'It is far better to endure patiently a smart which nobody feels but yourself, than to commit a hasty action whose evil consequences will extend to all connected with you.'
(Charlotte Bronte in Jane Eyre)
Or to paraphrase the Bible:
Turn the other cheek.
However in the Bible it is providing an alternative tack to take to 'An eye for and eye, and a tooth for a tooth' . So rather than seeking revenge in equal measure to the crime committed, the advice appears to be to provide instead an opportunity of equal measure for the offence to be repeated. This time not out of anger or perhaps in the cold light of day. Is it providing an opportunity for the person to do the right thing? Is it to give them a second change?
Otherwise we are saying that people who suffer domestic violence should just put up with it. Or is it saying that it is as equally ridiculous to use the mantra 'An eye for an eye and an tooth for a tooth' as it is to say that if some one hits you on one cheek that you should give them the other to hit too. Or perhaps it is expanding on the idea that revenge is self-perpetuating and will eventually come back to bite you.
So what is the 'right thing'?
- I've heard parents tell their kids to hit the bully back.
- I've heard the tit-for-tat goings on of messy divorces.
- I've heard the neighbourhood ASBO threatening battles.
- I've heard the sentences prisoners judges and juries have doled out for crimes.
What is the difference between punishment and revenge? Does it matter? Do either make the world a better place?
I remember a 7 year old saying to me how 'horrible' someone was all the time, that the boy just didn't know how to 'behave' and everybody said he was 'naughty' so nobody liked him or wanted to play with him and he got into 'trouble' a lot.
We talked about how 'sad' it was that he should make people feel like that but we also discussed how sad it was that he had no friends and how that must feel. But out of the conversation, the most important question was:
'How can someone know how to behave if they are not shown?'
Its trust. How can we expect people to do the right thing if we don't do it ourselves? What will they learn from us?
- If he hits me and I hit him back. I am saying it is ok to hit.
- If he attacks my home and I bomb his back. I'm saying its ok to bomb.
- If he kills someone and he is given the death penalty. I am saying its ok to kill.
Turn the other cheek. If only to give yourself time to think of what to do next, time to develop a plan, a way of dealing with the issues at the root of the problem. To prevent recurrences of the same problem for the same reasons.
Like Gandhi said:
'An eye for and eye only makes the whole world blind.'
And as Martin Luther King Jnr said:
'Violence as a way of achieving racial justice is both impractical and immoral. It is impractical because it is a descending spiral ending in destruction for all. The old law of an eye for an eye leaves everybody blind. It is immoral because it seeks to humiliate the opponent rather than win his understanding; it seeks to annihilate rather than to convert.'
(King, 1958, p.213)
King, M, L. (1958) 'Stride Toward Freedom: The Montgomery Story', Harper & Row, New York