Into every life a little hate must fall. It’s what you do with it next that counts.
Former Outkast gent Andre 3000 has the most wonderful voice. Listening to his NPR Microphone Check podcast appearance, it’s easy to imagine loving everything he says. But no matter who you are, what you say, or how you say it, you will at some point bump into bitterness and resentment in this world. This isn’t necessarily a bad thing. Andre 3000 says:
“If somebody’s liking everything you do, something’s probably wrong.”
Bitterness and resentment are corrosive, poisonous and contagious feelings.
“Resentment is like taking poison and waiting for the other person to die,” as the words attributed to Malachy McCourt put it.
Bitterness and resentment exaggerate the worst in you, and want you to reduce others to what you perceive as the worst in them. Bitterness and resentment can easily breed bitterness and resentment. How you react to these feelings can help stop their spread.
To exemplify what is truly awful (allegedly)
I cried with laughter the other day. Playing The Bass With Three Left Hands is the eloquent and charming memoir of former Spacemen 3/Spiritualized bass player and raconteur Will Carruthers. He has had a tough time of it. But his writing is free of self pity. The book is a beautifully written tale of an unusual path through life. It is also extremely funny, replete with both light and dark humour. The darkest humour is in a chapter in which the author comes face to face with what we’d now term SMH (standing, as it does, for “so much hate”).
The scene: Rugby, England, November 1988. Spacemen 3 are not the biggest band in the world, and Mr Carruthers is not their best-remunerated member. Today being his 21st birthday, he chooses to
treat himself to a weekly music paper and a packet of cigarettes
(times being tight as the royalty statements – the first of which would come to
£0.00 – hadn’t yet started to roll in). The music paper includes a live review of Spacemen 3. The author of this review levels his sights directly at Carruthers:
“This band are truly awful and the hirsute bass player best exemplifies what is truly awful about them. He shuffles onto the stage like an autistic sloth and plays the bass guitar like someone stuttering to speak. He looks, and sounds, like a twat. [H]e was noticeable only by virtue of the fact that he is the most boring member of a fantastically boring band. I hate this band but most of all I hate him and everything he stands for.”
This journalist would seem to have been having a very bad day indeed. Bitterness and resentment would seem to have been projected onto Mr Carruthers and immortalised in passive aggressive print for the world (well, for that subset of the world that invested in a copy of Sounds that week and that wanted to read a live review of Spacemen 3) to see.
Carruthers’ account of his own reaction to this review is winningly self-deprecating. But he was understandably upset by these words, their impact amplified by the fact that he read them on his birthday. Crestfallen and intoxicated that evening, he almost hangs himself by accident (please do read this superb book for the exact circumstances). In the moments before he is saved, he realises the absurdity of the situation:
“While I struggled to breathe, I began to imagine the tiny headlines written in a future issue of the Rugby Advertiser. ‘Local man kills himself on twenty-first birthday after bad review.’ [M]y absurd death would result in everyone reading about the fact that someone thought I wasn’t a very good bass player.”
I rejoice in the fact that Mr Carruthers was saved that day, and that he lived to write such a life-affirming book. That his life might have been lost – whether directly or indirectly – due to someone thinking he “wasn’t a very good bass player” doesn’t bear thinking about.
So much hate
It is no surprise that the social media era has created the need for the acronym SMH. Bitterness and resentment can receive instant expression and spread their contagion with infinitely greater ease in this instantly-connected world. Some might say that even the White House is not immune.
With so much hate in the world, it is more important than ever to be clear on how you deal with it. My friend Megan Peppin shared the following wise words the other day on her approach to bitterness and resentment in life, and on social media:
“I think passive aggressive behaviour is toxic exactly because it draws us in… sucking us into their cycle. The way I deal with this type of behaviour is to acknowledge it and keep a psychological space between me and them.”
Bitterness and resentment in life are undeniable and inevitable. But you don’t have to let them win.
Get out there, keep losing
For all his struggles and all the advantages taken of him, Mr Carruthers’ book is remarkably free of bitterness, resentment and self pity. But in the closing pages, he acknowledges his own struggle with these feelings:
“My greatest battle has been with my own bitterness and cynicism. There
is nothing worse than bitterness. […] Bitterness will get you nowhere.
It will eat you, beat you and leave you washed out and burned up more
than anything else ever could. It will lead you to see the world as a
rotten place and your friends as enemies.”
I love Mr Carruthers’ advice on how to overcome these feelings:
“Get out there, keep losing, learn from your mistakes, and move on.
[…] Nobody said it was easy, but it gets a whole lot more difficult
when you are carrying round a big sackload of grudgeful blame and hurt.”
Into every life a little hate must fall. It’s what you do with it next that counts. You have the power to stop the cycle of bitterness and resentment. Like the song says:
“Go brush your shoulders off.”
** In my view, Spacemen 3 are one of the all-time greats. Here is my favourite song of theirs from the Will Carruthers era: How Does It Feel? (From the brilliant Spacemen 3 album Playing With Fire).