I admit I am a vengeful person. I admit it just like I admit I’m a person with bad knees. It’s inconvenient and annoying, but it’s become an unfortunate part of who I am. I’m trying to let my grudges drift away, but I think that would require some sort of radical intervention, similar to cutting out my knees and replacing them with knees made of gentle and forgiving titanium.
Some people say they can hold a grudge until it’s old and gray. I can hold a grudge until it dies. Then I stuff it, mount it, and hang it over the fireplace. Then I chat with it through the Ouija Board. My wife shakes her head when I say that, but she doesn’t say, “Oh honey, you’re not that bad.” She says, “Someday you’re going to have a stroke while you’re trying to destroy a Wal-Mart Super Center with just the power of your mind.”
I hear that the first step is admitting you have a problem. Okay, I have a problem. But it strikes me that I don’t know just how bad this problem is. I don’t know if it will ruin my life, or if it will just ruin my breakfast once in a while. I decided to check out what history’s great thinkers had to say about vengeance and anger.
A quote has floated around for a long time, attributed to Buddha, who was certainly a wise old chap. It is:
“Holding onto anger is like drinking poison and expecting the other person to die.”
— Someone who wasn’t Buddha
Why do I say that the author of this quote wasn’t Buddha? I did a little poking around, and Fake Buddha Quotes convinced me it was so. Nobody seems to really know where this came from. For all we know, some washer woman ruined Buddha’s favorite robe and he never forgave her.
Confucius was another terribly smart fellow, so I checked him out and found this gem:
“Before you embark on a journey of revenge, dig two graves.”
— Someone who wasn’t Confucius
Again, nobody seems to know who actually said this. It appears nowhere in Confucius’ writings. Maybe some blind-drunk blowhard in a Kyoto bar came up with it and decided it would sound better if people thought a famous Chinese philosopher said it. We don’t know.
I looked for any kind of well-known observations about vengeance. A lot of people talk about this one:
“Revenge is a dish best served cold.”
— Someone who wasn’t a French novelist whose book would someday be made into a movie in which John Malkovich hisses like a viper
Nobody can figure out who came up with this one. Some people say it was Choderlos de Laclos, who wrote the novel Les liaisons dangereuses (Dangerous Liaisons). Different people say it was Shakespeare, or an anonymous Japanese guy, or Mario Puzo. We might as well say it was Ricardo Montalban in The Wrath of Khan and move on.
I don’t think anybody really knows a damn thing about how much it hurts you to hold a grudge.
Regardless, I’ve set some limits for myself when it comes to vengefulness. I am not allowed to hold a grudge against any person I could reasonably be able to communicate with in my lifetime. If I might meet them, talk to them, exchange emails, or be tempted to call them a walking goat’s whang on Facebook, they are strictly out of bounds. That leaves plenty of people whom I may regard with seething hatred. For example, I will never watch a Dallas Cowboys game as long as Jerry Jones owns the team. I don’t care if they win a dozen Superbowls and give every orphan in Texas a puppy. My rage is pure.
It’s a sacrifice to deny myself any grudges against such a large group of people, but I reward myself by despising non-human entities with searing vehemence. I won’t name them here, but there are airlines I refuse to fly, stores I refuse to shop in, and bars I refuse to get drunk in. I have gazed upon certain businesses with bitterness whenever I drove past, and I’ve rejoiced when on occasion one closed its doors forever.
Yes, I’m a vengeful son of a bitch.
The corollary to all this bitter vengefulness is blind, stupid loyalty to “my” people and institutions, even when that loyalty may not be too wise. If you’re my friend, I don’t care what you do, I’m on your side. First of all, I’ve probably done something as bad or worse than whatever you did, and second, if I stop being your friend when you screw up or disagree with me then I wasn’t much of a friend in the first place.
When I was a kid my father told me that the world is full of people, and every one of them is looking for a friend. That’s a pretty extreme statement, but I’ve found it to be true. Yet I’ve kept my list of friends pretty short, and there’s a good reason for that. I consider someone to be my friend if I feel like it’s okay for them to puke in my car.
Maybe I’m not the nicest guy around, but I’d like to see Buddha top that.