It’s a societal default to believe that grudges are bad. I’m not supposed to hold onto negativity. I’m supposed to remember that people change.
That’s all well and good for small transgressions. The classmate that seemed rude may have just been shy. The friend that snapped at me may have just been tired. The boy that teased freshman year of high school has probably matured since then. But what about larger wrongdoings? The suitemate that stole something, the friend that told others your secrets without permission, the classmate that sexually assaulted someone?
I see my reaction to such people as less of a grudge so much as a change in attitude. When someone betrays me or wrongs me in a particularly surprising or hurtful way, my hurt and anger are not directed toward their actions so much as what they say about the person who did them. It reveals something about them as a person when they do something wrong. Rather than remaining bitter that so-and-so lied about me to mutual friends, I remain upset in my knowledge that they are the kind of person that would do such a thing. I adjust my relationship with them accordingly. I don’t tell the person with the loose tongue my secrets anymore; I don’t listen to the person who lied. If changing my perception of a person because of what their actions reveal about them is a grudge, then fine, I’ll keep it anyway.
But it’s not this simple. As I said last year, a lot of people have trouble making the same attitude adjustments toward others when they were not the ones directly affected. You can tell your best friends about the kid from class who said a bunch of misogynist crap at lunch all you want, and they may still sit next to him in class and insist on studying with them. And on a small campus, I not only see that kind of thing all the time, but often I’m forced to do it myself. It’s impossible to hide on campus. Eventually, you’re bound to take a class with someone who hurt you.
And then it’s time to decide–are you okay with doing a group project with a liar? Is it more valuable to get lunch with your friends and an insufferable ignorant person, or to keep said person out of your life? Most of the time (for me, at least), I cave. I do the project, I go get the meal. In many cases, it would be close to impossible to keep the proper distance between myself and someone who wronged me and still survive on this campus.
But what about the things that are impossible to put aside? What am I supposed to do when I know someone sexually assaulted someone else? That kind of thing, in my mind, is unforgivable. I refuse to interact with such people. I think survivors should be able to completely ignore their attackers–ideally, their attacker would be prosecuted and kicked off of campus or put in jail, or at least acknowledged by the campus community at large for what they are if the survivor doesn’t pursue a criminal complaint. Yet we know this is not the case. College after college mishandles cases of sexual assaults, and judge after judge acquit attackers because they know once the label sticks, the attacker will be rightly disapproved of for it for the rest of their lives. On the local, social level, it’s often impossible to get more than a survivor’s close group of friends to believe the attacker did anything, let alone get the whole campus to take their actions into account. What do you do when you can’t get a sexual assaulter to stop going to the same parties as you, let alone the same school? How can you be expected to give up your instincts to avoid that person and work with them, just so you can get by in an environment that refuses to be on your side? I imagine this is why so many victims leave campuses that don’t punish their attackers.
It’s apparent that no matter how important or healthy it may be to limit interactions with people who hurt you, the rest of of the world won’t always adjust with you. But I can’t help but think that when it reaches a certain point, you shouldn’t have to hold onto your grudges alone.
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