I was recently watching Jeopardy — yes, that’s right, Jeopardy — and was inspired by something I heard. The question related to a Confucius proverb: “Before you embark on a journey of revenge, dig two graves.” I found myself pondering this, as I have never heard it before, but also because it sounded interesting and I didn’t totally understand the meaning.
My husband and I sat there for a while discussing the quote. We concluded that if a person plans to get revenge, they not only will be hurting the other person, but inevitably, also hurting themselves.
It’s hard, at first, to see how revenge can hurt us. If we’re the one getting revenge, wouldn’t it be hurting the other person more than ourselves? Honestly, I think the person we hurt the most when getting revenge is ourselves. How?
Firstly, by ruminating. Ruminating is thinking constantly about something, imagining it, day dreaming about it, falling asleep thinking about it. For instance, I ruminate often about things that make me anxious. I’m a worrier. It’s difficult for me to be “in the moment.” My brain is always thinking about what’s coming up or ruminating about what happened yesterday or five minutes ago that I wish didn’t happen. Ruminating removes us from the present. It keeps us from living in the moment. It also can strike up feelings directly related to what we are ruminating over. With my example, when I ruminate, I start to become more anxious. I’m not anxious from anything happening in the moment, but my feelings of anxiety are coming from my thoughts. Similarly, ruminating over revenge might bring on feelings of anger or hatred. This, in turn, can make us more irritable, less focused, and short-tempered; ultimately hurting ourselves because we can’t perform to our full potential.
Wanting to get revenge can also turn us into someone else. How many times are you in a bad mood and you take that out on someone else, but later apologize, blaming the outburst on something bothering you: “Sorry, I had a terrible day at work,” “Sorry, I really don’t feel well,” “Sorry, my dog peed on the floor.” We make excuses for our outbursts, because our outbursts are not a true reflection of who we are, they were just a reflection of a moment of weakness for us. Similarly, wanting revenge can make us act like someone else; not our normal selves. Maybe it makes us angrier more often. Maybe it makes us think mean thoughts we don’t normally consider. Maybe it makes us take those bitter feelings of revenge out on others.
According to an article
entitled The relationship between forgiveness and anger rumination
, “Continuing to hold angry memories and to ruminate on them acts as a barrier to forgiveness. Results suggest that some individuals may continue to have long living fantasies of revenge when the conflict is long over… Holding on to an angry memory is an important part of not being able to forgive oneself. Similarly, thoughts of revenge are dominant when they do not want to forgive others…”
I decided to take my own advice.
I had a falling out with one of my best friends two years ago. I went to college with him, and after college, we ended up in different stages of life. I was engaged to my now-husband and my best friend was just coming back from his time in the Navy, and he was ready to “let loose” a little bit. He became a different person and someone I didn’t want to be friends with. He would ditch me, make bad decisions, and just didn’t respect our friendship the way I was – I felt like I was keeping our friendship together as he was tearing it apart – and I couldn’t force that anymore. I got upset with him; I said things that I did not ultimately mean; and we never spoke again… until now.
Yesterday I reached out to him. I asked if he had a few minutes to talk. I let him know that I was reaching out, not to rekindle a friendship, but to let him know that I forgave him and that I wasn’t going to hold onto the negative memories anymore. I let him know that I wasn’t looking for an apology and all I wanted was to clear the air and let go. I have to admit, it was difficult. At times, I didn’t really know if I fully believed everything I was saying; I didn’t know if I truly was moving on and letting go of the grudge I had.
I had zero expectations about my friend’s possible response. I knew that was the mind-set I needed to be in. If I was calling to forgive him and to help myself move on, then all the other things I “maybe wanted” to happen as a result (“I’m so sorry!” “You’re right!”), I had to remove them. I couldn’t predict what his response would be, and I knew that any expectations I may have had could crush me if things didn’t go a certain way.
My friend was extremely receptive and happy to hear from me. He did apologize and he let me know he’s a completely different person, a better person, than the person I remember. He thanked me for reaching out. He let me know that he would try hard to communicate so that hopefully one day we could be friends again.
We hung up the phone. And I felt a weight lift off of my shoulders. I was relieved. I was happy that he was receptive and appreciative. I continue not to have expectations because I don’t trust him and we’re not friends, but I do hope that he finds what he’s looking for – and if that is a friendship with me, than I hope he proves that.
Forgiving an old friend opened my eyes to why I was yearning for local friends and work friends. I was letting this issue affect my life, and it was an issue that occurred two years ago. Think back to relationships you could have mended or relationships that can still be mended. Be the bigger person and mend them – or don’t mend, but forgive. Forgive those around you and let go of the burdens you’re holding onto. Go into it without expectations – just with the intention to free yourself.