How a Stoic would deal with revenge

"How much better it is to heal a wrong than to avenge one! Vengeance takes considerable time, and it exposes a man to many injuries while only one causes him resentment; we always feel anger longer than we feel hurt." Everyday we’re faced with things that irritate us, annoyances are unfortunately a natural part of life. However, some events can affect us so much we feel the need to retaliate. But to what extent is this relitation necessary? How do the stoics respond to this reaction? And how can we properly cope with these feelings? 

The feeling of anger or hurt doesn’t have to be relayed, the stoics preached that revenge is not justice. Dwelling on revenge is the equivalent to dwelling on the past, we have to focus on the present only- the one thing that is under our control. Seneca explains that there are two big causes of suffering. One is the fear of the future, and the other is regretting the past. “Two elements must therefore be rooted out once for all, —the fear of future suffering, and the recollection of past suffering; since the latter no longer concerns me, and the former concerns me not yet.” Regret from the past is difficult, it’s something we all face.” To overcome this we must remember that ‘Everything happens for a reason’, but to take that even further we could even try saying to ourselves ‘What positive lesson did I learn from my mistakes in the past?’ This lesson sustains in its relation to revenge. Instead of focusing on what has happened and how it upset you, look beyond the situation and see how you can learn and develop from that event. Being resourceful with the negative factors in our life proves our dedication to our own personal journey towards progress. 

“The best revenge is to be unlike him who performed the injury.” Marcus Aureilus explains. Every relationship or interaction offers a lesson. We are constantly learning, inspiring and sharing our relationships and everyday interactions with one another. Unfortunately there are times when our interactions may take on a negative form. When we experience wrong doing in any shape, way or form it is important not to retaliate or reflect back with the same nature of the perpetrator. It is more important to rise above the negativity. The capability to walk away from a situation like this shows real strength, and willpower, by taking a step back you’re given more time to focus on yourself. Use their negative response as a way of reflection, we should not be able to see ourselves in the same nature of our perpetrator, we should be able to see our moral high ground. The stoics stressed the importance of self reflection and its benefits upon our personal progress.

Wherever possible we must attempt to de-escalate a potentially violent or destructive situation. When we feel the feeling brewing, look beyond the unsatisfactory immediate feeling and imagine the worst case scenario. Take a moment to use self reflection and ask yourself the most important question… Does your reaction feel worthy? Look beyond the situation and imagine the feeling of regret waving over you, visualise the outcome of your poor reaction. The stoics ensured that we should look at life in a way that always puts us first, in a way where you are constantly protecting your own dignity. 

Fundamentally, anger breeds toxicity. Reacting with our anger can often do more harm than initially anticipated. Toxic emotions damage and disgrace us, the stoics argue that we always govern the way in which we react, that’s our autonomy.  When prioritising an impulse as a response, you risk transforming your perspective upon the situation. The stoics argue that the best remedy for anger is time and distance, taking the moment to prioritise the future over the emotions, Seneca wrote that “If you want to determine the nature of anything, entrust it to time: when the sea is stormy, you can see nothing clearly” When we choose anger we spiral out of control, we drift further and further away from balance and tranquility. Sometimes when we act with anger it can change us, it makes us unnatural and savage, the reactions we make can often be irreversible, injuring our moral character. 

Ultimately, revenge is sourced in the irrational reaction of anger. Choosing to respond with anger is the worst thing a stoic can do. We intentionally put ourselves out of control. Revenge should never be an impulse reaction, it should reside in the back of our mind. Forefront feelings of empathy, feelings of balance, acceptance. Reactions that put you in place of moral superiority, a place where you cannot be harmed by the events that could potentially harm you.

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