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Saturated_Brain's avatar

"There is no revenge as sweet as forgiveness." Does this phrase make any sense to you?

Asked by Saturated_Brain (5233 points ) September 4th, 2009

Now we all know that we’re supposed to forgive and forget. And everyone tells us that an eye for an eye makes the world go blind. We also know that when we’re extremely angry with somebody we feel like lashing out and doing horrible things to them, and yet it’s common knowledge that forgiving that person will cause all the anger to go away, which is arguably the best feeling one can have.

And yet when I first saw this phrase, something inside me clicked. It somehow makes sense, and yet at the same time didn’t. How can one take revenge upon another by forgiving them? By forgiving them the need for revenge disappears. However, when you forgive someone, isn’t it true that the other person can also feel very bad for what he/she has done? Forgiveness and revenge seem to be mutually exclusive. So is this just one of those stupid phrases that pop up from time to time (shoop da whoop, anyone?)?

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25 Answers

IBERnineD's avatar

not right now I don’t

Sarcasm's avatar

Ideally, it would make sense, it should make people wake up and say “Whoa, I was a dick and that guy still forgave me? I should re-evaluate myself”. But in my experience, the people who are dicks don’t really realize that kind of stuff.

mally03's avatar

By forgiving, you take away the power the other person holds over you when you let it(the issue)
bother you.

hearkat's avatar

This seems similar to “Living well is the best revenge” in my mind… because to hold on to a grudge means that the person who has wronged you still has control over you to some degree. You continue to be victimized by them as long as you cling to those negative emotions. By letting go of your hurt and anger you are able to move on with your life, and you render them powerless over you. Perhaps they won’t feel as though you’ve exacted revenge, but you will feel a sense of peace and vindication within yourself—at least I have.
.

My Favorite Quote on forgiveness:
“Forgiveness is the fragrance
the violet sheds
on the heel that has crushed it.”
~~Mark Twain

VS's avatar

It absolutely makes sense to me. Revenge being a dish better served cold and all those other little sayings we have all heard aside, it would seem that forgiveness is kind of like waiting for the other shoe to fall. People who have wronged you on any level will expect your wrath and to forgive them will eliminate that other shoe falling. Sometimes people who have wronged someone will thrive on the expectation that the wronged party is harboring anger and thoughts of revenge, whereas forgiveness dispenses all that. Besides the only person hurt by holding a grudge is the grudge-holder.

Jeruba's avatar

There are two ways of reading this.

Kindness is sweeter than getting even

One interpretation alludes to the commonly held aphorism that revenge is sweet. This has been said in many ways; some of them are here.

Your quote uses this idea of revenge, the greatly satisfying feeling of getting even for a wrong or injustice, and says that a still sweeter experience is that of letting the injury go—of opening one’s heart to a compassionate understanding of one’s erring fellows and forgetting vengeance, seeking instead the higher good of loving forgiveness.

Forgiveness punishes them more

A second reading comes close to the Biblical Christian idea expressed here in Romans 12 (KJV)*:

[17] Recompense to no man evil for evil. Provide things honest in the sight of all men.
[18] If it be possible, as much as lieth in you, live peaceably with all men.
[19] Dearly beloved, avenge not yourselves, but rather give place unto wrath: for it is written, Vengeance is mine; I will repay, saith the Lord.
[20] Therefore if thine enemy hunger, feed him; if he thirst, give him drink: for in so doing thou shalt heap coals of fire on his head.
[21] Be not overcome of evil, but overcome evil with good.

This is similar to the idea of turning the other cheek, as expressed by Jesus in the Sermon on the Mount and as discussed here.

That phrase “for in so doing thou shalt heap coals of fire on his head” always seemed paradoxical to me. Understood in this way, doing good to those who have harmed you instead of taking revenge on them is revenge in itself because they won’t be able to stand it. This caught my ear as a Sunday-school-going youngster who was always being exhorted to goodness: how nice is it, really, to want to heap coals of fire on your enemy’s head? If you understand it in that sense, it’s not about your feelings—the pleasure it gives you to get even—but about of the other person’s feelings. You’ll be bugging the hell out of him by not playing by his rules, and this will rankle worse with him than escalating warfare because he has no excuse to come back at you. You break the cycle, take the high ground, and shut him up.

Of course, the effect of this does depend on his knowing that he’s done you wrong. And if he doesn’t, exactly what are you taking revenge for?
___
*I always quote the King James Version because it is the most beautiful by far, one of the great jewels of the English language, and also the one most familiar to me. I’ve grown up to be an atheist who does not believe in the Biblical doctrines of any faith, but I do acknowledge its widsom teachings and also its stature as literature.

Judi's avatar

Forgiveness stops giving them power over you. You allow the offender to control your emotions when you give in to rage, anger, disgust, all that stuff that wells up inside.
Forgiveness puts YOU back in control. It takes away their power.

Judi's avatar

@Jeruba , have you heard the rumors or know if there is any evidence to prove that Shakespeare may have played a role in the King James translation?

Jeruba's avatar

@Judi, I read with great interest the book Wide as the Waters, which describes how the KJV came to be, and I do not recall any mention of Shakespeare. Since I am among those who suspect that Edward De Vere, 17th Earl of Oxford, was the actual author of the plays attributed to Shakespeare, I would take some convincing that the actor we know as William Shakespeare was involved. But there is no doubt that the committee who contributed to the KJV were supremely gifted craftsmen and poets who helped create the language as we know it. While that effort was going on, I would imagine it would have attracted the interest of literary men of influence.

LexWordsmith's avatar

@Saturated_Brain : any revenge that occurs is transmitted in the instant of forgiveness (although possibly never arrives).

But i think that the meaning is that the level of sweetness that any revenge would have provided is exceeeded by the level that disburdening oneself of the resentment provides. Furthermore, knowing that you now stand on the moral high ground is also sweet, even if the transgressor makes a good apology(*) and joins you there. (Remember, any number of angls can dance on the head—or even point—of a pin.)
===================================================
(*) CARA (Italian for dear, Irish for friend)—the elements of a good apology:
Contrition (regretful realization that what you did was wrong)
Apology (statement of your realization)
Request for forgiveness
Amends
“What i did was wrong. I’m really very sorry about it.
Please forgive me. What can i do to make it up to you?”

LexWordsmith's avatar

Speaking of “shoop da woop” as being a stupid phrase: The songwriter who wrote “Da Do Ron Ron” died recently. During the writing of the song, the phrase was just a placeholder, but appropriate words never came to mind, so the nonsense syllables ended up in the final version. The same songwriter wrote “Going to the Chapel” and “Leader of the Pack” and several other “girl group” songs. Most amazing of all to me was that the songwriter turned out to be a white, Jewish woman (Elly Goldstein, iirc)—one of a group whose sensibilities would (in my evidently stereotyping view of the world) be as far as i could imagine from resonating with those of Motown / R&B music.

hungryhungryhortence's avatar

No, it makes no sense. Forgiveness has nothing to do with revenge or even vindication. Forgive and maybe forget is okay if it’s an unreasonable tiff or freak offense. Some things though, some things are important to remember even if they hurt so you have a marker for what to be wary of, a little pop up Red flag of uncomfortableness to let you know when you’re in familiar muddy waters.

kevbo's avatar

I would say ”... as pity.”

hearkat's avatar

@kevbo: You are proposing that the quote would be better if it said, “There is no revenge as sweet as pity”?

Very interesting – because in the case of the family member who molested me, there is a sense of pity. He will not accept accountability for his actions, and I have accepted that as a sign of his weakness that he does not have the fortitude to live with the guilt. Neither does my mother, who claims to have done the best she could in being completely clueless that her daughter was miserable and praying to “die before I wake”. So I feel a sense of pity for them.

kevbo's avatar

@hearkat, I know it’s in your past, but it is really sad to hear that story. That is what I meant, though, and I think it rings pretty true.

hearkat's avatar

@kevbo: Thanks. It took many years for me to stop being ashamed and to stop being a victim. I have stopped feeling sorry for myself, and realize that there are others who have it even worse than I did, unfortunately. I am finally in a place where I can accept that it happened, and I can appreciate how it has made me deeper, and more compassionate towards others. I speak openly about it in the hopes of helping others free themselves from the shackles of victimhood.

The_Compassionate_Heretic's avatar

Forgiveness, means that you’ve moved on.

YARNLADY's avatar

I agree with @mally03 , the revenge is that the evil doer no longer has any control over how you feel. You have taken your life back.

Jack79's avatar

Yes it makes sense, though it doesn’t always work. Not in my case, anyway.

scamp's avatar

Here’s a story of my personal experience with this topic. When I was in my early 20’s, we helped a couple that we thought were our friends. They had been kicked out of their place because he was out of work and couldn’t pay his rent, so we took them in. Shortly after that, we had soem problems with our landlord, and we needed to move out pretty quickly. (it’s a long story, but the landlord had padlocked our gate so we couldn’t move, and when the cops made him remove it, we needed to go quick to avoid further problems)

While we were packing, the other couple were helping us by packing some things into their car. To shorten the story, they took off with most of our stuff.

Years later, we ran into her, walking (or should I say stumbling ) home from a bar. I asked my husband to pull over, and he thought I wanted to beat this woman for what she and her husband had done to us. I assured him there would be no problems, especially since we had our infant daughter in the car.

I thought quickly about what to do and say to this woman. if I had yelled at her or gotten physical, it would have been exactly what she would expect, and she would be able to call me a bitch from hell for hurting her.

Instead, I put on my biggest smile, and hugged her in the street. I told her I was very happy to see her, and told her about our new baby. She peeked into the car at my beautiful bundle of joy, and I could see instantly that she was already beginning to regret not only being in my presence, but what she had done all those years ago.

I asked her if she needed a ride home, and she stuttered something like.. ‘No, thanks, I just live around the corner.”
Then, out of the blue, she said “I still have most of your things.” I waved my hand in dismissal, and said.. “Oh, never mind, I’ve replaced that old junk a long time ago. You can keep it.” She then started to cry and murmur something about how sorry she was, and how I was the best friend she ever had. i waved that away also, and told her not to think twice about it. I have never seen anyone squirm from guilt so much in my life!!

I felt like I had much more closure knowing that she would feel the guilt of what she had done, and that karma was taking care of this situation. Oh, and by the way, you might ask where her husband was in this part of the story? He was in prison! Apparently, the night they stole from us was the beginning of a week long theft spree for them, and he was caught and arrested. When they got him to the jail, they found out he was wanted for similar offences in another state, so when he finished his term in one state, he had a nice cozy cell waiting for him in another.

So in my case, forgiveness (or karma) was much sweeter than any revenge I could have cooked up for them.

sorry this is so long!

Saturated_Brain's avatar

@scamp That is an amazing story… But did you feel vindicated in the same way as you would’ve for revenge? Or was it something way beyond that?

scamp's avatar

I think I was much more satisfied with the way I handled it than if I had acted in a way to take revenge on them. I was able to hold my head up and know I did the right thing, while they hung their heads in shame. We ran into the husband about 5 years later when he got out of prison, and he actually cried when he saw us.

trailsillustrated's avatar

No it makes absolutely no sense to me. , one has NOTHING to do with the other. while revenge is sweet, forgiveness even sweeter, I don’t how the first can ever really bring the second. Forgiveness cancels out revenge in any form.

Simone_De_Beauvoir's avatar

to me one can move on and not let the person bother you without forgiving them…I don’t forgive easily but I will forget you easily

Aesthetic_Mess's avatar

It might be the same concept as kill a person with kindness. That person might be expecting revenge, but forgiving them wasn’t what they expected, and that’s how you get back at them?

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