There is an old adage about letting things go; if you deserve them, they’ll come back. It’s been duly satirised. ‘If you love something, let it go. If it doesn’t come back, hunt it down and kill it’.
To me that’s insightful about the human condition as the original. And the message is simple – the indignant ‘I have been wronged’ (for whatever reason) is swiftly followed by ‘So I must destroy those who wronged me’. As I understand it, psychological experiments have shown that revenge is a more powerful emotion than any other.
The news is full of it these days – reports of behaviours that, when it boils down to it, involve people avenging themselves one way or another. It can be intellectualised and abstracted – as in academic jealousies and litigations – or it can be brutally physical, in the form of personal attacks, wars and so on.
It’s also a powerful emotion to share: people seeing the revenge of others feel fulfilled themselves. And it spirals: you feel wronged, so you avenge yourself on those who wronged you; they in turn feel wronged and avenge that, and so it goes on. It’s at its most powerful, I think, when it keys into the way people validate themselves.
I have no doubt it’s innate, likely a product of our hunter-gatherer ancestry and the way social interactions played out within groups and especially between groups. I suspect it was a survival mechanism, helping optimise the strength of leadership in a typical hunter-gatherer band (about 150 individuals) while also asserting that group against others. Recent archaeological work indicates that behaviours then were no less violent than they are today.
But I can’t help thinking, especially these days, that the better course is to let go of such things and uplift each other. Care and support is by far the best way because it builds – it doesn’t destroy. And I am not the first person to suggest it, either. Well?
Copyright © Matthew Wright 2016