“If you prick us, do we not bleed? If you tickle us do we not laugh? If you poison us, do we not die? And if you wrong us, shall we not revenge?” These are the words of Shakespeare on revenge. Revenge is as old as history itself. Throughout history, there have been numerous cases of revenge that have been documented and passed through generations as a result of the effects they have had on the course of history. Even in the Bible, several cases of revenge have been discussed. Many television shows, movies, and poems have been written based on and about revenge. The act of retribution in itself is deeply rooted in the human anatomy. Seeking revenge is, therefore, a basic human instinct that may or may not always be acted upon. Accordingly, it is imperative to understand the causes and reasons behind the revenge and whether revenge is always right or wrong.
Causes for Revenge
The human brain derives pleasure in some form of revenge. As a matter of fact, psychologists have determined that the act of revenge releases dopamine, a feel-good hormone. Vengeance can be traced to the dorsal striatum, which is the part of the brain that is responsible for reward and revenge as well. As a result, it can be concluded that it is a personal motivation to execute revenge on the people who wrong us. While revenge is a basic human instinct, all human beings do not always act upon these instincts to retaliate when they are offended. As a matter of fact, revenge is a personal choice. One can choose to carry out revenge or not to carry out revenge on the aggressor. Since human beings have the freedom to decide whether to execute revenge or not, what then drives a person to settle for the philosophy of an eye for an eye.
The Code of Hammurabi which came into existence around the sixth century in Babylon can help one understand just how and why revenge is deeply rooted in the society. The code strongly believed in an eye for an eye which constituted the beginning of standardized revenge. It is on this basis upon which the current legal systems are founded on. The law permits for revenge to be carried out on those who break it. Whether one may choose to refer to this as balancing the scales, serving justice or righting a wrong, the entire justice system of a society is based on the premise of punishing the people who break the laws that govern that specific society. In essence, social justice requires that for every action, there is an equal and opposite reaction. Therefore, not only is the pursuit of getting revenge rooted in human instincts, it is also enforced through the social systems that govern how they relate to each other.
Reasons behind Revenge
Various people settle on requital whenever they are wronged for a variety of reasons. For some, it is a way of doing away with the feelings of shame and humiliation that may arise from being wronged and as a result, restore their pride or lost glory. For instance, when a competitor loses to their opponent in a political race, they may decide to tarnish the name of the race or the opponent by claiming that the process was rigged or that the opponent is a fraud in order to restore their glory. Of course, this does not always work but that does not deter people from trying anyway. In other cases, a person may decide to take revenge for another person who was wronged in order to restore their dignity. For instance, a family member may take revenge on a person who hurt their fellow family member such a parent taking revenge on behalf of their children.
Revenge may also be carried out so as to punish the offender. This is very common in the day-to-day lives and may not always manifest with the usual vindictiveness. A teacher may ask a student who talked back to them or who did not complete their assignment in time to stay back in detention. A couple in a romantic relationship may decide to destroy gifts they received from their partner or something valuable to them in order to make the other feel as much hurt as they did when they were wronged. The justice system also executes revenge via punishment. Every law that is broken has a corresponding punishment that befits the magnitude of that law that has been broken, from community service to lifetime in jail or even the death row.
A person seeking revenge may also do so to deliver a message to the offender. For instance, during the reign of President Obama, the most wanted terrorist Osama bin Laden was captured and killed. This was a message to all terrorists and organizations that support terrorism that they would eventually be dealt with, no matter where they would hide or how long it took. It can also be a means of exerting power. In this case, the United States of America wanted to reassure the world that they were still the superpower. Political leaders can also exert their power on the people they rule as a form of revenge. Withholding some government services during times of distress or strikes, gagging the media or enforcing curfews are just a few of the ways in which a government can revenge and in the process reaffirm the power they have on the people.
Is Revenge Right or Wrong?
Whatever the reason behind a person carrying out revenge on the person who offended them is, the question still remains as to whether revenge is right or wrong in the first place. Christians are taught that revenge is only for the Lord and should, therefore, refrain from seeking revenge on their offenders but to forgive and forget instead. Other people believe that an eye for an eye will eventually make the whole world blind. Francis Bacon said,” In taking revenge, a man is but even with his enemy; but in pursuing it over, he is superior.” The reasons for revenge seem justifiable considering how unlawful the society would become if everyone would take matters into their own hands and avenge each time they are wronged. On the other hand, who would not want an apology or some kind of remorse from the person who offended them, even if it means retaliating the wrong.
At the end of the day, whether a person seeks revenge or not lies squarely in their beliefs and how they choose to respond to their emotions at the time they get hurt. According to Douglas Horton, while seeking revenge, one need to dig two graves, one for the enemy and the other themselves.