Revenge won’t make you feel better

15 05 2013

“He made me do it!” “It was her fault!”


That is a common line of defence for many people caught in the act of cheating. It points to the question of individual motivation for behaviour, a question that social scientists have long grappled with. There are many questions to be asked in this regard, but the two I will attempt to answer today are: one, what makes people act the way they do? And two, can someone else be blamed for that behaviour? Here are my thoughts.

Let me begin with the academic foundations on the issue of motivation, based particularly on the fields of psychology, sociology, and philosophy. Motivation is at the heart of psychology and sociology, the former dealing with internal motivation and the latter, external motivations for behaviour. So when the question, “Why did he/she do it?” is asked, psychology will zero in on internal motivations such as anger, fear, and lust. Sociology, on the other hand, will look for anything in one’s environment, such as culture, relationships, and economy.

From a purely academic sense therefore, one can argue that indeed, it can be justifiable to point a finger at someone and say “he/she made me do it”. And trust me, there are many people whose excuse for cheating on their spouse is paying them back for either cheating or a myriad other things they have done or failed to do in the past.

This is the excuse that Adam and Eve gave, and is what we choose to give many times when caught with our hands in the honey jar.

But life is not experienced on an academic level, but rather on the reality level — this is where philosophy comes in. Philosophy deals with moral issues and asks the question; what do you believe in? What is good or bad, right or wrong, acceptable or unacceptable in various situations? Therefore when you say, “I was angry (mental) because he/she cheated on me (social), philosophy asks; “Do you believe what you did was right, good, or acceptable?”

Therefore, psychology and sociology provides us with raw data about individuals and their circumstances, while philosophy helps us to understand how they use that data to make decisions. Where am I going with all this?

First, the temptation to cheat is a common response when one is cheated on. May I add that you do not need to feel guilty about that feeling; it is a legitimate expression of the pain that you may be experiencing. However, your final decision cannot be blamed on another person or circumstances. As we have seen, our feelings and the circumstances should never drive us to make decisions. Furthermore, cheating cannot be a reflex action, such as punching someone in anger.

You always have the option to choose to do things differently.

Second, and very important, is the fact that the consequences of an act of revenge are personal. The person who begins it will fight their own ghosts, those who act in response will fight their own ghosts too and sometimes those are more vicious. The “sins” of another person will never help you to overcome your guilt.

Third, the stakes are very high and even if you have enough reasons to hit back, your character is at risk. If you agree with whoever said that character makes the person, you would as well agree with me that fighting against temptation should be a priority.

Is it a wise decision to follow someone into a pit of fire because they wronged you? Think about that.




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