The Personalist Project

Accessed on September 27, 2023 - 12:48:30

How to rid yourself of gall

Katie van Schaijik, Jan 17, 2014

One of the best moral lessons I ever learned came through the example of a non-religious friend. She and her sister had been the designated heirs of a rich, childless aunt. But a smarmy, conniving distant cousin managed to manipulate the dying woman and induce her to sign over a large portion of her fortune to him.

My friend's mother was furious with indignation when she found out. Choked with gall. My friend, though, shrugged off the loss, and wouldn't let her mother rant over it.

"You know what Mom? He has to be him and we get to be us. Think of it that way."

When she told me the story, besides being stunned with admiration at her generosity of spirit (so unlike the reputedly religious me!), I saw that she was right. The insinnuating manipulater who had just made himself rich by cheating two young women was a miserable, friendless wretch, while my friend was the sort of person that everyone loves and wants to be near—light-hearted, large-minded, full of fun. She knew at least at some level that her happy temperament was a gift from God. Should she now start stewing over her grievance and become bitter, ruining her beautiful personality?

It's a new, more personalist take on the Socratic idea that it's better to suffer injustice than to commit it, isn't it? It's a lived awareness of the fact that, as persons, we both receive our being from God and determine ourselves in and through our moral acts and responses to reality as it comes before us. When we act and respond badly to events, we injure ourselves. When we act and respond well, we are adding goodness to the substance of our individuality. Isn't this what is meant, at least in part, by the verse, "Rejoice and jump for joy" when you are persecuted? To be dealt a blow of injustice is to be handed a priceless opportunity to add moral stuff to our personal being.

I also know from experience that this way of conceiving it is a huge practical help with the problem of gall. Since that day, when I am tempted (as I often am) to become bitter over wrongs done to me or someone I love, I remember my friend's example and find real moral strength in it. Instead of letting myself be consumed with resentment over the ugly reality that this person did that horrible thing, I'm able, in a way I didn't use to be, to say to myself, "Hoo boy, what a wretch. So glad I don't have to live with that habit of being. He must be so unhappy." 

Of course that doesn't necessarily mean that I abandon the pursuit of justice. Depending on the case and circumstances, I may still judge it right to stand up and fight for that—for the good of the wrongdoer and victim alike.

But it does serve to neutralize the gall that would otherwise poison my soul.