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BRENDA LOOPER: Grudge match

by Brenda Looper | July 15, 2020 at 3:00 a.m.
Brenda Looper

Having spent five hours watching “Hamilton” twice (and I will again because it’s simply amazing, earworms be damned), I’ve again been considering grudges and why people carry them.

Apparently the ugly things are a comfort to some, which is why we have people with grudges against the media (at least the media that don’t parrot their views), exes (would Taylor Swift have a career without them?), and reality/science (how dare facts not reflect beliefs!).

Aaron Burr and Alexander Hamilton were longtime political antagonists, and Hamilton saw Burr as a political opportunist. When Burr ran for president in 1796, Hamilton wrote, “Mr. Burr is bold, enterprising, and intriguing, and I feel it is a religious duty to oppose his career.” Burr obviously felt the same, and published confidential documents in which Hamilton criticized Federalist president John Adams, causing a rift in Hamilton’s Federalist party.

In 1804, Burr, by then vice president, ran for governor of New York, first for the Federalist nomination, and then as an independent when that failed. Hamilton and others attacked Burr’s character during the campaign, and Burr lost the election, leading him to challenge Hamilton to a duel so he could restore his honor. Though Burr was charged with murder, he was never tried and fled to South Carolina. The charges were dropped on technicalities, and he returned to the vice presidency; his political career, though, never recovered.

Thomas Edison feuded with young engineer Nikola Tesla over alternating current (Tesla) versus direct current (Edison), and after Tesla sold his patents, with George Westinghouse. “While Tesla’s ideas and ambitions might be brushed aside,” Gilbert King of Smithsonian Magazine wrote Oct. 11, 2011, “Westinghouse had both ambition and capital, and Edison immediately recognized the threat to his business.” Edison set about creating the idea that alternating current would kill homeowners, “proving” this by electrocuting numerous animals in front of crowds, as well as using it in the first electric chair (the execution of William Kemmler was not pretty). In the end, though, Westinghouse came out on top, was awarded the contract to light the Chicago World’s Fair in 1893, and alternating current became the industry standard.

Burr and Edison both were so consumed with their grudges that they let common sense fall by the wayside, and I’m betting neither of them was much fun to be around when in high dudgeon. Anger is a natural reaction when you feel you’ve been wronged; once that hostility starts to fester, a grudge can take hold.

“Having a grudge here or there isn’t necessarily abnormal or even problematic. The problem is that, sometimes, grudges can take on a life of their own,” wrote Wendy Wisner on The Talkspace Voice. “Grudge holding can be a cyclical pattern—and once we get sucked in, it can be hard to find our way out.”

Rachel O’Neill, Ph.D., a licensed professional clinical counselor in Ohio and Talkspace provider, told Wisner that someone might feel they’ve been wronged, and the person who wronged them attempted to apologize or take responsibility, but it was found to be insufficient. When that happens, O’Neill said, “grudges can deepen and individuals can feel more entrenched in feelings of resentment or bitterness toward the person.”

Paging Aaron Burr and Thomas Edison …

“Of course,” Wisner wrote, “the more angry and bitter you are toward someone, the harder it becomes to work through any issues you have with them. Grudges can easily spiral into a never-ending cycle of blame and rage, which is why it’s important to work toward resolution internally, or with the other party.”

And when politics get involved … yeesh. Well, you end up with something like what we have today, with campaigns focused not on what a candidate can do but on how scary the other guy is, and how unrepentantly evil the other political party is as a whole (they eat babies!!!).

Is it any wonder I prefer to deal with politics in small bites on a purely psychological/sociological basis?

There are, of course, many legitimate reasons for anger, especially in widespread societal actions, and when that anger is channeled positively, it can change the world.

But for everyday ills, holding on to anger and resentment and the accompanying hostility that often seeps out (don’t fool yourself that you’re able to hold it in; we can tell, even in writing) isn’t healthy for anyone, and can increase the chances of conditions such as depression and anxiety, according to O’Neill. While it may not be possible to resolve every grudge with the person who caused it, you can take responsibility for your own feelings, and learn, O’Neill said, that “instead of being dependent on someone else to fix your feelings for you, you’re able to fulfill that need for yourself.”

Getting past that feeling of resentment (because a letter wasn’t printed, or that one guy always takes the last cheese bagel, or that woman [gasp] wore a mask) can help you grow as a person, and maybe learn how to help others.

Or at least figure out that dueling and/or propaganda isn’t the way to solve your problem.

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Assistant Editor Brenda Looper is editor of the Voices page. Read her blog at . Email her at blooper@


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