Negative Feelings Toward Others
The following is the 17th chapter in AWARENESS: A de Mellow Spirituality Conference in His Own Words
by Fr. Anthony de Mello, S.J. edited by J. Francis Stroud, S.J., Copyright © 1990 by the Center for Spiritual Exchange
“At one of my conferences, someone made the following observation:
“I want to share with you something wonderful that happened to me. I went to the movies and I was working shortly after that and I was really having trouble with three people in my life. So I said, ‘All right, just like I learned at the movies, I’m going to come outside myself.’ For a couple of hours, I got in touch with my feelings, with how badly I felt toward these three people. I said, ‘I really hate those people.’ Then I said, ‘Jesus, what can you do about all that?’ A little while later I began to cry, because I realized that Jesus died for those very people and they couldn’t help how they were, anyway. That afternoon I had to go to the office, where I spoke to those people. I told them what my problem was and they agreed with me. I wasn’t mad at them and I didn’t hate them anymore.”
Anytime you have a negative feeling toward anyone, you’re living in an illusion. There’s something seriously wrong with you. You’re not seeing reality. Something inside of you has to change. But what do we generally do when we have a negative feeling? “He is to blame, she is to blame. She’s got to change.” No! The world’s all right. The one who has to change is you.
One of you told of working in an institution. During a staff meeting someone would inevitably say, “The food stinks around here,” and the regular dietitian would go into orbit. She has identified with the food. She is saying, “Anyone who attacks the food attacks me; I feel threatened.” But the “I” is never threatened; it’s only the “me” that is threatened.
But suppose you witness some out-and-out injustice, something that is obviously and objectively wrong. Would it not be a proper reaction to say this should not be happening? Should you somehow want to involve yourself in correcting a situation that’s wrong? Someone’s injuring a child and you see abuse going on. How about that kind of thing? I hope you did not assume that I was saying you shouldn’t do anything. I said that if you didn’t have negative feelings you’d be much more effective, much more effective. Because when negative feelings come in, you go blind. “Me” steps into the picture, and everything gets fouled up. Where we had one problem on our hands before, now we have two problems. Many wrongly assume that not having negative feelings like anger and resentment and hate means that you do nothing about a situation. Oh no, oh no! You are not affected emotionally but you spring into action. You become very sensitive to things and people around you. What kills the sensitivity is what many people would call the conditioned self: when you so identify with “me” that there’s too much of “me” in it for you to see things objectively, with detachment. It’s very important that when you swing into action, you be able to see things with detachment. But negative emotions prevent that.
What, then, would we call the kind of passion that motivates or activates energy into doing something about objective evils? Whatever it is, it is not a reaction; it is action.
Some of you wonder if there is a gray area before something becomes an attachment, before identification sets in. Say a friend dies. It seems right and very human to feel some sadness about that. But what reaction? Self-pity? What would you be grieving about? Think about that. What I’m saying is going to sound terrible to you, but I told you, I’m coming from another world. Your reaction is personal loss, right? Feeling sorry for “me” or for other people your friend might have brought joy to. But that means you’re feeling sorry for other people who are feeling sorry for themselves. If they’re not feeling sorry for themselves, what would they be feeling sorry for? We never feel grief when we lose something that we have allowed to be free, that we have never attempted to possess. Grief is a sign that I made my happiness depend on this thing or person, at least to some extent. We’re so accustomed to hear the opposite of this that what I say sounds inhuman, doesn’t it?”