Payback. Poetic Justice. Schadenfreude. Call it what you like, but don’t we just love it when someone gets their just deserts.That satisfying feeling that comes with seeing someone get what’s coming to them. But can being right and righteous be wrong?
There was a time when I wished life would serve poetic justice to the trouble causing people in my life. Some were public figures, I’m talking about the Iron Lady herself, Margaret Thatcher. Others were bullies at school.
How I wished I could have opened up a can of righteous whup arse to show them the light of day or had a couple of zingers to turn them into stone. I was so angry at the injustices that spewed from them and so desiring for accounts to be settled.
Right there. That righteous feeling of being in the right when we are wronged feels so good we may even feel we have the right to do wrong. To cause some hurt to the ones who have hurt, denied, neglected, or abused us.
As a kid, my conflicts with bullies often ended in the headmaster’s office. During one such face off a bully punched me hard in the belly, leaving me winded, frustrated, and scared. That day I wished he would just disappear and leave us alone.
Later that same year, while crossing the street he was hit by a car and was in intensive care for a couple of weeks. At school, the teachers asked us to pray for him. I asked a friend: “ Did you pray for him?” She said she did. She asked me the same and I said: “No, I didn’t.”
My logic at the time, the logic of a 10-year-old, told me, “Why should I pray for someone to get well, knowing their return would mean my being bullied again.”
He died. His death left gaping existential questions that I could not begin to fathom or even hope to answer at that age. Because of his death, I questioned: Am I a bad person? Could a genuine prayer from me have made a difference or, did he get his just deserts?
A part of me thought he did. A part of me felt no remorse over my lack of sadness for his unfortunate end. I hid those parts because I concluded I must be bad, but I also concluded that I was right.
Back then there was no-one to lead me through that maze of conflicting feelings of self-preservation, justice, punishment and the need for compassion. I didn’t know that cycles of violence perpetuate. I didn’t think for a second that he, the bully, may have come from difficult circumstances himself. That perhaps he didn’t know any better.
If I’d had someone explain to me how human nature works and how to be a kinder, more thoughtful person, I wouldn’t have felt all alone battling a bully. I would have had options; different ways of perceiving the situation I was in.
This brings me to the elections here in the USA. I see all around myself that same righteousness, the anger displayed in the venting that different cultural/political viewpoints bring out. I see it with the Trump supporters, Hillary’s “I’m with Her” tribe, and the die hard Berners.
I wonder, isn’t there room for compassion in our exchanges? Isn’t there time or will enough to listen to each other? Isn’t there a way to be right without thinking the other is wrong or deplorable? Isn’t there a way to explain or understand that immigrant does not mean rapist? That refugee doesn’t have to mean terrorist? That it is not simply them v us?
Who among us will step away from the righteous venting and commit to being peaceful and mindful?
It only takes a moment to pause, take a deep breath and find a different, better way to include others. These others with whom we may have less in common are part of our learning curve. Let us learn gracefully and well.
Have you ever been shamed or bullied and wanted to get revenge? How did it go? Are there unresolved memories keeping you from soaring in your life? Let me help.