Resentment

There’s an interesting Special Report in this week’s Sports Illustrated about Johnny Manziel’s downfall from the heights he had attained as a football player. The report suggests that his problem stems from the fact that he came from a wealthy family and never really had to work for anything. Nor was he denied anything, apparently. The author of the report, Emily Kaplan, suggests that he is the product of entitlement, the sense that so many young people have as a result of being spoiled.

In Johnny Football’s case, this came to a head in his second year with the Cleveland Browns of the NFL when he was put into a game after the starting quarterback was injured and brought the team back to one of their very few wins in what had been an inglorious season. He expected to be named the starting quarterback but when the starter recovered and was restored to the highest post, Johnny Football “lost it.” He has had a history, apparently, of sulking and feeling sorry for himself when he doesn’t get what he wants and he goes on a binge, drinking himself silly. He frequently makes mistakes while drunk and later apologies and expects to be forgiven. After several attempts to help Johnny with his problem, the Browns finally gave up and Manziel’s future as a professional football player is in doubt.

I have written about the entitlement issue before and I have argued that it stems, in part at least, from the “self esteem” movement that has swept the lower grades in our schools and has also been bought into by a great many people in the culture at large where trophies are now given to kids simply for “participation” in various events.  The movement reinforces the tendency that parents have shown to try to give their kids the things they themselves lacked while growing up. Everyone wins. No one loses. This, of course, is bollocks. There are winners and there are losers and all of us are one or the other at some point in our lives. Indeed, we almost certainly learn more from our losses than we do from our wins. In any event, the issue goes deep into our collective psyche.

Christopher Lasch has written extensively about what he calls out social “narcissism,” our self-involvement, which, he insists, stems from the lack of an authority figure in our lives. When the child is told he is terrific and begins to think he can walk on water because he has been told he can be anything he wants to be; when fathers and mothers fail to draw lines and punish their children when those lines are ignored; when everyone is given a trophy and high grades; when these sorts of things start to happen the child becomes disoriented. He doesn’t know where the lines are — if there are any. He starts to do whatever it takes to draw attention to himself in order to see if there are any lines. When he discovers that there are none, or at least none that are clearly drawn, he starts to draw his own. When this behavior is augmented in school by teachers who tell him he can do no wrong, that all his projects are A+, he begins to have a very large idea of himself. This scenario, unfortunately, is becoming more and more common. In Johnny Manziel’s case it is simply writ large and we can see that his sense of what Joseph Butler called “resentment” led him to believe that when he doesn’t get what he wants he should respond by “getting even,” paying back those who have denied him the treasure he thinks he deserves. As Butler noted in this regard:

Although moral evil gives rise to pain which can strengthen this settled resentment, the object of the resentment is not the pain or harm done but instead the design or intention to morally injure, harm, do wrong and injustice. And the goal of resentment is to cause appropriate injury in a wrongdoer. . .

This is the “I’ll show YOU!” syndrome of the spoiled child; it is the first step down a slippery slope toward certain disaster. Ironically, in Manziel’s case the “wrongdoer” turns out to be himself.

One worries about Johnny Manziel. One ought also to worry about those others who are in his shadow and are following the same path downwards. There are many more of them than we might want to admit even though their stories don’t make Sports Illustrated.

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