Powerless and resentful

The aftershock of events in 2016 are still being felt as each day presents us with the latest twist in the saga of Donald Trump and other leaders who have come to power on much the same wave as he. Observers and commentators reflect and analyse what is happening and why.

Donald Trump

It is disturbing but it is real. Trump is only the latest in a list of leaders duly elected, mostly in the recent past, who are in tune with the emotions of the majority of their voters – in the Philippines, Poland, Turkey, Russia, Egypt and Hungary and the UK. Pankaj Mishra, writing in the Guardian, says they rode to power on the feelings among ordinary people of envy, humiliation and powerlessness.

Today’s dominant political philosophy of liberal capitalism, says Mishra, promised prosperity for everyone. But it hasn’t happened. The opposite is nearer the facts. The gulf between the ‘haves’ and the ‘have-nots’ has grown wider. In impotent rage people have voted for demagogues who promise to tear up the system.  “The ideals of modern democracy – the equality of social conditions and individual empowerment – have never been more popular. But they have become more and more difficult, if not impossible, to actually realise in the grotesquely unequal societies created by our brand of globalised capitalism.”

The word that is emerging to describe our generation is resentment. It is a dangerous emotion; it replaces patient creativity with frustrated destructiveness: “Mere anarchy is loosed upon the world” (Yeats). Instead of voting with their head, people vote with their gut.

Sometimes you will meet an otherwise generous and devoted person who cannot shake off feelings of resentment. The needle of their compass always indicates a magnetic pole of unhappiness. In every situation they perceive other people as distrusting them and putting them down. They almost have to think like that.

Why is it so hard to shake off resentment? Sometimes, perhaps, we hold onto it like a warm coat in winter. It gives us comfort. Poor me! I am always suffering. But it is a destructive stance. It corrupts relationship and reduces energy. Two and a half thousand years ago the compiler of Leviticus gave us the ancient wisdom of the Hebrews: “you must not bear a grudge against the children of your people.” History and literature abound with stories of resentment and revenge. It makes for great drama (Macbeth) but it is hopelessly vacuous and negative.

So what can we do? If we can name the beast, diagnose the ailment, we can begin. We need to discover the “weakness” of the gospel? “But I say to you: love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you.”  It sounds madness and bad for politics. Yet we see it in great people like Mandela or the Dalai Lama or Martin Luther King. It is a quality of rising above resentment and thinking clearly; what is the truthful thing to do? I do not have to give in to my emotions. I can row upstream against the current.

February 19, 2017                   Sunday 7 A

Leviticus 19:1…18                 1 Corinthians 3:16-23             Matthew 5:38-48

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