The effects and consequences of people misinterpreting other people fascinate me. Effects that go well beyond a simple mishearing or a slipshod conversational rejoinder that results in: (1) brisk stumble, (2) bemusement from all parties, and (3) laughter, fantastic segue, or sympathetic or gibing attempts to understand said fuck-up. What I’m talking about is all-out war, an obdurate fixation handed down from one person’s inner demigod. The combative cant, the bitter visages, the determination to despise over something that really isn’t worth the trouble. The grudge gone awry.
Under normal circumstances, a misunderstanding can be cleared up with a fleeting tete-a-tete, or a phone call, or an e-mail (though the latter is the most impersonal and, as such, capable of allowing the intentions to be further misinterpreted). Or it can be settled with a thick skin or a sense of humor extant within one or both parties involved. In fact, there are any number of clarification methods which can be carried out within 30 seconds. But sometimes the default response involves damning the other party, or one party going completely crazy over a comparatively trivial remark (priced at a hawker’s con against, say, the disparity between the rich and the poor, or the tearing down of yet another nifty art deco building to build some Southern California Cinder Block Revival monstrosity). Behavioral patterns, when adopting this limitless enmity, again over something very silly and pedantic, beget this form of grudge. The grudge calls out, “Hey! Adopt me! You’re going nowhere in life by your own assessment! And there’s never room for mellow!” And so another mark is scratched onto the Sam Browne belt. Another person to hate, another soul to rebuke.
Perhaps this upsurge, which seems in greater stock these days, has something to do with the shortened days. Or a lingering side effect from the scared shitless sloppy seconds hovering around post-911 American life. There is no jobless recovery this time around. And there certainly aren’t the jobs we enjoyed in the 1990s. Perhaps what it amounts to is etiolated folk jonesing for their precious Daylight Savings Time. Once the daylight returns, it is my firm belief that more folks will chill. But whatever the cause, the response generally involves the nastiest and ugliest of remarks. Words devoid of frivolity or obvious subtext. We’re talking serious castigations. And the only difference between the deliberate grudge and the sentiments of a schizophrenic vagrant is that the vagrant is mentally troubled, tragically ignored by most people, and decidedly less coherent.
86 sheets or blacklisting (and sometimes perceived exclusion) can be effected at the grudge’s worst level. Opportunities passed over to someone who fits the head honcho’s bill. Other results include “flames” (in the online world), or threats of professional and/or financial ruin (if you’re a hotheaded journalist du jour who simply can’t let the work speak for itself).
One often sees the grudge develop when the human animal is placed in conditions of extreme boredom, or has something to prove, or possesses a partially self-loathing nature, or simply perceives something he disagrees with. The grudge holder wants to fulfill his antipodal realization (which is nowhere nearly as Manichean as the grudge holder believes). And the disgrace which caused the grudge, no matter how insignificant, is tantamount to the offender pissing on some statesman’s grave, or sleeping with his s.o.
In its most innocuous form, the words “Fuck you” (and sometimes “Fuck you, motherfucker”) are the telling indicator. At first listen, these words are, of course, harmless and, beyond the colorful connotations and the association with filth, omnipresent and benign — probably an effort by the declarant (whose remark may make him a potential grudge holder or target) to let off some steam. It could be an admonishment directed towards some negative quality in another individual, something the declarant can’t voice gently or politely, or (in most cases) something completely different. But quality may very well be something the grudge target may not be aware of. Since society frowns upon addressing these qualities, and since mistakes often result in “probe teams” being formed by television networks who feign astonishment over halftime hijinks, the environment is more tailored to fierce negativity.
Before dwelling upon the grudge’s ramifications, it’s worth noting that there are a sizable number of things that people will not refer to in everyday discourse: an adjacent individual’s body odor or banal cell phone patter, the bad combover, and an African-American granted license to call his associates “niggas” (while the Caucasian is declared racist for expressing this same loving tone). Beyond this, there’s rudeness and unpleasant behavior which is ultimately subjective, understood by parties possessing similar interests — name your annoyance of choice to a peer. Often accord on these latter points is reached through events known as “bitchfests,” often healthy avenues that help parties to avoid forming grudges. The great irony is that it is perfectly acceptable for Person A to mention Person B’s negative qualities to Person C, provided that Person B is not around or unlikely to hear Person A’s assessment. The relationship between Person A and Person B still holds, though often with Person B unaware of his own deficiencies.
These extant factors practically ensure that a remark will be misinterpreted, misperceived, dwelt upon too much, or otherwise identified as cavil. The grudge maker will often take the declarant’s words too much to heart, resulting in the offense either being expressed to the declarant (with some chance of resolution) or, most likely, held in check. And when this voicing is avoided, the chances of another remark stinging and turning into a full-grown grudge increase.
Now all of us carry a certain amount of rage and get fired up over particular issues. Within the context of a legitimate argument or an honest framing, there is nothing wrong with this. It is an all too human response to feel, and even the most rational mind can be brought to tears by something bizarre or inoffensive to an altogether different person. But when this feeling gets out of hand, when complete castigation is brought upon by flimsy pretext, when said target has not, shall us say, murdered another individual, one wonders why the fuss exists or the grudge is allowed to manifest.
The grudge is a curious byproduct of Western life. Here we all are, including those who toil in the shit service sector, making a hell of a lot more than someone in an export processing zone. Whereas the EPZ worker is drudging for pennies an hour, often for products that Westerners use and consume, and has such pressing concerns on his mind like whether his family will eat this week on the penurious salary, the Western grudge maker musters ado over comparatively nothing. The bitch who cut me off on the highway, the party guest who dared to make an off-color joke.
One clue to this focus is that, out of all the scenes in Dirty Harry, most people remember Clint Eastwood’s famous “Do you feel lucky?” speech. It’s a monologue detailing the precise method of revenge. In Eastwood’s speech, there is no question as to whether the revenge is earned. The vicious hoodlum has it coming. To hell with rehabilitation.
There have been backlashes to being realistic about human emotions, namely through Heidi Julavits’ anti-snark manifesto and similar sorts of touchy-feely ersatz influences (cf., Quirkyalone, New Age, Who Moved My Cheese?, Dr. Phil, et al.) – all of which show no sign of dying. And even if they do perish, there will be another. Self-help is the elxiir. If there is a common theme to these movements, it involves being nice and sanguine, with the acolytes consciously aware of how pleasant they are. One considers why Howard Dean’s infamous Iowa yell was declared to be in bad form or “unpresidential.” When in fact it was, unfortunately for him, all too human.
Where does this leave the grudge? When considered against a limited existential template, the grudge is just itching to come out. It is unreasonable to be emotional (i.e., “negative”), and yet it is all too pragmatic for the grudge maker to go out of his way to hate or exclude without wit or frivolity.
Or to put it another way: How many lawsuits were filed last year?