Do You Have a Shit List?

Do you keep list of people who've wronged you? People you would try to thwart personally or professionally if you're presented with a not-too-inconvenient opportunity in the future (aggressive version) or people who you simply will not talk to / work with again (neutral version)?Shitlist

I have one in my head, and I'm pondering: a) If I should write it down / formalize it and b) Whether I should have such a list at all.

My pause comes from uncertainty over how I feel about forgiveness. Spiritual leaders usually include the ability to forgive as part of the enlightened man's emotional toolkit. Accepting the fact that people make mistakes, not dwelling on negativity, letting go of the revenge instinct: these are all seen as Good Things.

Yet it's complicated. If you forgive and forget you risk being hurt in the same way in the future — you risk not learning from your mistakes. Also, if the betrayal is particularly egregious, by accepting and forgiving you might send a message to others that the behavior in question is okay. We all know people who get taken advantage of because they are known to not hold firm on certain standards.

One advantage I see to adding someone to an (aggressive) shit list is it may help bring peace in the present as you can say to yourself, It's ok, I'll get back at him in the future, I can move on now. But this also might represent a burden of negative energy, and precludes the possibility of forgiveness. The neutral version — simply resolving to not work with the person in any capacity going forward — is probably better and lacks the icy revenge aspect.

Brad Feld in a recent post explained his "fuck me over once rule" — it takes two breaches of trust to land on Brad's shit list.

Bottom Line: I'm uncertain whether maintaining a shit list is a good thing. Forgiveness is complicated.

27 comments on “Do You Have a Shit List?
  • I’d agree with (b), although (a) might mean spending too much time on it =)

    I was f*cked by business partners 2 years ago, and lost lots of cash. Spent time dwelling, but never managed to reach a resolution. However, over time, I’ve managed to push this aside, and learn from the experience. I no longer feel the urge to chase for a resolution, nor do I feel a need to get back at these people.

    One thing to note though – when someone’s wronged you, you NEVER forget. And there’s probably no need to formalise it. If you’ve got a very long list, then perhaps there’s something wrong with you =P

    Good piece, Ben!

  • I definitely have a shit list in my head. Personally, I’m very passive about “getting back” at people, and generally pretty forgiving – it takes a lot of wrongdoing to get on my shit list – but once people are on there’s no getting off.

    I do feel the need to protect myself and remind people that they shouldn’t mess with me, but it’s not something I want to carry around all the time. I feel like writing the list down would make me feel worse, not better, in the end.

  • To people worthy of making it to your Hall of shame, why give them the honor of finding precious storage and the privilege of populating your database?

    Take my word, such folks are the quickest to make it from out of 10000 sperms.

    So, ignore.

  • I’ve got a list (and I’m sure I am on one or two others). I forgive and move on, but it’s more a reminder of who not to do business with anymore.

  • I heard a Zig Ziglar story years ago about how he got cut off while driving down the road once. He said he started yelling at the other driver, talking about him for several minutes. Later that day he told other people about it. Later on he did it again. All day long he thought about and talked about this rude driver.

    The rude driver, however, drove merrily along, completely oblivious to the fact that Zig had given away his whole day to the guy.

    I think about this story a lot.

    Shit lists are destructive to the extent that I’ve given control over my time, life and mood to another. There seems to be a difference between saying “I now know not to do that again” and saying “I’m going to hurt that person somehow.” The former is a result from a learning experience. The latter is an enormous waste of time.

  • For me, forgiveness is essential for a balanced soul. It can be hard in many cases. I heard someone recommend once that if you’re awake at 2:00 a.m. because of a resentment, drive by the individual’s home whom you are resenting, one can bet they’re not awake. I believe there is a significant difference between forgiving and forgetting. Forgiving frees you as well as the forgiven, but we must not forget if we’re to learn from experience.

    Emmet Fox goes into detail on forgiveness in his book “The Sermon On the Mount” (sorry for the length, he then goes on to give practical advice on “how” to forgive someone):

    Setting others free means setting yourself free, because resentment is really a form of attachment. It is a Cosmic Truth that it takes two to make a prisoner; the prisoner–and a gaoler. There is no such thing as being a prisoner on one’s own account. Every prisoner must have a gaoler, and the gaoler is as much a prisoner as his charge. When you hold resentment against anyone, you are bound to that person by a cosmic link, a real, though mental chain. You are tied by a cosmic tie to the thing that you hate. The one person perhaps in the whole world whom you most dislike is the very one to whom you are attaching yourself by a hook that is stronger than steel. Is this what you wish? Is this the condition in which you desire to go on living? Remember, you belong to the thing with which you are linked in thought, and at some time or other, if that tie endures, the object of your resentment will be drawn again into your life, perhaps to work further havoc. Do you think that you can afford this? Of course, no one can afford such a thing; and so the way is clear. You must cut all such ties, by a clear and spiritual act of forgiveness. You must loose him and let him go. By forgiveness you set yourself free; you save your soul. And because the law of love works alike for one and all, you help to save his soul too, making it just so much easier for him to become what he ought to be.

  • I think that making a list is the right idea…if only to help you stop thinking about the person.

    Paradoxically, I find that writing things down helps me to forget things.

    It’s pretty rare to actually have an opportunity to take one’s revenge, though I have tasted that sweet delight on occasion, such as the time I used my influence to scotch an old childhood bully’s shot at a VC position.

  • Forgiveness is widely misunderstood. You can forgive a person while still remaining realistic about their personality and issues, and the place they are entitled to, or should, or that you want them to (and it is up to you) occupy in your life.

    The idea that “I forgive you” means “I’m going to treat you like my sane and kind friends, even though you are a f***ed-up maniac” is a widespread and tragic mistake.

    Forgive in the sense of letting go of the negativity the person has brought into your life. Be nice, at a suitably safe and easily maintained distance. (Some people even call this “friends”, having a wide range of uses for that word). And then get on with your life the way you want to get on with it, whether it includes tolerating but ignoring the person’s nonsense one day a year, responding briefly if they talk first, or never speaking to them again.

    The moral conundrum is more whether you should stand by and say nothing while the person messes other people around the same way they did with you, but that’s another issue.

  • Not to get all 12-step on you, but I find the fourth step written inventory *extremely* helpful here. I’m sorry it’s a PDF, but this form explains the simple but effective process:

    Holding onto a resentment is like taking poison and waiting for the other son of a bitch to die. I’d rather let go and let life deal with that person. They usually screw themselves in some way anyway.

  • Every business agreement I’ve ever made was done on a handshake– never signed a contract. I’ve only been screwed once, and if I’d let my gut feeling of dislike for the low-life scum guide me, that wouldn’t have happened.

    If I could cause him to cease to exist by wishing it, I’d certainly do so. Besides, I’m fairly sure his now ex-wife made him wish he was dead.

    You can’t forgive everybody who’s ever wronged you– the idea is absurd. Some things are unforgivable. You have no moral obligation to forgive the monster who murdered your child or the parent who beat you till you were black and blue.

    I disagree that you are attached to them by some nebulous ‘cosmic link’ until you forgive. That’s just pseudo-spiritual hoakum. As Ben said in so many words, forgiveness implies a negation of the wrong– a sort of tacit approval– as if to say, “Oh, that’s alright, you’re only human.” Pshaw.

    On the other hand, you can’t carry resentment around with you, because it’s true that it will eat you like a cancer. The best way to deal with it is to calmly state your grievance to the offender, and if reconciliation is possible, then you work out a peace.

    Brad Feld’s “fuck me over once rule” seems like a good one. Give the guy a chance to redeem himself, and if he fucks you again, assign the asshole to his slot on the shit list, and you’re done thinking about him.

    All in all, I’d say you should forget, but you assuredly don’t have to forgive.

  • Vince,
    Your comment shows very clearly that we don’t actually all mean the same thing by this word “forgiveness”.

    My idea of it is all about your own peace of mind, and nothing to do with the person you’re forgiving. You don’t have to talk to them ever again to do it. You certainly don’t owe them forgiveness. Forgiveness is never a moral obligation, it’s purely for your own benefit. It absolutely definitely does not mean you ever speak to them or do anything with them again. It’s about your wellbeing, not psychic powers.

    I blame certain religious sects for messing up our thinking on this. As soon as you make forgiving obligatory, it becomes fake and meaningless, and all about making the bad guy feel better, which is pretty much a reversal of what it ought to be (something enormously beneficial to people who have suffered crap from others)

  • I appreciate you bringing up these situations regarding morality and how it affects your life. In my life, both professional and personal there are obviously people who have wronged me and I have to face them daily. I do not have an option not to work with them or live with them for that matter. In my situation, I work with them or I get fired. I believe that it is the offendee’s reaction to the offender when the harm is done. This is key. You speak of forgiveness in your post and there is complete and incomplete forgiveness just as there is sincere and insincere apologies.

    When you completely forgive someone I don’t believe it means you have to be a rug for them to walk on again. You take your past experiences with that person into consideration and be wary of it in the future. I believe that you can have complete forgiveness and realize that it is possible that that person will strike again. Depending on the severity of what that person has done you may tell them it is better that you don’t work together anymore. At that point, I think you give your boss (if that’s you, then you have to make that choice) an ultimatum. Either them or you have to go.

    Some people will blatantly screw you over with no regard to your feelings. Others do it because they are oblivious or careless. I must say there are people whom I have offended/screwed in that past and will probably do so in the future. Is it in the eye of the beholder? I generally play the “good guy” role and am usually the screwee, but I am getting to a point in my life (I’m 27 years old) where I understand that I have to make things right because I have to work with them again. I also feel it’s the right thing to do.

    I am a firm believer of the golden rule that Jesus laid forth in the Bible. “Do unto others as you would have them do unto you.” I also think know same mentality must be integral to every area of your life, both professional and personal. So, if I take the “shit list” approach to my family, I won’t have a family for very long. Forgiveness must be complete with your business partners, peers and your family. It really is the way God designed it to work.

    Thanks again Ben and keep the thought provoking posts coming.

  • Do I have a shit list? Nope…too much energy would be expended. Like Brad Feld, when screwed over once, I pay little attention to it. Twice, and I’m liable to confront the situation, give it to him, and renegotiate the relationship. Usually works, though I filter his/her input for a period of time. In effect, “these are the boundaries I work with, buddy, and if you want to work with them–good. If not, then eventually we part company..”

    Do I keep grudges? Nahhh. Waste of time–never was important to me. A theological friend once said (perhaps accused is the better term) that I “appropriate grace very fast.” And he explained that that was one reason I didn’t carry much anger or frustration. Maybe, but there may be psychological and familial reasons too.

    I have an extensive theological background–with expertise in the New Testament. My read is that middle-class American religion way overdoes the “forgiveness bit.” Much of this business of forgiving the person who killed your son (e.g.) is bunko. There is a terrific need on the part of many people just to be religious. And expressing “forgiveness” is a great way to announce that you belong to the “righteous.” No problem if that turns you on, but it was never very useful for me. Besides, I never cared very much for the righteous–and never really trusted them either.

    Ultimately, the Pauline gospel says very little about forgiveness. Paul, in spite of his neurotic ways, was very oriented to the “new humanity”–becoming a new human and becoming a member in that humanity. And if you check out his forgiveness
    statements, they are few to negligible.

    And although Jesus said a few positive things about forgiveness, he’s not exactly a paragon of forgiveness. Jesus is much more willing to challenge the oppressive ways of the religious elite, and give them hell than talk about forgiveness.

    Give the business of forgiveness a break. This is not a big deal subject. It’s much like “humility” in the upper midwest. I grew up with Southern parents both Methodist and Baptist–and I can’t remember much about humility–but a lot about integrity and truth telling. But in this Lutheran paradise, humility is a big deal Frankly, I find Jewish arrogance more intriguing.

    In the final analysis, I see much of forgiveness as a powerful means for the established religous to control the great unwashed herd. Forgiveness makes for good press–but not much after that. The religious and the psychological are very adept at creating a reality that may not be very important. Of course, if you believe in that reality and it’s important to you, you’re in real deep shit.

    Being a septuagenarian is occasionally good for truth-telling.

  • I’m uncertain whether maintaining a shit list is a good thing. Forgiveness is complicated.

    How about this as an experiment: Maintain an open sh!t list–that is, make it public.

    Explain and cite concrete evidence as to why each entry made the list, and post it where people can easily find and identify it as your sh!t list.

    If your sh!t list is public knowledge, you’re probably going to give each selection more thought than if it were private. Who knows? You may discover that you were in the wrong.

    Likewise, it gives the people on your sh!t list the chance to defend and even redeem themselves, making forgiveness all the more likely.

    And if the person is just outrightly unscrupulous, why keep that knowledge to yourself? Others can benefit from your bad experiences and avoid that person.

    Libel may be an issue, but that’s easy enough to avoid.

  • I love what Dan says about religion.

    I recently read a horrific account of a battered wife “forgiving” her violent husband in front of a large church audience, claiming to have forgotten all about it- and going back home to the same problems, which nobody did anything to address. It’s a very abused concept.

  • I guess I’ve never really considered the philosophy behind this question personally, but looking back on my actions suggests I’m of the neutral variety. I tend to just remove people from my life when I can no longer handle interacting with them.

  • I have a somewhat sports related example (although it has proven to work just as well for me at work) that may be of interest. One of the girls I dated in college cheated on me. With a good friend of mine. Thus, both of them were suddenly on my shit list. I also played hockey in college; I decided that every player on the other team was either my ex-girlfriend or my ex-friend and proceeded to absolutely destroyed them. My coach and teammates were ecstatic about my more physical play; however after a while it took so much energy to remain angry that it started affecting the rest of my decisions/life. While for a while it may be useful, and even fun, to be at the boiling point, it is not worth the effort over time. I am not saying that I would speak highly of either individual, but I would not go out of my way to do so. It is not worth the energy when there are so many other opportunities out there (as displayed when my PIM number shrank and my Points number grew)

    Good luck

  • Hi Ben,

    I think the only good possible scenario of having a shit list would be this one:
    My grad professor had a shit list, the small group of students knew who was on the imaginary yet obvious list and who wasn’t. I always tried to be on the good list and succeeded, but I realized years after graduation that I would’ve preferred to be on the shit list.
    The grad professor fought, talked bad & honestly about your work in front of you and others, but you knew where you stood with her. At the time, my work was agreeable and didn’t push any boundaries.

    I think you care about the people on the shit list to a degree.

    Sometimes the idea of being in someone’s shit list, a person that you respect makes you work harder and learn more about yourself.

  • Ben — keep the list. it is very important to have one. but keep it small. like probably ten people is the maximum size. if an eleventh person screws you over badly, take one of the other ten off your list.

  • Not only does it seem cruel, it might lead to a libel suit.

    There are still instances where I think of someone and some situation, and it burns me to this day. It’s more that I let them get away with it, though…

  • While this post is a few months old, I have a few words to add..

    This past year in Claremont I found myself in the same situation as Dan: an ex-boyfriend and an ex-best friend. Having been seriously betrayed by both parties, I was determinedly waiting for some kind of divine justice, placing them both on my eternal “shit list.”

    I agree that at first, anger is a very energizing emotion. It is much more conducive to activity and productivity than sadness or depression. It is too difficult, however, to sustain for any great period of time. In the end, it is only corrosive and robs the bearer of the opportunity to heal.

    When a person is ready, anger gives way to forgiveness. This can take a long time. While difficult at first, it was the only means by which I was able to let go. It is important to note, however, that forgiveness is not for the benefit of another person, but only for yourself.In forgiving someone, you are not giving them some seal-of-approval: “I’m okay with your bad behavior.” You are simply making it possible to let go of their bad behavior. To that end, it is possible to forgive someone without forgetting their offenses. I will never forget the way I was treated by these two people, but now I get to live without holding anger inside.

    So long story short, I would vote no on the “shit list.” Trade in the list for forgiveness. But do it for yourself.

  • I am not sure about all this “negative energy” and spiritualist talk. It baselessly presumes conditions about the universe that are unknown and they reek of magical thinking.

    We need to deal with what we know for sure.

    What IS demonstrable is the workplace is a business, not a social club, and all actions must be considered in terms of their impact on the business and in one’s own career. Conflict can be both a hinderance to business, or a benefit. For example, customers can detect a foul mood..but employees who are not speaking to each other in a loud silence are actually doing more work and making less chit chat. There is an old saying: Familiarity Breeds Contempt”. If co-workers are TOO close, professionalism suffers. Sooner or later they know too many intimate details, minor slights get magnified into broken hearts, and confidental matters do not stay confidential.

    As to the shit’s always good to keep a mental one (never write it down)in the event that you can use it to advance your career at the expense of theirs justly, without fabrication. The question of the existence of a spirit is open, but the question of survival of the fittest is demonstrated. I am sure you are on their shitlist too. Someone is going to pull the trigger first, and if it’s you, your family eats and theirs goes hungry from unemployment. However, never act impulsively with your shit list. Make sure the perfect situation comes along before you take advantage of it. And remember, you can always modify your shit list. It isn’t carved in stone.

  • Yes.And sometimes It got to the point I was pleased to never have anything to do with them again whether it be at school,workplace and job placement service agencies.Without using names I will say some of them were complete pigs that no amount of professional help can fix.As long as I never see any of them again I am happy

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