“The sword of attack is always held backwards. We think we’re holding the handle, swinging our blade at the world. In truth, though, we’re gripping the blade and waving about a harmless handle. The harder we fight, the deeper we cut ourselves.” — Dan Cavicchio, Gardens from the Sand: A Story About Looking for Answers and Finding Miracles
I am running late for an important appointment and speeding down a two-lane highway. Suddenly I come up behind a garbage truck lumbering along well below the speed limit. The highway is full of oncoming traffic, curves, and hills so I can’t pass. If I start to get angry, pound the steering wheel, and really work myself into lather about this, who is in control of my emotions at this point — a garbage truck or me?
Another milestone in our growth is when we accept responsibility for our emotions. We choose to lose our temper. We choose to become jealous. We choose to harbor hatred. It’s much easier to give in to the Victimitis Virus. It’s less painful to believe that anger, jealousy, or bitterness are somebody else’s fault or beyond our control. But that makes us prisoners of our destructive emotions. We hold grudges, let old resentments build up, and become cynical. We stress ourselves out. We stew in our own deadly juices.
Holding on to destructive emotions is slow suicide. Studies are showing that stress from negative emotions present a more dangerous risk factor for cancer and heart disease than smoking cigarettes or eating high cholesterol foods. Physicians who had the highest scores on a test of hostility while still in medical school were seven times as likely to have died by the age of fifty as were those with low hostility scores. People who had been rated as easily roused to anger were three times more likely to die of cardiac arrest than those who were more even-tempered. If they also had high cholesterol levels, the added risk from anger was five times higher. Reflecting on the mounting evidence on the deadly effect of destructive emotions, researcher and author Daniel Goleman writes, “an occasional display of hostility is not dangerous to health; the problem arises when hostility becomes so constant as to define an antagonistic personal style — one marked by repeated feelings of mistrust and cynicism and the propensity to snide comments and put-downs, as well as more obvious bouts of temper and rage.”
For our own health and happiness, we must exercise our choice to let go. No matter how long we nurse a grudge, it won’t get better. When we bury the hatchet, we need to make sure we don’t keep a shovel handy. Life is too short — and likely to get even shorter — if, like vultures, we feed on dead issues. We need to forgive and truly forget. Forgiveness is not for them, it’s for me.