Revenge is a cold, considered insanity. It cannot claim that impulsive, momentary quality exemplified by the bar-room drunkard. Through cultivated anger, the vengeful man surrenders his soul to that which is most monstrous. We all are capable of this, and must watch vigilantly over our inner demon. For so long as vengeance remains only a thought, it can be defeated. Once it becomes an act, all is lost. Take Ahab, who enacts his vengeance over the longue durée, at every moment ready to immolate himself for the sake of it:
All that most maddens and torments; all that stirs up the lees of things; all truth with malice in it; all that cracks the sinews and cakes the brain; all the subtle demonisms of life and thought; all evil, to crazy Ahab, were visibly personified, and made practically assailable in Moby Dick. He piled upon the whale’s white hump the sum of all the general rage and hate felt by his whole race from Adam down; and then, as if his chest had been a mortar, he burst his hot heart’s shell upon it.
It is not probable that this monomania in him took its instant rise at the precise time of his bodily dismemberment. Then, in darting at the monster, knife in hand, he had but given loose to a sudden, passionate, corporal animosity; and when he received the stroke that tore him, he probably but felt the agonizing bodily laceration, but nothing more. Yet, when by this collision forced to turn towards home, and for long months of days and weeks, Ahab and anguish lay stretched together in one hammock, rounding in mid winter that dreary, howling Patagonian Cape; then it was, that his torn body and gashed soul bled into one another; and so interfusing, made him mad. (Moby Dick, 1851).
When we are wronged we must have justice, but we must know what it means to be wronged. To have one’s house swept away by a tornado, or to have one’s dog struck by lightning – these things are not unjust; they are unfortunate. We may feel aggrieved, but we must simply dust ourselves down and rebuild. We may be ruined, but we are not wronged. In such cases, insurance companies come under scrutiny when they fail to follow contractual obligations to pay. And where there is injustice here, there are courts in which to fight. It is no use waging war against the heavens, for injustice is a human contrivance.
To be clear: to seek justice is not to be confused with seeking revenge. To that end, the quest for justice is not incompatible with forgiveness. Indeed, when we are wronged we must let go of the hurt that drives us into malice and contempt – into unjust acts of our own – and, especially if we are met with contrition, we must forgive. If we seek justice in the appropriate way, we may feel it better to see justice served before we forgive, but that already implies a will to relent our ill-feelings. And ultimately we must, for no good comes of hate; no right comes from a will to do wrong; no humanity was ever wrought from a hardened heart.
We may rue our lot, but we must not let the injustice done to us define us. To be human, and to prosper, we must let go and look forward. Those who trespass against us may not be the worse off for that, but we shall be the better.