Revenge: A Motivating Factor?

Commentary Throughout history, “revenge” has been a motivating factor in geopolitical relations between countries. For example, in 2001, following the destruction of the Twin Towers in New York, the President of the United States, George W. Bush, promised swift retaliatory action against the Taliban regime in Afghanistan that harboured Osama bin Laden, the mastermind behind the bombing. Indeed, countries, when seeking to inflict retribution on other countries, are often motivated by “revenge.” Although the role of “revenge”—sometimes referred to as “retribution”—in international politics is well-documented, the destructive role played by “revenge” in the lives of ordinary people is less understood. Yet, “revenge” is a powerful feeling that most people experience, from time to time, especially when they have been slighted or treated badly. And yet, it is common knowledge that one cannot go through life without humiliating words spoken to them or having experienced some form of adversity. As a result of their inability to deal with adversity, people may nurture revengeful feelings which aim at retaliating against those by whom they have been harmed. Deep-seated vengeful feelings may even be exacerbated in troublesome times, for example, during the COVID-19 pandemic, when people are subjected to restrictions, lockdowns, constant surveillance, bans on elective surgery, and innumerable other forms of oppression that can destroy the lives of people. An injured man sits next to a restaurant in the partially destroyed neighbourhood of Mar Mikhael in the aftermath of a massive explosion in Beirut, Lebanon, on Aug. 5, 2020. (Patrick Baz/AFP via Getty Images) “Revenge” is a deeply ingrained human emotion that often defies appropriate psychological treatment; it is a base and primitive form of an eye-for-an-eye strategy. Although people may feel temporary satisfaction when exacting revenge, the relevant literature discloses that the initial hurt which caused the revenge will still be there and no healing would have occurred. So, the question is, what can be done to heal? These arcane ideas came to mind when reading the latest novel of John Grisham, “The Judge’s List.” It deals with a successful judge with an impeccable and enviable record on the bench. Yet, he became a serial killer who methodically murdered a dozen people by whom he had been slighted in the past. He kept a “list” of those he planned to murder. The book describes the judge as brilliant, patient, clever, and even charismatic. His victims include a law professor who told him to prepare for his lectures, a managing partner of a law firm who failed to offer him a position, a girlfriend who jilted him, a painter who threatened him with a gun, among others. Over a period of 20 years, the murderous judge managed to bump off his victims undetected, without ever leaving a clue to his identity. A new Grisham novel is always a pleasurable event because he is a storyteller extraordinaire and the doyen of legal suspense. In this regard, his latest story does not disappoint. But importantly, the book is an interesting study of the destructive force of “revenge” in people’s lives. Coincidentally, “revenge” is also the main theme of my second novel, “The Coincidence,” which tells the story of a domestic terrorist who seeks “revenge” for decades of racial discrimination in the United States by conspiring to murder the American President. A woman dressed as Lady Justice attends a rally to mark International Women’s Day in Washington Square Park, New York City, on March 8, 2017. (Drew Angerer/Getty Images) “Revenge” is defined as “the action of inflicting hurt or harm on someone for an injury or wrong suffered at their hands; the desire to inflict retribution.” It is an abased and intense feeling that occasionally afflicts every human being. It is a powerful force that people respond to in diverse ways. But the relevant literature indicates that, although “revenge” is a rewarding feeling in the short-term, it is incapable of delivering long-term healing. The answer to the question of what can be done to heal has been provided by Sir Francis Bacon, a 16th/17th-century philosopher and essayist, who stated in 1625 that “Revenge is a kind of wild justice; which the more man’s nature runs to, the more ought law to weed it out” and that “in taking revenge, a man is but even with his enemy; but in passing it over, he is superior.” He also said that “a man that studieth revenge keeps his own wounds green, which otherwise would heal and do well.” Bacon’s statement reminds us that, in seeking revenge, people often end up depriving themselves of healing. But the most incisive answer comes from acclaimed singer Frank Sinatra who said that “The best revenge is massive success.” Surely, this short, but meaningful sentence conveys a powerful message that, in seeking excellence and success, it is possible to defeat the harmful effect of a slight humiliation or i

Revenge: A Motivating Factor?

Commentary

Throughout history, “revenge” has been a motivating factor in geopolitical relations between countries. For example, in 2001, following the destruction of the Twin Towers in New York, the President of the United States, George W. Bush, promised swift retaliatory action against the Taliban regime in Afghanistan that harboured Osama bin Laden, the mastermind behind the bombing. Indeed, countries, when seeking to inflict retribution on other countries, are often motivated by “revenge.”

Although the role of “revenge”—sometimes referred to as “retribution”—in international politics is well-documented, the destructive role played by “revenge” in the lives of ordinary people is less understood.

Yet, “revenge” is a powerful feeling that most people experience, from time to time, especially when they have been slighted or treated badly. And yet, it is common knowledge that one cannot go through life without humiliating words spoken to them or having experienced some form of adversity.

As a result of their inability to deal with adversity, people may nurture revengeful feelings which aim at retaliating against those by whom they have been harmed.

Deep-seated vengeful feelings may even be exacerbated in troublesome times, for example, during the COVID-19 pandemic, when people are subjected to restrictions, lockdowns, constant surveillance, bans on elective surgery, and innumerable other forms of oppression that can destroy the lives of people.

Epoch Times Photo
An injured man sits next to a restaurant in the partially destroyed neighbourhood of Mar Mikhael in the aftermath of a massive explosion in Beirut, Lebanon, on Aug. 5, 2020. (Patrick Baz/AFP via Getty Images)

“Revenge” is a deeply ingrained human emotion that often defies appropriate psychological treatment; it is a base and primitive form of an eye-for-an-eye strategy.

Although people may feel temporary satisfaction when exacting revenge, the relevant literature discloses that the initial hurt which caused the revenge will still be there and no healing would have occurred.

So, the question is, what can be done to heal?

These arcane ideas came to mind when reading the latest novel of John Grisham, “The Judge’s List.” It deals with a successful judge with an impeccable and enviable record on the bench. Yet, he became a serial killer who methodically murdered a dozen people by whom he had been slighted in the past.

He kept a “list” of those he planned to murder. The book describes the judge as brilliant, patient, clever, and even charismatic.

His victims include a law professor who told him to prepare for his lectures, a managing partner of a law firm who failed to offer him a position, a girlfriend who jilted him, a painter who threatened him with a gun, among others.

Over a period of 20 years, the murderous judge managed to bump off his victims undetected, without ever leaving a clue to his identity.

A new Grisham novel is always a pleasurable event because he is a storyteller extraordinaire and the doyen of legal suspense. In this regard, his latest story does not disappoint. But importantly, the book is an interesting study of the destructive force of “revenge” in people’s lives.

Coincidentally, “revenge” is also the main theme of my second novel, “The Coincidence,” which tells the story of a domestic terrorist who seeks “revenge” for decades of racial discrimination in the United States by conspiring to murder the American President.

Epoch Times Photo
A woman dressed as Lady Justice attends a rally to mark International Women’s Day in Washington Square Park, New York City, on March 8, 2017. (Drew Angerer/Getty Images)

“Revenge” is defined as “the action of inflicting hurt or harm on someone for an injury or wrong suffered at their hands; the desire to inflict retribution.”

It is an abased and intense feeling that occasionally afflicts every human being. It is a powerful force that people respond to in diverse ways.

But the relevant literature indicates that, although “revenge” is a rewarding feeling in the short-term, it is incapable of delivering long-term healing.

The answer to the question of what can be done to heal has been provided by Sir Francis Bacon, a 16th/17th-century philosopher and essayist, who stated in 1625 that “Revenge is a kind of wild justice; which the more man’s nature runs to, the more ought law to weed it out” and that “in taking revenge, a man is but even with his enemy; but in passing it over, he is superior.” He also said that “a man that studieth revenge keeps his own wounds green, which otherwise would heal and do well.”

Bacon’s statement reminds us that, in seeking revenge, people often end up depriving themselves of healing.

But the most incisive answer comes from acclaimed singer Frank Sinatra who said that “The best revenge is massive success.”

Surely, this short, but meaningful sentence conveys a powerful message that, in seeking excellence and success, it is possible to defeat the harmful effect of a slight humiliation or injury.

There are in history countless examples of people who were told “they would never make it” but excelled later in life.

This may include students who dropped out of high school and about whom disparaging comments were made by teachers yet became extraordinarily successful business people like Richard Branson. Or Marion Bartoli, the French tennis player who was encouraged to forget about tennis yet won Wimbledon.

More recently, Pamela Shriver, an American tennis legend who confidently predicted that Australia’s Ashleigh Barty would very soon lose her number one ranking, was embarrassed when Barty won the Australian Open in 2022 and thus used Shriver’s lashing as an inspiration to excel and prove her wrong.

Epoch Times Photo
Ashleigh Barty of Australia poses with the Daphne Akhurst Memorial Cup after winning her Women’s Singles Final match against Danielle Collins of the United States during day 13 of the 2022 Australian Open at Melbourne Park in Melbourne, Australia, on Jan. 29, 2022. (Clive Brunskill/Getty Images)

Or the scholars who missed appointments because they lacked intellectual rigour to make it in the academy and yet became productive, even eminent, scholars. Their achievements outstripped those of naturally gifted people who failed to live up to the expectations. This is because there are inestimable characteristics that cannot easily be evaluated in examinations or insipid psychological tests.

If people cannot deal with “revenge” by seeking excellence and success but instead limit their responses to revengeful strategies that offer the prospect of short-term relief and satisfaction, society overall becomes less robust and incapable of dealing with adversity.

Returning to the use of “revenge” in geopolitical situations: even countries could learn from Sir Francis Bacon and Frank Sinatra and seek to heal by being better than their attackers. However, countries’ representatives would probably describe such an approach as weakness and lack of courage, incompatible with national pride and reputation?

Views expressed in this article are the opinions of the author and do not necessarily reflect the views of The Epoch Times.


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Gabriël A. Moens AM is an emeritus professor of law at the University of Queensland, and served as pro vice-chancellor and dean at Murdoch University. In 2003, Moens was awarded the Australian Centenary Medal by the prime minister for services to education. He has taught extensively across Australia, Asia, Europe, and the United States. Moens has recently published two novels “A Twisted Choice” (Boolarong Press, 2020) and “The Coincidence” (Connor Court Publishing, 2021).