I recently posted a blog about jealousy, and that led me to pondering the nature of revenge, which is usually, but not always, a part of the response to jealousy….But revenge also stands alone as a deeply ingrained part of our human personality, something that anybody in any culture or society or religious affiliation can respond to, in one way or another…It has existed for millenniums, and it is a common theme in literature, movies and novels throughout the centuries…
According to my Google sources: “Revenge is a harmful action against a person or group in response to a grievance, be it real or perceived. It is also called payback, retribution, retaliation or vengeance; it may be characterized as a form of justice, even an altruistic action which enforces societal or moral justice aside from the legal system.”
Revenge is in fact usually by definition the antithesis of legal propriety, it is not a calm, measured response to some real or imagined offense, but a deeply emotional retribution, the so called “lynch mob” mentality of instant justice, or “street justice” loosely derived and justified by biblical references to “an eye for an eye”…People hell bent on revenge have no time or respect for observing the legal niceties of a given situation, depending on the severity of the offense….
If in an extreme example, a member of your family is killed by another person, you will most likely want to revenge yourself upon the person who killed them right now, and not trust the law to let them slip off the hook because of some legal loopholes or fancy well paid lawyer’s manipulation…This has happened all to often for many people, and thus they feel a driving, urgent need to seek revenge themselves, to literally “take the law into their own hands” and punish the wrongdoer on the spot….
They may or may not act on these impulses, they may or may not be restrained by any implications of further retribution, but this is generally how the cycle of revenge is perpetuated, especially among younger people affiliated with gangs in today’s society. They contribute to the escalating cycle of violence, justifying it as payback, retribution, or retaliation….
But then each act of revenge is met by another retaliatory act of further revenge, until how it all got started and who is really to blame gets lost amongst all the bloodshed…This is not just a recent modern phenomenon, the feud between the Hatfield’s and the McCoy’s, Wyatt Earp and his brothers vs the Clantons, (resulting in the shootout at the OK corral) even the Shakespearean plays “Hamlet” and “Othello” are all revenge based….
The idea of revenge as an accepted and easily understood cultural phenomenon permeates our human history and various societies… Often commonly referred to as a vendetta or a “blood feud,” defined by Google as: “Vendettas or “blood feuds” are cycles of provocation and retaliation, fueled by a burning desire for revenge and carried out over long periods of time by familial or tribal groups; they were an important part of many pre-industrial societies, especially in the Mediterranean region.”
But we in the Western world are certainly not immune from the concept and practice of revenge either… In fact, it was a well known and integral part of the world of our own European medieval ancestors as well…Again, according to Google sources: “During the Middle Ages most would not regard an insult or injury as settled until it was avenged, or, at the least, paid for — hence, the extensive Anglo-Saxon system of wergild (literally, “man-price”) payments, which placed a certain monetary value upon certain acts of violence in an attempt to limit the spiral of revenge by codifying the responsibility of a malefactor.”
It seems that revenge, like jealousy, is one of those common, illogical primitive emotions that have both universal and historical connotations and implications, and as such are an inescapable part of the human experience…Some religions encourage it as sacred doctrine, others preach the futility of revenge and advise “turning the other cheek” as a means of dealing with these most primal and deep seated human emotions…
It is said that love and hate are the flip sides of the same coin, so that the desire for revenge when it is motivated by the loss of a loved one, and the hatred fueled desire to get even, is inevitable….The deep, burning desire to avenge the loss is a seemingly universal reaction, and how do we really stop such a deep seated, historically human emotion? I don’t believe that we can totally ever eliminate revenge, we are just hard wired to want it, we need it….And one way or another, we will get it….
But we should at least try to tighten up the legal system, close up the loopholes, eliminate or curtail the ability of rich people who can afford high priced lawyers to just “walk” while poorer people are invariably punished, so that the cycle of violence stops, and the aggrieved parties can get at least some degree of satisfaction…Otherwise we are doomed to a never ending cycle of violence, where anarchy and chaos rule….And the obscene proliferation of guns on the street, and their easy availability, should be addressed and curtailed immediately!
Or at the very least, we should at least try to stop acting in such a typically human, hotblooded, off the hook, predictably emotional response of immediate retribution….Maybe we should all just take a deep breath, and pause and consider the old Vulcan proverb:
“Revenge is a dish best served cold.”