“Revenge only engenders violence, not clarity and true peace. I think liberation must come from within.”
~ Sandra Cisneros
Sandra Cisneros (1954 – ) is Mexican by heritage and spent her childhood migrating with her family between Mexico City and Chicago – where she attended high school and studied for her degree. She is a venerated Chicana writer who struggled with her cultural identity throughout her youth. She is best known for her novel House on Mango Street where she tells the stories of the marginalised women with whom she identifies.
In this quote, Cisneros points out that revenge itself is an act couched in a desire to inflict some suffering upon another. As such, it seeks to do harm, not good, and will, therefore, foster the same desire within the targeted person or party.
Psychologists tell us that the desire for revenge when we feel wronged is a natural reaction, and therefore universal to all individuals. The anger we feel after we have been duped, treated cruelly or unfairly is what triggers the desire for revenge. Naturally, we want to hit back. Having said that, we are encouraged to talk ourselves down from the anger and move past it to arrive at “… clarity and true peace.”
Experts in human behaviour suggest that the act of revenge is barbarous. It represents the giving into our basest instincts and causes one to confuse revenge with justice. In a civilised society, we need to rise above these base instincts and strive for better ways to handle situations that inflict pain upon us. To fail to do so demeans our humanity.
Probably the best argument against revenge is the one quoted above. No good ever comes from retribution because it inspires more attacks and creates a vicious circle. We harm ourselves when we act out of revenge because we have lowered ourselves to the level of the savage. We also harm society as a whole when we perpetrate such acts by modelling poor behaviour and inciting violence among others to get involved in support of injured parties.
I remember a saying I heard years ago. “Always put your brain in gear before putting your mouth in motion.” Strong emotions like anger tend to derail our thought processes, and it is, therefore, difficult to think rationally when in the grips of a white-hot passion. As rational beings, we have the ability to analyse a situation and choose the best course of action from available options. Unfortunately, it is not our rational side that is triggered when we have suffered cruel or unfair treatment, but our emotions instead. As human beings, we are all born with these predilections. These instincts, in more primitive times, helped us react quickly to threats so that we could survive. Self-defence is entirely justified, but vengeance is not.
The final sentence of this quote talks about spiritual liberation, and I believe that Cisneros is calling us to liberate ourselves from our emotions. I’m not suggesting that emotions are wrong or evil – they just are. They exist, and each of us has to deal with them every single day. As well, I’m not proposing we operate as Star Trek’s Mr Spock by denying our emotions and become beings of pure logic, either. I should celebrate every aspect of my humanity and recognise all of the wonder and beauty therein. I need to understand that I have base instincts that need to be mastered if I am to become the civilised being that I aspire to be.