of severity, are descriptions of people who deserve to be held at bay:
A planarian is a flatworm, one of the lowest life-forms that can be considered an animal. There are—search your mind or your cell phone contact list, and you'll see I'm right—human beings whose EQs stopped evolving at the planarian level. They aren't evil; they're just devoid of emotional intelligence. Once you've identified the planarian people in your life, choosing to bear a very light grudge toward them can spare you immense frustration. I was reminded of this by clients Jody and Ralph, who consulted me as a couple.
"Ralph's so insensitive," Jody complained. "Whenever I'm upset, he just says, 'Harsh, dude' and wanders away."
"What else can I do?" Ralph didn't sound insolent, just puzzled.
"You can talk to me about my feelings," said Jody.
Ralph looked at her as if she'd smacked him with a carp. "I don't understand," he mumbled.
Clearly, he didn't.
Ralph—and I say this lovingly—is a planarian. It isn't his fault, and it's not going to change. You can work a lifetime trying to make flatworms perceptive, intuitive, or wise, but the best they can do is, frankly, pathetic. Bearing this in mind is a form of grudge-holding that actually allows you to interact with them calmly. Instead of feeling towering rage at their emotional clumsiness, roll your eyes, mutter "planarian," and relax. Jody learned to do this with Ralph. They soon broke up but remained golf buddies. When Ralph fails to respond in a sensitive way to her emotions, Jody thinks "planarian," and takes her troubles elsewhere. This tiny semblance of a grudge will keep you from wasting your life in the hopes that people will be more evolved than they are.
Next: When and how to carry a protective grudge
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