The Shape of Revenge

It’s easy enough to argue that revenge in its most ethical manifestation serves as a necessary form of retributive justice. Sometimes, threats and the damage done by others must be punished or eradicated through moral and physical correctives. In this regard, revenge stands as an essential survival skill for individuals and groups alike. At a subtler level, successfully prosecuted acts of revenge usually require intricate behavioral patterns that help us master previously unrecognized skills. These newfound interpersonal strategies can then be implemented in other ways while inspiring a unique strain of confidence. After all, few things focus a person more than revenge. A single-mindedness of purpose, a crystal-clear intention, can produce astonishing results for someone who has suffered trauma at the hands of a hated nemesis.

Still, for those with a conscience, carrying guilt for wounding others becomes an exhausting and time-consuming process. More often than not, revenge amounts to poor management skills. Life is short, and constructive responses to injustice tend to inspire healthier outcomes. Conversely, since retribution is cyclical, the punisher must constantly anticipate counterstrikes, all the while knowing that he or she has probably also hurt an ancillary group of innocent people who deserved positive, not negative, attention. The collateral damage is like a dirty bomb. The perpetrator must live with these realities forever. Memory is ever-present in thought and therefore affects present and future consciousness. Thus, revenge permanently shapes behavior in unpleasant ways whether we like it or not. Remembering unconscionable behavior proves stultifying, not liberating, and the chance to feel good about oneself disappears with an insubstantial past that probably should have been shaped differently to begin with.