“But as the fulfillment of every wish brings with it more or less of a sense of disappointment, so it is with vengeance. The delight we hope to get from it is mostly embittered by compassion. Vengeance taken will often tear the heart and torment the conscience; the motive to it is no longer active, and what remains is the evidence of our malice.“Schopenhauer
The ego-informed mind is always out for vengeance. It always seeks to punish and harm those who cause us pain. In its infinite non-wisdom, the ego believes that “getting justice” by hurting them, the bad guys over there, will alleviate its own pain. As is so often the case, its rationale and methodology are mistaken – that’s not how pain works, nor how it heals.
A bit of awareness shows us the truth of this.
At first, when we are hurt, it seems like hurting the “bad guy” feels good and right. But if you pay attention to the feelings and experience of it in your own day to day lives, it actually doesn’t feel good on two fronts.
First, vengeance has an insatiable quality to it – it wants to keep hurting them, and hurting them, and hurting them, almost without end. It wants to destroy them entirely for the pain they caused, and it wants to keep destroying them over and over, seemingly inflicting infinite suffering. The more pain, the greater this vengeful desire.
But that desire can’t be satisfied. No amount of destructiveness satiates it. And the more we do it, the more we act on it, the greater this sense of futility and disappointment arises. The inability to get satisfaction produces feelings of powerlessness, impotence, and tremendous frustration magnifying further rage.
(The ego sometimes tries to compensate for these feelings by lying to us about what the bad guy took away from our destructiveness, like “he learned his lesson,” or “I showed him; he learned never to mess with me again.” But those things typically aren’t true, not with the bad guys we know… The bad guy learned no such thing, and instead recast himself as totally innocent victim of our “senseless” malice. If you investigate your own authentic feelings here, and the psychology of bad guys, you’ll see the truth of it.)
No amount of hurting them seems to do anything inside of us to alleviate the pain. It’s an illusory pursuit.
Like with any other desire, as long as we are looking outside ourselves for healing and resolution, it can never be satisfied. Worse than that, vengeance is totally blind and often terribly unjust and disproportionate.
The only real solution to our inner turmoil then becomes forgiveness, whether or not they are remorseful. I know, I know, no one wants to hear about that. But we have long understood that our inner condition is the only place to find peace and healing, and the real work of forgiveness, the digestion and processing of pain, excavating the wounds and deriving the wisdom lessons, is that path. (No matter how big or small our pain is, this same process is applied.).
And when our pain begins to heal, and we begin to forgive, the purpose of our pain starts to become evident and compassion for the wrongdoer takes over. This two fold thing – the soul-level purpose of our pain and the compassion for them – comes up on its own, whether we choose it or not. Really deep understanding replaces hatred, and then we start to feel really really bad for hurting them in response to our pain. We begin to see why they did what they did, and how what they did actually served us on a deeper level. We begin to see that there was often no need to respond at all…
This is the second front; when our roaring pain starts to heal and wisdom shifts our perspective, in greater clarity we start to really feel bad for our thoughtless mindless vengeance. We begin to recognize that they didn’t deserve the punishment we so recklessly doled out. And in fact, what we did to them in self-righteous vengeance begins to seem terribly unjustified (this is Schopenhauer’s torment of the conscience).
Hurting another person in vengeful reactivity produces guilt, which becomes an overlay on top of our existing pain. It doesn’t matter if it’s under the guise of justice or not. Vengefully punishing them hurts us more.
This is not to say that we do away with accountability. Wrong doers must must must be held responsible and accountable for what they’ve done. (And I may even go further and suggest harsh exclusionary measures for those who lack a conscience, are immune to punishments, and continue representing a significant danger to others).
But that whole process requires prudent and temperate approaches. We must do everything in our power to restraint vengeance, to give ourselves time, to avoid compounding our own pain.
Then we can heal our pain, without magnifying it, and take proper measured actions that feel good, knowing that justice was actually served.