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    Something to Think About: The Best Revenge

a person in jail behind bars with another person reaching in to hold their hands with kindness and forgiveness

The best revenge is forgiveness

Dear friend,

Forgiving those who attacked them or their tribe, stole cattle, and burned their homes would have made no sense to hunter-gatherers, who commonly died from external injuries, accidental or intentional. During those times, they would have construed forgiveness as a sign of weakness. They would have naturally responded by planning revenge, which would have provided some solace. Because we have inherited their predispositions, it is no wonder that contemplating revenge activates our brain’s reward areas.

Times have changed. Forgiveness makes much more sense now, for at least two reasons. First, revenge and its associated anger are seldom protective in modern times, because most modern hurts (but not all) are symbolic and psychological. Think about the last five times you cried. Was it because of physical pain or emotional pain? Emotional pain, isn’t it? Second, our greatest mortality risk now comes from cardiovascular disease and cancer (and not injuries). Bottled-up anger and its associated stress predispose us to both of these, and several other common causes of death. While lack of forgiveness helped us survive in the treacherous past, in modern times, forgiveness aids survival.

Psychological and emotional damage hurts you at an additional, deeper level. Others hurt you by affecting your world view. They hurt you by taking away your hope, faith, optimism, and belief in the goodness of humanity. They steal your innocence. Don’t let anyone do that to you.

In response to a hurt, you can plan either worldly revenge or emotional and spiritual revenge. When you exact a worldly revenge, by hurting people back, your mind may feel transiently uplifted, but deep within, you don’t win.

When you forgive, you frustrate others in their efforts. You stop them in their tracks. You don’t allow them to increase your risk of heart attack, stroke, cancer, or dementia. On the contrary, you grow as a result of their efforts to stop you. That indeed might be the perfect revenge.

May the world not send you pain; may your pain heal with forgiveness.

Take care.


Dr. Sood 2

Read previous blog posts, and follow @AmitSoodMD on Twitter.

Dr. Sood is director of research in the Complementary and Integrative Medicine Program on Mayo Clinic's Rochester campus in Minnesota. He also chairs the Mind-Body Medicine Initiative at Mayo Clinic.

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