Kindness 2013: revenge – it’s called epic kindness fail

In the past few weeks we have seen that kindness is a philosophy  – a  way of life that encompasses tolerance, reason, thought and compassion. And, it seems to me, all the more necessary as the planet becomes ever more crowded, ever more polluted, and as our resources diminish.

Alas, a quick glance at any news bulletin reveals inhumanities from civil wars to terrorism to horrific stories of toddlers being run over in China and left to die because strangers are too scared to intervene, lest they be held financially liable. Every day we hear stories of muggings, robberies and other deeds. And that’s without considering the ways people are unkind to each other in everyday life.

There are many causes. However, one of them, it seems to me, is the way we enwtine our sense of self-worth around an ambition, a desire or a cause. And when that is intruded upon – when our self-worth seems slighted – what happens? Why, the wrong must be avenged! And the hatred that follows is neither rational, nor reasonable.

An Airfix 1/76 Mk IV "Male" tank from 1917, which I built when I wasn't writing.
My Airfix model of a Mk IV tank, 1917 – one of the ways the Germans were defeated in 1918.

What’s more, revenge happens on all levels. Remember World War 2? The how-and-why has been subject to relentless analysis, but it boils down to one point; Germany was sore at its defeat in 1918, particularly at the hands of France. A little Austrian corporal with shell shock managed to exploit that sense of popular injustice to get himself into power – and engineer revenge. It was made explicit in 1940. When the French capitulated, Hitler made a point of humiliating them in ways that related to 1918, even down to having them sign the armistice in the same railway carriage used to sign Germany’s capitulation in 1918.

Why do we keep doing it? Revenge initially feels good. Not only good, but – so it’s been shown via scientific analysis more rewarding than kindness. And, as if it wasn’t enough to have that time bomb entwined into the human psyche, we’re also bombarded with the message daily. What’s the slogan? ‘Don’t get mad – get even!’ We always hear that ‘revenge is sweet’. We are even sold books and movies because we can, vicariously, feel that sense of thrill as a character wreaks revenge on those who wronged them.

It’s insidious, and what worries me is that it’s also accepted. You’ve been slighted? No problem – hunt down the miscreant and smash them over. Bwahahahahaha!

There is, of course, a catch; what those studies also found was that the people wreaking revenge not only kept the sense of injustice alive – and thus felt worse for it – but that the act of revenge itself had a psychological backfire point, afterwards.

In other words, it was a momentary sense of satisfaction only.

Kindness? Well, guess what. The feel-good sense lasts. So kindness trumps revenge in the end. A no-brainer, really. Except…well, the human condition also pushes us towards instant gratification – the path of revenge. So I fear that the philosophies of kindness that are important to us – that will make it possible for us to survive as a species, once the planet hits the tipping point and ruin is upon us – will get lost along the way.

Our world, in short, won’t blow up in a sudden armageddon. It’ll get ugly, nasty, and die horribly and slowly. Unless we make the conscious effort to have a philosophy of kindness.

What do you figure about this one?

Copyright © Matthew Wright 2013


10 thoughts on “Kindness 2013: revenge – it’s called epic kindness fail

  1. I think if you want to get your own back on someone who has deliberately wronged you, the best way to do it, is not with fists but to work hard at helping others, raising your own self-esteeem and to succeed in as many areas of your life as possible. This way they can see and read about how wonderful and successful you are and realise that you have defeated them in terms of strength of character and in terms of your own success and that they will never get to be a part of that success because they never cared when they should have done.

    1. Certainly one option, though on my experience of writing history in New Zealand, the more I’ve written, and the more international results I’ve had, the more vicious and openly hostile the local academic community has become. This to the point where on one occasion a military historian stood over me in an archive reading room and screamed at me, with balled fists. I had never met this guy before – but he’d recognised me from an author photo. He became very, very angry and barrelled across the room to have a go at me. My crime was apparently writing ‘his’ books and working in ‘his’ field – and I was in reasonable apprehension of being physically hit.

      My answer? Why reduce your own standards by enaging these people at all? But if you have to deal with ’em – confuse ’em with kindness. Be nice to them. They’ll have no idea what you’re about.

      1. Hi Matthew. That’s horrid. So sorry to hear that. It sounds to me like he is jealous because you have done so well for yourself and he wish he had your fame. Yours is a different situation to my own and I agree about not reducing your own standards. What I actually meant was to use the fact that people can be horrid to spur yourself on to do better. What I was talking about was not engaging with these people directly. I was talking about bettering myself and then they can watch from afar and know that it’s their tough luck for missing out on something that they could have been a part of if they hadn’t been horrible in the first place. In recent times I have had one or two people not be so nice to me and I have been kind to them by saying, even though I didn’t like what they were saying to me, I wish them all the best for the future.

        1. Thank you. Sounds like a good approach. And a desire to refute them by showing them what’s what – through capability – is definitely a very powerful way of spurring yourself on.

      2. I’ve heard about people like that. I reckon that they must have a form of ‘mental illness’. They think that the world revolves around them and that nobody else is allowed to write or work in ‘their field’. Imagine if they liked a Snickers bar. How ridiculous would it be if they said that no one else could one because it’s THEIR favorite bar?!! Same difference along the scale of crazy.
        The best response to that type of behavior is to ignore it. Let them rant and make an ass of themselves then ask them to leave you alone. If they don’t then call Security! They are clearly a bit unstable (and jealous).

        1. It’s weird, isn’t it, the way some people behave. I think you’re right. The problem, I think, is that some people tie their sense of self-worth to their interest, or their status in their chosen field. In this case, as far as I can tell, it was coupled with ‘unconscious incompetence’. I rang my publishers after this incident to see whether they’d heard of him – they had. Intimately. His anger came, it seemed, from the fact that he’d submitted a book to them. They’d turned him down because it wasn’t well enough written to be publishable – and the guy also had no idea about what constituted a commercially viable product. All fine and dandy, except I was publishing a series of books in the same field at the same time, with those publishers, and I appear to have become the focus of his anger.

          1. Sadly, talented people are often the subject of rants and ravings of jealous, less competent people. I pity the guy (up to a point). However, his incompetence and jealousy is no excuse for his bad behavior. The cream always rising to the top (you are the cream), he is just some moldy cheese lol

  2. Little people like my little troll… they are right where I left them….in the dark. Be fabulous and never apologize for it. Success is the best revenge – success as you define it for yourself. Walk your truth. Stay the course. They were never happy to begin with and most likely will never be because their idea of themselves and what success means to them is skewed. They fail of their own doing then blame others.

    I’m happy I found this article. I’ve been considering whether or not to tell my own tale, maybe it is time…

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