Compassion & Revenge
13 September 2001

Peace symbol

Katherine Phelps

Many years ago I was married for a short time to a man who firmly believed in revenge. He had been raised by a family where both parents were alcoholics, and he and his brothers had been regularly beaten. He came to believe that the only way to deal with the people who wronged him was to make them hurt as he had been hurt, and to make them hurt twice as much so they would never do it again. I had felt wronged by my family who were dysfunctional in their own way, so I understood his feelings, though I was not aware at first of the extent of his vengefulness. After we were married he told me of his philosophy of two eyes for an eye.

The problem was he carried a lot of pain around with him all the time. Slight and unintentional hurts would cause him to lash out. Also, how do you measure how much a person is hurt? He would try to make them hurt twice as much as he, but he could not measure that, nor would his vengeance relieve his pain. So the whole thing was endless. As his wife I was not immune and eventually had to flee the relationship with some dire consequences.

In some ways you could easily say he was an evil man, and I loved him. I could see the parts that were loveable and the parts that were calling out for love. This did not justify his actions, nor require that I place myself in danger by staying with him. I still loved him.

We are all in grief over the events in New York and Washington DC. Part of the process of grief is anger. Allow yourself to feel these feelings, love these feelings, nurture yourself until they pass, they are only temporary. Vengeance will not make these feelings go away, only your love and respect for yourself. Vengeance just creates a never ending cycle of pain such as the one my former husband was caught up in with his parents.

I too have been feeling off and on like I would like to see the back of extremist religion/politics broken. I also know that is not the solution. Compassion is the only true answer. And compassion has been missing in the US's dealings with many countries before this tragedy. This does not mean we are at fault, but it does mean it is time we raised our awareness of the sort of impact we are having.