On Vengeance

“My name is Inigo Montoya.  You killed my father.  Prepare to die.”


Inigo hit on something that everyone feels.  We are human.  Revenge is not only a human emotion, but it has been recognized for millennia as a driving force in human behavior.  The Iliad is all about revenge, some severe.  Hector killed Patroklos and then abused his body, trying to prevent a proper burial.  In return, Achilles killed Hector and mutilated his corpse.  Both of these acts were considered dishonorable, but the spirit of revenge guided them.  Only upon the begging of Hector’s mother did Achilles understand what he had done.  He turned Hector over.

Revenge even left Inigo Montoya with a sense of disillusionment.  After killing the Six-Fingered Man, Inigo told Westley, “I have been in the revenge business so long, now that it’s over, I don’t know what to do with the rest of my life.”  For twenty years, Inigo had sought revenge.  Inigo had trained himself for it and had made revenge his life goal.

Inigo got his revenge.  Now what?  Compare with Westley, who Prince Humperdink live, his revenge being that of allowing Humperdink to live the rest of his life in shame.

Who got the better end of the deal?

Vengeance is an emotion.  But it is anticipatory in nature.  The idea of revenge is powerful and appeals to some base instincts. Studies have indicated that thinking of revenge activates the reward center of the brain, releasing dopamine.  Yes, people can get a high off of thinking about it.  Some think that it is an evolutionary response to elicit the protective nature of people.  Again, it’s a perfectly normal response.

But what happens when vengeance is obtained?  Does a person feel better about himself or herself?  Like Inigo, that moment is fleeting.  What now?

On the other hand, one who has obtained satisfaction may find himself facing another thought: retaliation.  This itself can lead to a cycle, until such time as one person decides to stop.  Another well known example:  upon learning that his son Sonny had been killed, Don Corleone immediately tells Tom Hagen, “I want no inquiries made. I want no acts of vengeance.  I want you to arrange a meeting with the heads of the Five Families. This war stops now.”  Don Corleone, a the meeting of the Families, explained,

“You talk about vengeance. Is vengeance going to bring your son back to you, or my boy to me? I forgo the vengeance of my son. But I have selfish reasons.”  That reason?  The fear that his son, Michael, would be killed in further retribution.

Vengeance is a powerful lure.  It provides a good feeling: just thinking about obtaining redress for the ills that have befallen us.  The question to ask is whether or not you have ever obtained revenge and it felt as good as you imagined it would.

It doesn’t.  So consider the options. Consider the choices.  Make no inquiries.  And let it go.


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