The Motive Behind Revenge
Both characters and people are often motivated to seek revenge. Basking in the smug satisfaction of a bad person’s life turning to ruin… What a great feeling.
Humans, animals and even tiny microbes have been taking their revenge long before recorded history. One would think that society would have risen above this petty passion. Instead, we embrace revenge with gusto. For example, in Sarajevo on 28th June 1914, Chief of Serbian Military Intelligence Dragutin Dimitrijević put together a team that assassinated Archduke Franz Ferdinand. WW1 began as an act of revenge over a single man’s death. Millions of lives were lost and the effects continue to reverberate today.
Computers now make revenge even easier. Don’t like a meal? Leave a bad Yelp review. Thousands of people will read it and it can cost a restaurant untold loss. Instant long-lasting and effective revenge is only one mouse click away.
I got the idea for this blog from reading reviews in order to create a book review website. Several reviews were nasty, personal and intentionally mean. I began to see the bad side of reading. Readers wanted to take their revenge on the authors who put them through a bad reading experience.
For me, books are supposed to be fun. If I encounter a book that is not to my taste, I put it down. Life is too short to finish a bad book and life is far too short to take the time to write up a bad review.
Reading so many bad reviews made me think about the many motives behind revenge. Why is revenge a core value? Why do we need to stick it to the bad guy? Why does watching the bad guy wallowing in pain feel good?
We laugh when the bad guy gets a pie in the face. We jump up clapping when the evil villain takes a bullet through the heart. Watching the bully cry feels better than the hero receiving a reward for saving the world. From our own lives, we love telling stories about the revenge we took. In history class, we study battles, political campaigns, and the aftermath. Even science embraces the core value of proving somebody else’s theory wrong.
Well, what about me? Around the age of eight, I began learning how to ride a bike. At the time, my bike had training wheels, and I didn’t have good coordination. One day, a bunch of kids got together to ride bikes in my neighborhood. They were more advanced and their bikes didn’t have training wheels.
While I rode around, one of my training wheels fell off. The other kids circled around as they taunted me with their superior skills. This made me feel terrible which they picked up on and upped their shame game. Of course, as an adult, I can appreciate that kids naturally behave this way. If circumstances were reversed, I would have been one of the kids riding around. The taunting infuriated me and one kid, in particular, loved my anger/sadness.
The next time he flew past, I grabbed his handlebar, and he went flying onto the pavement. I only needed a small tug to take my revenge. My parents were furious, and I made it worse by refusing to apologize. The more they yelled, the better I felt. I sat there with a big smile as they applied first aid to the kid’s large wounds and he cried. My revenge allowed me to inflict real pain, and this compensated for my own sadness. Pure victory.
As I write this blog, I think back on that bike crashing moment. Of course, I made a mistake. Who is saying that? Confidant Bill with all his life experiences proudly makes this bold statement. He knows that training wheels can be repaired and with perseverance, a boy can learn to ride.
Do I feel regret? I have some regret. However, I still feel pride in my accomplishment. I successfully fought back. How would I feel if my daughter did the same thing? Like my parents, I would be horrified (we raised a monster!) angry and afraid of a lawsuit. However, a tiny part of me would smile. You go, girl! Side story. The neighborhood kids stopped their taunting, and I didn’t become friends with that particular kid. Who knows, he could have been my best friend.
If we cannot fix a problem, we can inflict pain with the intent of feeling better. This is counter-intuitive, immoral, illogical and not the mark of a good person. Yet, revenge is a part of life. It may even be healthy. At times, doing something (even if it is stupid) is better than doing nothing.
Of course, we don’t like it when somebody takes their revenge on us. The bomber who sets off explosives because they are mad. The neighbor who keyed my car because I refuse to part in the right spot.
Writers tap into this emotion with gusto. In my upcoming book, an incompetent coworker plagiarizes work. The main character exposes his flaws resulting in termination. The former coworker then embarks on a revenge campaign by posting unscrupulous lies. The main character frames him for a serious crime. He then posts more lies from jail and the main character arranges his death. Is this a realistic story? I developed this storyline from three unrelated real events. When combined, they paint a long tail of perseverance that clings to the belief that revenge will make life better.
Many movies and books revolve around revenge. Death Wish, Taken and Revenge of the Nerds. We love these stories and the uplifting satisfaction a good revenge plot brings. In fiction, revenge is a healthy core value. Why? We relate to this motive that allows immoral actions to be accepted.
Should our society and entertainment embrace revenge? The world would certainly be a better place if everybody “became the better person.” Alas, no. We regard revenge as a moral right. In many court cases, it is an acceptable defense and for many stories, it’s the main plot.
I think the motive behind revenge is closure; a basic desire to see a topic through. Humans cannot let go of their feelings. In my life, there have been people who have wronged me. I continue to harbor negative feelings toward them long after they have forgotten about me. I know that isn’t healthy, but some part of my mind clings to the negative memory. I suppose it’s part of the human condition.
One final thought. Just this morning, a bad driver cut me off. A few minutes later, a cop pulled him over. Not the textbook definition of revenge but it made my day.


You’re the best -Bill
July 10 2019
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