Saturday, February 23, 2013

An Eye for an Eye

If someone hits me, I hit them back, right? This is one of the other things that we learn in the schoolyard, if not at home with our siblings. It’s necessary to defend yourself; to assert your own rights. Right? The trouble with this is that if someone hits me, and I hit them back, I usually hit them back a little harder. Even if I don’t, their perception will be that I did. So now they consider themselves to be the injured party; and now they owe me one. It’s not difficult to see where this ultimately leads.

“An eye for an eye; a tooth for a tooth” doesn’t work very well, because there is no mathematical formula available for determining this equivalence in a real life situation. Therefore, the person whom I repay can always interpret my repayment as excessive; therefore, they now owe me, and so on.

The alternative to this is not necessarily to “turn the other cheek.” Passive acceptance of a wrong done to us can sometimes encourage more of the same. Human beings are not averse to being bullies. Nevertheless, at some point in an escalating confrontation, one party has to forego the impulse to get even. Someone has to have the common sense to realise that there is never going to be any “getting even”. There is no method for weighing the injuries that one party has inflicted on the other; and no formula for working out who is "ahead". So someone has to call a truce and start negotiations. We can’t really expect children in the schoolyard to understand and learn this process while national and international leaders appear unable to do so.

Oscar Wilde once said (I have been unable to determine when, where and in what context): “Always forgive your enemies – nothing annoys them so much”. He was really just paraphrasing Paul in Romans: “Therefore if your enemy is hungry, feed him; if he is thirsty, give him a drink; for in so doing you will heap coals of fire on his head.” Forgiveness or kindness as the ultimate revenge! Actually, what this may do, is, first of all, surprise him. This may at least initiate some new thought process and put pause to the automated revenge response. It’s always easier not to bother thinking, and just to go on responding automatically, doing what we have always done. Be the one to break that cycle. Who knows, it may actually work!

The other thing that we might want to consider is acknowledging that, as much as I have been wronged, I may have done a little wronging myself. Perhaps I did overreact just a tad. Perhaps I could have done something differently. The chances are that I have been as big a dick as the other guy. Acknowledging our own fault, not retaliating: these are not things that come naturally to human beings. Then again, neither is riding a bicycle, but most of us manage it with a bit of practice!

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