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Monday, April 13, 2009

Vengeance: On the Unworkability of Vengeance

I find three major reasons to purge all thoughts and feelings of vengeance from my life:

1. It is abhorrent to the value systems I honor.

2. Lusting after vengeance raises my blood pressure, makes me physically and emotionally unhealthy, and causes my life to be dominated by suffering rather than joy.

3. It doesn't work. Whether personal or international, vengeance begets more vengeance in an unending cycle.

The Buddha says, "Holding on to anger is like grasping a hot coal with the intent of throwing it at someone else; you are the one who gets burned." and "Hate is never conquered by hate, Hate is only conquered by love."

Jesus says, "You have heard that it was said, 'Eye for eye, and tooth for tooth.' But I tell you, Do not resist an evil person. If someone strikes you on the right cheek, turn to him the other also. You have heard that it was said, 'Love your neighbor and hate your enemy.' But I tell you: Love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you." (Matthew 5:38-39,43-44)

Ever heard of the Hatfield-McCoy feud? In the post-Civil War period, these families indulged in reciprocal murder in the hills of West Virginia and Kentucky. In several ways, the feud was typical of feuds throughout history. It began in a small way and escalated. Belief systems were involved (the families had been on opposite sides of the Civil War). Honor, land, and tangible property were at stake. Some say it began as an argument over a pig. One way in which it was not typical is that it was over in thirty years. Some of the world's great feuds have been fought continuously for over a thousand years.

The Hatfield-McCoy feud is a useful example because few if any people alive today have a vested interest in it. It is relatively easy to see that killing each other over a pig, small amounts of money, accusations of lying, a clandestine affair, and the like, is sheer foolishness. But what about the feuds in which we are personally involved - both interpersonal and international.

My first instinct whenever I have been injured is to seek revenge. I believe it's a human reaction that is as old as humanity itself. A business partner didn't repay a large loan to me. I wanted revenge. I was sued over something that wasn't my fault. I wanted revenge. Clearly the act of wanting revenge is counterproductive. Anger and hate are unpleasant emotions. In my quest to live a joyful life, anger and hate have no place.

But suppose I could succeed in my vengeance? Wouldn't I feel really good? Maybe briefly, but the elation would be short-lived. Achieving victory at the expense of someone else's suffering isn't my cup of tea. Moreover, the vengeance would escalate, because no one wants to feel a perceived dishonor. Since I have made the choice to stop my anger, hate, and vengeance, my life has been far happier and healthier.

Vengeance on an international scale is just a larger version of the Hatfield-McCoy feud. Anger, hatred, murder, revenge killing. Generation after generation murdering in an attempt to extract vengeance for the deeds of their ancestors. Where does it stop? Sometimes one side prevails militarily for a time. Then what? Perhaps the defeated party gains renewed strength and resumes the battle. If the weaker side remains subjugated, they develop the attitude and skills of a cornered ferret. They will fight to the death - house to house - as in Palestine today.

Do feuds ever end? Only when both sides shake hands, and agree that there is no winner, no loser, only people who have wearied of fighting and desire to live in peace. For many years, Northern Ireland was locked in a murderous and seemingly unending feud. The key to ending the feud was a shared commitment that peace was more important than vengeance. That is always the choice to be made. The organizers of an April 10, 2009 joint Protestant-Catholic commemoration of the Northern Ireland dead, comprised of members of the once-outlawed Sinn Fein as well as their once-avowed enemies, referred to, "the terrible, random nature of death in war and civil conflict." Some lessons have been learned, many more remain.

5 comments:

  1. While I agree that seeking revenge can be a debilitating human weakness, I believe that people have a right, and an obligation to their fellow man, to seek justice for the wrong doings of others. However, some might confuse the two.

    ReplyDelete
  2. One has to see the conditions which create worng-doers, in the first place. Hitler's "willing executioners" were created as much by parents and teachers, as they were by preachers and politicians not to mention propaganda. Mass media only motivates the prepared. The readiness to kill the other is not an act of "free will" but of a hijacked will.

    ReplyDelete
  3. I have been in a family feud/sibling rivalry with my sister for years. I have been the target of her jealously,paranoia,greed, addictive/toxic personality and deep seeded hatred for years. The worst part is we are joint owners together in a family farm business. Recently she had a problem and tried to blame it on me. I really had nothing to fear because I did nothing wrong, but the fact that she threatened to sue me for her own mistake and ignorance, made me really angry and I realized just how deep her hatred was. Had she been able to discuss her issues rationally, it could have been figured out faster and with less stress. This is what our relatinship has come to, its over. Before this,I had tried to have a healhty relationship with her, but now I realize she is just too toxic. Forgive and forget? More like just forget her and not have anything to do with her, because her threatening me was the last straw, I need to get as far away from her as I can, mentally, emotionally and spiritually. All she cares about is money and trying to destroy me. Her own hatred will eat her up.

    ReplyDelete
  4. Harboring resentment toward another is like ingesting poison, hoping they die from it.

    ReplyDelete
  5. life has is ups and downs it how all of us get back up. and stay up people are goallys they try to stop you from getting you goals and they will if it happyness love money health frends every thing rember wolves come in sheeps close and they try to steel your hart and they willtrust me its happen to me a few times and it hurts

    ReplyDelete

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