Feature Articles

January 2016
Vengeance Is Mine

      By Mike La Sorte, Professor Emeritus

Mike La Sorte is a professor emeritus (SUNY) and writes extensively on a variety of subjects.

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The best vendetta is to pardon the acts of others. * In the sacred language, the Day of Atonement is God�s vendetta, a satisfaction or reparation for a wrong or injury. * That bully got the best of me, but now is mine to settle the score. * There are those by nature who are predisposed to vindictiveness.* He who does not pardon does not forget. * Vendetta is God�s punishment to win back honor. * To� lose face� is the ultimate disgrace. * Before there was justice through the mechanism of the court, justice was an individual/family/community matter.

When a wrong has been committed by someone the immediate impulse is to retaliate, to return like for like. Time can heal all wounds and vindictiveness subsides. To imagine revenge can be enough to calm oneself. If the thought persists then we can find ourselves confronting pathology. The instinct of revenge is universal. It is an emotion we all have but of which we admit little. For many, the notion of �An eye for eye a tooth for a tooth� is applicable and obviously the saying has had a long tradition. It is a dictum that rationalizes the absolute right, an obligation, to react in a culturally approved manner to an insult or damage received. The thirst once satisfied gives satisfaction.

The Chinese sage Confucius (551-475 BC) said this: �Before you undertake the voyage of vendetta, it is best to dig two graves.� Gandhi agreed by saying, �Eye for an eye and all men will become blind.�

What can be said about the foundations of the concept? Vendetta is such a universal emotion that appears to be built into our most profound and evolutionary instincts. The theory suggests that is not an act of madness, but rather a protective function at the center of on-going social behavior. One man�s passing irritation can be another man�s rage. It�s a sense that the world is out of balance and only a cleansing act can restore normality. Revenge, it is argued, can avoid an even more serious and long lasting series of events. The vendettist is not a synonym for justice because it includes negative and subjective sentiments of anger and hate rather than seeking a rational and accommodating remedy.

Does a vendetta really make you feel better?

The social psychological laboratory experiment is an attempt to introduce controls on various factors so that conclusions about social phenomena can be drawn objectively. Such experiments have been done on the question of vendetta. The results suggest that the get-even instinct does not always accomplish its intended goal without after effects. Those who sought to vindicate themselves reported some satisfaction. Others who did not seek revenge had less anger and sought to understand the person who wronged them. The others were more likely to come to terms with the situation, and were more content. What can we conclude? Vendetta does not erase the alleged wrong. Blood does not wash clean blood; the problem lingers. The experiments disclose a continuum of reactions from most to least on the revenge scale.

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