The best revenge is to be unlike the one who performed the injustice. – Marcus Aurelius
What does that mean?
This quote is translated in many forms, including “The best revenge is not to be like your enemy.” which is very close to what my paper copy of Meditations says.
This is something you have probably heard said to you hundreds of times growing up. Whether it was “don’t get in the mud with the pigs” or some other colorful way, the point is the same.
If they do something to you, do not lower yourself to their level and retaliate. Take the high road, show dignity and class. Be the better person.
Note that the quote doesn’t say the most satisfying action, but the best revenge or response. It can be hard to resist, but it becomes easier with practice.
Why is not repeating injustice important?
Gandhi is quoted as saying “an eye for an eye makes the whole world blind.” This quote has aspects of this quote in it. To what does repaying an injustice with another injustice lead? Certainly not a better world, right? As injustice is to eye-loss, so the results would be to blindness. A world full of outrage.
Repeating injustice for injustice is a downward spiral to anarchy and self-centeredness. No good will come from that, except as an example of what not to do, right? Have you seen children (particularly teens) go back and forth, each doing something meaner than what was done to them? Not very pretty, was it?
How ugly do you think it is when adults are seen doing such childish things? What does it teach the children of the world, when the adults act no better than they act? Until we can stop repeating injustice, until we quit acting so childish, our words to the contrary have little meaning to each-other or to our children.
Therefore, as difficult as it may be at first, I recommend that we work towards the time when we can react, quickly and easily, to injustice in a just and mature manner. That doesn’t mean we allow injustice to stand unchallenged, it just means that we will react in an appropriate and mature manner.
Where can I apply this in my life?
Take a moment and consider times when you have done injustice to others. It could be as trivial as being dishonest or cutting in line, or may be as serious as using abusive language or physical violence against another. First consider what precipitated the event. Were you being a jerk, or did they do something to anger you?
Take the time to consider each event, and see if you can see a pattern. Do you often return injustice for injustice, are you deliberately mean to people, or does it just happen from time to time? Do you tend towards the more trivial injustice, or do you mostly go big? If you are responding to actions of another, do you respond evenly, or do you escalate?
Now consider how they reacted to what you did. Did they dismiss your action? How did that make you feel? Did they match your action with a similar action? How did that make you feel? Was that better or worse? Was there a time when they went over the top compared to what you did to them? How did that make you feel?
Yes, this post has a lot of feelings in it. But that is what revenge is all about. Someone made you feel bad or made you feel like you were less, so you try to find a way to either hurt them back, or build yourself up at their expense. This quote is urging us to find a different way of moving forward with our lives.
Longtime readers know I have an ex-wife. I used to hate her, and desire all kinds of bad things happen to her, at least in proportion to the things she had done to me. But over the years, I have calmed down, both in general, and towards her in specific. She was in a very bad place and did what she thought she had to do.
Now I wish her well, healing, and happiness. I refuse to seek revenge over some slights (and some not-so-slight slights) from decades ago. I have also learned to laugh at slights, and shake my head when others try to do me an injustice. It wasn’t easy at first, but it is a pattern of behavior we can learn, if we work hard enough and long enough, and want it enough.
Injustice occurs every day. It happens all around us, and in varying degrees. Sometimes we participate, sometimes we cause, and sometimes we escalate. But we don’t have to do so. We can make a choice. We can choose to be an example, we can choose to be better and take the high road. But we have to want to try.
What will you do today and through the rest of this week to not seek revenge on the less-than-kind path? It is your choice. And we all make mistakes from time to time. But we can get back up and try again. To make the world and the future better for all of us.