Ellen Langer

Revenge is a dish best not eaten ·


If you’ve ever been mistreated, you may be thinking that revenge is sweet. Often, a person more experienced in these kinds of matters tells us that revenge is a dish best eaten cold. Surely waiting before we take any action is likely to be good advice. I want to argue, however, that after waiting, we choose grace not revenge.

When people misbehave, it is not out of strength. Further, just as walls do not a prison make, no matter what someone does to us, we don’t have to feel belittled by it. Whatever we do feel is a matter of choice. Why ever choose to feel victimized? If we chose to feel sorry for the other person, revenge becomes unnecessary.

When we think of taking our revenge, we stop the clock at the point of being hurt rather than getting on with our lives. Better that we listen to those wiser, who instruct us that living well is the best revenge. Besides, “they” typically get it in the end anyway.

There are several reasons this is so, whether or not you believe in Karma. First, if it’s characteristic of them to do wrong by others, they are increasing the chances of getting caught by those mightier than they. Second, if they indeed know better, bad actions will take their toll on the doer. Stealing a candy bar as a child isn’t nearly as psychologically costly as stealing one after we’ve grown up. It’s hard to think well of oneself after engaging in actions we know are perceived as deplorable. Finally, people mistakenly take it for granted that they will have hold power forever and that their lot in life will remain stable. As we inevitably becomes less powerful, those that have been “stepped on” on our way up will be there on our way down.

Live well to live well, not to show him we aren’t down for long. Understand that he still wins as long as he is occupying our thoughts and we’ll soon give up the idea that revenge is empowering.