Dr. CK Bray
The Best Revenge is Served Cold, Just Ask Me
I was headed to my five-year-old’s soccer match when my cell phone rang. It was my daughter's cell number, but someone different started talking to me, telling me my daughter had been hit by a car while running and was being taken to the emergency room. She repeated that my daughter was stabilized and didn’t seem to be in any life-threatening danger, but she had been seriously hurt. Her arm was broken, several ribs broken, and it looked like she had landed on her face after the car catapulted her into the air. I could hear her crying in pain over the phone.
After the accident's initial shock and knowing my daughter would be okay, despite needing multiple surgeries, my attention turned toward the man who had hit her. Bystanders reported that he appeared to be looking at his phone. The more I thought about it, the angrier I became. I obtained the police report and found out the name of the individual. Without my wife’s knowledge (or consent!) I called him. I don’t know why I called him or what I wanted out of the conversation, but the emotions, anger, and sense of revenge were all-consuming. I think I needed a target to aim the hatred at, and he was the cause of it, so I let him have it. He deserved to hear what I said, but my intent was more than to let him know my feelings. It was to attack him as a person and devalue his worth. After the call, I decided he was going to suffer as much as my daughter was suffering. I planned on letting his work know what had happened and the charges filed against him. He didn’t have insurance, so I was going to go after what he did own. (Which I quickly learned was nearly nothing. His car was impounded since it was not registered, he didn’t carry insurance, and he was living paycheck to paycheck.)
In my research on human behavior, I have read several scholars who have researched the evil and malevolence we all have inside us. We don’t want to (and often can’t) acknowledge that part of us, to admit we have the potential to WANT to cause harm and suffering to another person. I never could imagine myself as such a person, yet I was consumed with revenge within a few weeks of the accident.
My wife noticed and began throwing empathy, kindness, and forgiveness darts at my ice-cold soul. She made small comments throughout the day, encouraging me to notice my thinking and feelings. Combined with several spiritual experiences, I began to see that man very differently. Little by little, I thought about him as more than just the man who had injured my daughter in a careless mistake. I made another phone call to this man, talked with him, asked him questions, and listened and learned about him. During the call, I was in hand-to-hand combat with my brain; anger and hatred versus compassion and forgiveness. The latter won out, and I’m grateful it did. His life was already full of pain, anguish, and sadness, and his choice to be on the phone while driving had only compounded it. I needed to deliver empathy and forgiveness.
We live in a time when we have become highly divisive, wrapped up in the reasons we are correct, and others are wrong. Why we have every right to be justified in behaving in malevolent ways toward others. “They deserve it,” we say. “They aren’t as smart as we are,” we tell ourselves. Don’t learn my lesson the hard way. You have incredible, beautiful parts of yourself; you also have the opposite. Be courageous by facing it and changing it. This might be the most important thing you think about this week.
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