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Learning to let it go

Alan Braunholtz

To grudge or not begrudge? Out of the blue I received a small amount of pleasure from an old grudge. This surprised me. Black-and-white ideals of a mercurial youth resulted in a few outstanding grudges.

Holding onto a grudge is work enough, dwelling and seething at regular intervals. Exacting revenge takes so much effort that it borders on the insane.

Fortunately, I’m lazy and drop my grudges sooner rather than later. I can’t really see the point of living in the unhappy past of some insult or slight until I take my revenge (ha ha ha) x-years later. The occasional times fate tempted me, it’s created more guilt at being a nasty person and worry that I’ve started some ridiculous tit for tat than pleasure.

This time must feel different; large corporations don’t naturally instill sympathy. Finally after 15 years, I got back at US West. The caller asking if I wanted to switch my local phone service provider had the easiest sale of his life. I don’t think I even asked the price. It’s proof right there that irrational festering emotions eat away at the brain’s higher functions.

Long ago one amazing service rep drove that sweet baby blue bell symbol deep into the amygdala, my ancient limbic brain.

It’s a long story, but after much time spent on pay phones after our phone had been mistakenly disconnected (we were trying to get the billing name changed), I met Darlene. After two hours of intermittent waiting, Darlene told me I was getting upset and “company policy dictated that she would hang up so I could calm down” – click.

At that point I calmed down so much I began to understand many of the things I saw on the news. Unfocused, all-consuming anger is not good. Lashing out never is, but when anything within range is not only irrelevant but also yours, you’re stuck in a mental maelstrom. Smashing your cell phone, beating up your car are dumb but tolerable. Kicking the dog and yelling at loved ones never is.

Part of a service reps’ job is to absorb that anger. It’s their social duty; the emotion if not the problem should end with them. Darlene crossed the line, and I swore never to forget.

Now 15 years, several corporate reshuffles, a name change, etc., later and QWest and I were even. Still, after the self-satisfied “HAH!” it began to feel flat and insubstantial. Fifteen years of suppressed anger for that? Then I started to worry what I’d agreed to. Recently QWest hadn’t been so bad. This is how conflict resolution goes for me if I get mad. I make a dumb move, then agonize over it for a long time.

When my Internet connection stopped working, I feared I “d done something silly. Perhaps QWest was exacting its revenge. Grudge holding leads to paranoia. If I’m plotting retribution, then everyone else is, too. Be afraid.

A quick call to the new help line, which judging by accents is perhaps located in India (good for price if not U.S. jobs), reassured me to no end. After a bit of mutual accent confusion, Patel walked me through the problem (my techno imbecility, in fact) without one patronizing comment.

Happy now, I’ll engage in one more idle fantasy of QWest begging me back, my haughty refusal, Darlene in tears as I hang up the phone and watch them spiral into bankruptcy. Fantasies are fun; real life is more complicated.

Grudges are the thin edge of a potentially very ugly emotional wedge. A good-humored owner knows this and disarms them with a good-natured poke at himself.

A friend refuses to see another Schwarzenegger film. At least till Arnie personally refunds the $6 ticket fee. He claims he’s being more than fair: No interest or damages, just the ticket price, and he’ll watch “Terminator.” It’s a matter of principle, but to what I’m not sure. The inability to move on, to forgive and forget” An admittedly very small part of his life is now stalled. Does this harm Arnie? Doesn’t look like it. Does it harm my friend? Perhaps, depending on your view of Arnie’s films, but we do get to laugh about the Arnie grudge.

Once grudges get beyond a joke, you’re in trouble. Revenge is said to be a dish best eaten cold, but it leaves a bad taste and could poison you. If you’ve got the self-control to let your anger chill, then why not throw it away and move on. Reach the grudge and counter grudge stage, and you’re well on your way to a vendetta or blood feud in which the cycles of revenge consume everyone involved.

It took 15 years, but in some small way I should thank Darlene. I’m beginning to understand the strength behind “forgive and forget” and “turn the other cheek.” They allow one to live in the present for the future unhindered by stale emotions from the past.

Also I’d hate to get in a blood feud with a phone company and especially Darlene. When they do call I’ll be polite. Reaming out a pleasant stranger for something they didn’t do 15 years ago is basically insane.

Alan Braunholtz of Vail writes a weekly column for the Daily.


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