Snyderian Truism #8

There is no particular order to my truisms. As I think of one, I write it down and it takes its place numerically. We are now up to #8, which is one I’ve had to learn from experience and also one I’ve seen in history; that’s one reason I share it in class. It goes like this:

Bitterness may make you feel good temporarily, but it leads to personal destruction.

Richard NixonOne of the prime examples I use in American history is the case of Richard Nixon. I believe Nixon was treated badly by the press during his time in office, from his first days as a congressman, to his selection as Eisenhower’s vice president, to his supposed loss to JFK in the 1960 election, and then his failure to win the governorship of California in 1962. Over time, this unfair, biased treatment got under his skin and, it seems to me, developed into a bitterness that eventually was his downfall in Watergate.

The point is this: Nixon had reason to be upset with the way in which he had been sullied by the media of his day. Many of them had an agenda to smear his reputation. That was inexcusable. Yet Nixon didn’t handle the personal campaign against him in the proper spirit, at least not after the gubernatorial loss. His words to the press when he delivered his concession speech give a clue to the growing bitterness within: “You won’t have Nixon to kick around anymore.”

Richard Nixon & Watergate TapesThe bitterness eventually led to an enemies list, particularly of reporters who were hostile against him. While the perception of their hostility was accurate, his reaction to their hostility only fanned the flames. When Watergate erupted, they got their revenge. Nixon’s unwillingness to acknowledge any wrongdoing on the part of his chief aides and supporters and his attempt to hide evidence were inextricably linked to his personal embitterment toward the press.

In the case of Nixon, not only was bitterness the cause of personal destruction, but it was the catalyst that almost sent the nation reeling over a constitutional crisis. It definitely helped create an atmosphere of unease and uncertainty as we were seeking to work our way out of the Vietnam morass.

The original source for this principle emanates from Scripture. In the book of Hebrews, we’re told,

Pursue peace with all men, and the sanctification without which no one will see the Lord. See to it that no one comes short of the grace of God; that no root of bitterness springing up causes trouble, and by it many be defiled.

When we allow bitterness to take root, it not only hurts us, but the ripples of that bitterness reach out to many others. The warning in that passage of Scripture is quite clear: bitterness separates from God; without sanctification, no one will see the Lord. We need to take the warning seriously.