Practice: Considering Revenge and Forgiveness
Contemporary culture puts a premium on revenge. Retaliation is portrayed as a mark of strength, a sign of equality, and a way to exact our due. Yet the truth is just the opposite. Only the brave can forgive from the heart. —Dolores Wood
The pull toward revenge is strong, natural in fact. The reward system in our brains is activated when we seek revenge. “It is a craving to solve a problem or accomplish a goal,” notes psychology professor and author, Michael McCullough. Yet, forgiveness, too, is natural to us. "Evolutionary science leads us squarely to the conclusion that the capacity for forgiveness, like the desire for revenge, is also an intrinsic feature of human nature, crafted by natural selection," writes McCullough. Without it, relationships can be jeopardized, putting family and community ties at risk.
Forgiveness can be a powerful self-administered salve for small and large transgressions. That doesn't mean it's the right choice for everyone or for every transgression. It also doesn't mean it's easy. “Forgiveness comes sometimes in droplets, in bits and pieces,” says theologian Miroslav Volf. "We need to think of [forgiveness] as a practice, as living into something.”
As you consume the news, watch and listen to media, note the messages, the comments, the story lines that revolve around revenge as well as those that explore forgiveness. Talk with your friends and family about what you are noticing and how that impacts thinking and behavior. Are there mentors of forgiveness in your life, in your family, in your community? How might you shine a light on their example?
This practice is inspired by conversation cards focused on love, forgiveness, and compassion, a resource available from the Fetzer Institute.