On Revenge and Forgiveness

There is no revenge so complete as forgiveness.
Josh Billings

Pain is too often the result of actions of people very close to us.  At times these actions are made with the intent of causing us pain.  Other times, we make bad decisions that we know will result in other’s pain – but that’s not our direct intention.  Still other times, we’re surprised with the impact of our words and actions. Regardless of intent, the pain is real, sometimes causing tremendous suffering.  What are we to make of this?

I’ve lately been thinking quite a bit about the pain we cause each other – and suffering more generally.  Most of this reflection has been focused on being willing to look squarely at the pain I have caused others; to not hide from it.  Accept it as real.  And then…

…forgive myself for it.

The day the child realizes that all adults are imperfect, he becomes an adolescent; the day he forgives them, he becomes an adult; the day he forgives himself, he becomes wise..
Alden Nowlan

The only path to acting in ways that don’t create or compound others’ pain is to not shy from understanding my impact on the world and the people in my life.  This has caused me some suffering to get to a point where I can actually see.  It is far easier to be blind to others’ pain – not in a callous way – but as a self-protective measure.  I suspect that most of us do this to an awful great degree.

I have chosen to feel the pain of knowing that – despite good intentions and sometimes because of muddle-headed thinking – I have caused someone else’s suffering; chosen to feel that pain as directly as I can.  It is hard and…

…it is instructive.

I must forgive myself.  I am trying hard to apply this wisdom to my life.  I will harm again.  There’s no way around it except through complete isolation.  I can, however, reduce the degree and frequency of harmful behavior by being mindful and learning by seeing and feeling others’ pain.

Isn’t it inevitable then that others will hurt me too?  Should I forgive them as I forgive myself?

He who cannot forgive breaks the bridge over which he himself must pass.
George Herbert

Forgiveness is the fragrance of the violet which still clings fast to the heel that crushed it.

I guess my answer is obvious: YES!  But, anger and hurt are powerful emotions.  We are often hurt in ways that are physical and emotional existential threats.  No small matters are these.  When hurt to the core, our sense of security is threatened.  We no longer feel safe – even if those aren’t the words we would choose.  Revenge is often the tool we pull out to bring a measure of a sense of security, safety and control.

Wherefore revenge?  First let me say that I believe there’s a bright line between revenge and justice.  In my view, justice seeks to make it right – often through proscribed punishment (jail or fine) or through some other form of recompense.  The aim of justice is restorative;  to create or maintain harmony.

Revenge seeks to hurt – cause pain.  You hurt me. So, I will hurt you in kind or worse.  The aim of revenge is to injure.  In the end, revenge adds to injustice.  It cannot restore it.  We may be our own collateral damage as revenge is like playing with fire.  You may intend on creating a firestorm in their house – but it can as often destroy yours as well.

Little, vicious minds abound with anger and revenge, and are incapable of feeling the pleasure of forgiving their enemies.
Earl of Chesterfield

Forgiveness is not an action to heal or absolve he who has hurt you.  Quite the contrary, forgiveness is a path to heal our own heart.  When we’re in pain, we think that lashing out will take the pain away.  It will make us feel better.  Make us feel safe.  It will make the world make sense again.  Lashing out requires us to hold on to the injury – to inflame and stoke it with the fires of our own mind – immeasurably compounding our pain.

This pain is not serving us.

Forgiveness takes the strength to recognize that our ongoing distress is caused by our own rumination on the wrong.  When we fail to forgive, we prolong and deepen our pain and prolong our healing.  Forgiving gives you the power to move forward in a positive direction. But, forgiveness is a choice.  You must choose to forgive and work at it.

A wise man will make haste to forgive, because he knows the full value of time and will not suffer it to pass away in unnecessary pain.


  1. Wow, so insightful. i wish you would post more often. I came across your blog because of your posts on
    I think, forgiveing yourself i the hardest thing to do…
    I still sruggle with it..everyday.
    I recently had a discussion with my mono boyfriend about the fact…i can no longer see myself ans an honorable honest person.
    he asked why.
    i said … because i his my poly lifestyle for so long at the wishes of my poly partners. then i went and hurt my poly lovers. and i have been too long keeping secrets, hideing. and lieing to cover tracks for them….
    he said : so what? u just lie once and thats it? u are never honorable again? thats wrong
    and i realised…
    hes right.
    i never forgave MYSELF. one mistake or a series of mistakes do not a dishonerable person make. it is the willingness to accept, change, and heal… thats is what makes me ok to say…i’m honest and honorable…
    i hope so.
    i still work on forgiveing myself….
    i imagine it is the same for you…
    a work in progress…..
    doeas the pain ever heal? i hope so…..
    take care, AND POST MORE LOL!

  2. Only those able to feel compassion for themselves will be able to be compassionate towards others… This is from the book of “Peace is Every Step” by Thich Nhat Hanh. I am sure you are familiar with him.

    Thank you so much for the post — it could not have come at a better time!


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