Vengeance is evil but often sweet, and it can be hard to pass up when someone really pisses you off. Here's a look at how revenge works, how best to enact it, and if it's really worthwhile at all.
The Dark Side Disclaimer
All posts that belong to the Dark Side are going to feature some ideas that might be a little evil or at least require some flexible ethics. Some things will be downright horrible, and you should not do them, but are either for your information or simply for the point of interest (and will be noted as such). Your judgment and actions are your own, so think before you do anything you read here and only use your dark side for good.
There is a lot of evil in the world, and it comes from all of us. We're all capable of terrible things under the right circumstances, and so becoming a victim in any given situation isn't uncommon. If you become a victim, you essentially have two options: accept your fate and move on or seek revenge. Today we're opting for vengeance.
If you've ever been wronged in your life, you probably understand the concept of revenge. Often it goes like this:
- Someone does something bad to you and you're powerless to stop it.
- You want to get them back, so you create a plot of revenge.
- You enact said revenge.
- All is right in the world.
At least, that might be an ideal scenario. We want to exact revenge, because it feels like justice but it's not. Revenge isn't about getting the bad guy and restoring harmony to the world. Revenge is simply about causing harm to the bad guy. There's no real justice, but rather a conscious choice to travel the low road.
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In fact, getting revenge might even be a bad thing as a study by psychologist Kevin Carlsmith points out:
People expect to reap hedonic rewards when they punish an offender, but in at least some instances, revenge has hedonic consequences that are precisely opposite to those that people expect. Three studies showed that: (a) one reason for this is that people who punish continue to ruminate about the offender, whereas those who do not punish "move on" and think less about the offender, and; (b) people fail to appreciate the different affective consequences of witnessing and instigating punishment.
You can look at this a couple of ways. First, you can argue that you simply shouldn't seek revenge at all. That's fair, and a completely noble path to take. On the other hand, you can look at these things as obstacles in the way of effective revenge. Your main obstacle is making sure you don't feel like an awful person afterwards. Your other obstacle is simply the obstacle you're already facing: letting go. I believe these are pretty easy things to overcome because there's a difference between simple revenge—an eye for an eye—and smart revenge—aiming to bring positive change from your actions. The problem with most revenge is that it's about bringing harm—and not harmony—to the situation. If you're going to seek vengeance, you need to believe you're bringing about positive change.
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What a sappy thought, right? But honestly, being the good guy is almost always the best way to go. A lot of the times this does mean doing the difficult but right thing, taking the high road, and being the bigger person. Sometimes it just means you need to appear that way. Whatever the case may be, the end goal is the same: look so good and honorable that your target of revenge looks like an enormous douche bag. Being, or appearing to be a good person, will bring people to your side.
A long time ago, I was waiting in line for quite awhile at an ATM. Midway through the line, a guy came over to his friend—who was in the spot in front of me—and struck up a conversation. At first I thought this was harmless, but as soon as his friend finished using the ATM machine he cut in and decided to use it, too. At the time I was a shy person and most people never even noticed I was there. Sometimes I was in a conversation with people and I'd say something and nobody would even know, regardless of how loud I said it. People used to cut in front of me constantly and this was going to be the last time. I started by politely telling the guy that I was in line before him and I'd have said something earlier but I thought he was just talking to his friend. He insisted he was in line before me, and I think he legitimately believed it. I think, like most people at the time, he just had no idea I even existed. But that didn't change anything. I got angry and I insisted I was first. Eventually he did the smart thing and gave up. I got to use the ATM, but at that point everyone in the line thought I was wrong and he was right. Other people in the line were saying what an asshole I was the entire time I made my deposit.
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I'm mentioning this story to illustrate a few things. First, picking a battle over minutia is stupid. Second, fighting when angry has all sorts of ways it can only end poorly. Third, the guy who stepped in line before me won that interaction because he played smarter. It was a situation where we were both legitimately in the right—assuming he truly didn't know he cut in line, of course—and he opted to be the good guy. When you're the good guy in a public argument, you win the favor of the people around you. You're suddenly not fighting the battle alone, but with everyone else. It didn't matter if I was right or wrong—he opted to be virtuous and let me go ahead of him even though he believed I was cheating. Ultimately, this made me feel much worse than anything else. He won by doing two things you don't normally think about in a moment of anger:
- Choosing not to fight.
- Being the better person.
This is often the most simple and effective revenge. It's easy to accomplish. This is a reversal. It's like with martial arts, where you're taught to use your opponent's force against them. This is why being a good person is almost always the best revenge, even if you're not really being good at all.
That said, I do truly believe that in most any situation the best thing to do is to actually be good. Most of the time it will work out in your favor, as described above, and you can always fabricate a situation (like this one—scroll down to the last section) on the rare occasion you feel it's necessary. There are times when revenge can be a handy tool, but be smart about it and seek it rarely. Few situations are black and white, and so it's almost always better to be kind. Almost.
Secrets from the Dark Side is an occasional look at the various ways a little evil can be used for good in everyday life, plus a few interesting pieces of information and anecdotes here and there. If you've got any great evil tips, send them in with a subject line of "Dark Side".