“An eye for an eye makes the whole world blind.” – Gandhi
I met my friends Brian and Melissa shortly after they got married about twelve years ago. They had a good relationship but they had a recurring fight they couldn’t seem to resolve – like many couples. Melissa has been giving money to various family members and Brian feared that she was more committed to her family than she is to him. Melissa fears she could lose her family if she cuts them off financially.
The problem between Brian and Melissa is nothing out of the ordinary. Couples with the best of relationships have disagreements around really important issues – and family and finances top the list. Emotions can run high and both partners can wind up taking things personally, feeling hurt and getting angry. How they handle those feelings and resolve those conflicts is crucial.
How did Brian handle his frustration and anger? He had an affair.
Well, that was a dumb idea.
Some of us have learned conflict resolution skills. Some of us haven’t. Unfortunately, some people have learned only to throw a grenade into a problem and then watch it explode, wanting everyone to hurt as much as they.
What is At the Root of Revenge?
I can understand what is going through the head of someone who is angry at being hurt. The logic behind the typical revenge fantasy goes something like this: if I make people who hurt me feel as bad as they have made me feel, they will realize how much they have hurt me. In other words, “They’ll be sorry!” Some even think that their target will become sympathetic, regret their offending behavior and apologize.
Some are convinced that they have to “hit back” in order to maintain their pride. If they don’t “hit back” they think they are weak in “allowing” another to hurt them.
Boy, are they wrong. What I have learned by observing the havoc wreaked by my friend’s affair is that the vengeful are the ones who ultimately suffer the most. There is a popular saying about those who seek revenge; “they drink poison and wait for the other person to die”.
It is easy for me, as an outsider, to observe the damage that revenge can cause. As soon as the news broke about Brian’s affair, I realized that any reasonable concerns Brian had about Melissa and her family will remain unresolved since they have been eclipsed by his vengeful affair. Furthermore, Brian’s retaliatory actions show that he wasn’t committed to his wife and that he chose instead to intentionally hurt her. He acted like the type of person that he feared she was. Kind of ironic, huh?
However, Brian still insists to me that his affair was justified. The way he sees it, his wife hurt him, so he should be allowed to hurt her in return. Looking back, I realized that Brian always had difficulty giving even the most well-intentioned people the benefit of the doubt for any of their missteps, misunderstandings or even their bad days. Yet, he now expects me to treat his intentional attack as no big deal. Ironic again.
How Revenge Destroys Trust
Unfortunately, Brian’s actions instilled distrust in me. I learned that should he and I ever get into a conflict, he believed that “an eye for an eye” is an acceptable response. While I still maintained contact with him, we no longer shared the closeness we once had. Apparently I wasn’t alone. Most in our social circle shook their heads in disappointment regarding Brian’s behavior and expressed the difficulty they had with his decisions.
There was another fallout from Brian’s affair that I did not see coming. The relationships among the people around him shifted as well. I noticed how a few of our mutual friends took sides and aligned with Brian, failing to acknowledge that what he did was wrong. Call me naïve, but it was this response to Brian’s situation that had me scratching my head the most. Two wrongs don’t make a right – right?
I can understand why Brian was blind to his own actions – he was angry and his life was a mess at the time. But, I would hope that those with a more objective view of the situation would show some acknowledgement of the severity of Brian’s actions – and perhaps give some guidance to our wayward friend.
It was strange, since many of them seemed to be on the quiet side. They would never attack another person overtly. Or so I thought. The more I observed, the more I realized that the people who aligned with Brian were more like him than not. By standing silently behind him they were finding a voice for their own repressed anger and expressing it vicariously through him.
Throughout that time in my life I was surprised, horrified and also fascinated by how different people align or disconnect from someone who is vengeful. I have learned that ultimately, vengeful people will lose the kind and compassionate people around them and be left with only those who also believe in vengeance. That does not feel like a safe group to me.
None of us are perfect and all of us can lose our cool and lash out at someone. My guess is that most of us regret it as soon as it happens. Unfortunately, however, for some, revenge is simply their way of being.
Thankfully, not everyone believes that revenge is the answer to every problem. The more we all learn to deal with our feelings and to resolve conflict in a constructive way, the better our individual well-being becomes. That well-being is an example that can extend to our families, communities, country and the world at large. It is a tall order but we all have the power to begin right now, in our own lives, to stop vengeful behavior at a personal, community and global level.
Two wrongs don’t make a right. Retaliation, vindictiveness and revenge simply don’t work. Avengers certainly hurt others, but ultimately they sabotage themselves the most.