VENGEANCE vs. FORGIVENESS   6 comments

I think it’s safe to say that vengeance is the most powerful obstacle to forgiveness. I have been reminded of that recently in reading Dan Ariely’s The Upside of Irrationality

I’m especially alert these days to quotable material as I anticipate the four-session discussion of forgiveness I’ll be leading at Mount Calvary Lutheran Church in Excelsior, Minnesota. So I made note of page 151 where he reports “good advice about not engaging in revenge.”

A number of wise men have warned us against the would-be benefits of vengeance. Mark Twain said, “Therein lies the defect of revenge: it’s all in the anticipation; the thing itself is a pain, not a pleasure; at least the pain is the biggest end of it.” Walter Weckler further observed that “revenge has no more quenching effect on emotions than salt water has on thirst.” And Albert Schweitzer noted that “Revenge … is like a rolling stone, which, when a man hath forced up a hill, will return upon him with a greater violence, and break those bones whose sinews gave it motion.”

 The problem is, as Ariely points out, the urge to vengeance is a powerful built in response to perceived offense. For those who would encourage forgiveness – as I do – it’s a problem requiring solution. Part of the solution lies in the other point he makes, that the vengeful emotion fades a bit with time. That’s why we count to ten, I guess.

But there are other things we can do, as some of my clients have done. We can, for example, engage in wonderful fantasies of clever methods of torturing the offender. Carrying out the fantasies would probably not be a good idea, much as they would backfire on oneself  – guilt, for example, an awareness that one’s own morality has been breached.  Or the very fact that someone who has been punished rarely smiles with a “Thanks I needed that.” Nope, vengeance breeds vengeance.

But maybe we need to add something. Vengeance doesn’t necessarily mean physical violence. In fact, Ariely goes on to give examples of what might be called positive effects of vengeance. One quick example (page 154). Cornelius Vanderbilt, whose successful steamship company was basically stolen from him by a couple of associates, responded as follows:  “Gentlemen, you have undertaken to cheat me. I won’t sue you, for the law is too slow. I’ll ruin you.” Then he formed a new company so successful that eventually he regained control of his first company.

OK. I’m sure the punished associates didn’t perceive that as positive. For them it was emotional and financial violence. But it did work for Vanderbilt.

I’ll leave it at that. Food for thought. Knowing the hazards of vengeance, how do we handle it when it comes so naturally? It’s complicated. And now I’ll shamelessly refer to my two forgiveness books, both of which recognize that forgiveness is a difficult but doable process: When to Forgive and Forgiving One Page at a Time.

And if you come across some nice, tidy “forgiveness” saying, I’d be very happy if you’d share it in a comment. Or maybe even a personal story of dealing with vengeance?

6 responses to “VENGEANCE vs. FORGIVENESS

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  1. How nice our blogs are related these days. vengeance…punishment…evil circles

  2. forgiveness is very hard to do. It took me years but I have forgiven all who have hurt me

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