Someone recently asked me, in response to a column about the Israel-Palestine war, what I think is the most terrible word in our language area and whether I think it applies to that war. I didn’t have to think about it for long. The most terrible word, I think, is revenge.
The word already has something corrosive, malicious, terrifying built into it. Although, actually worse than the word itself, the combination feels like ‘getting revenge’. To say that someone is taking revenge seems almost synonymous with attributing evil to someone, adding evil to the world. In fact, the assumption that someone takes revenge is often based on the assumption that revenge is an important source of evil and often leads to more and worse.
In any case, the majority of the dramas that fill newspapers and television news every day are actually revenge or descriptions of its execution and consequences. Whether it concerns wars, attacks, murders, fights or destruction of home and hearth, they are usually revenge.
In psychology, revenge is often defined as behavior that is intended to cause suffering or harm to another person in retaliation for the harm or harm done to you, your loved ones, or people with whom you identify. Taking revenge can be a one-off attempt at retaliation. But revenge by one person can also be a response to previous revenge by another. If this is repeated several times, a vicious circle of revenge is created, simply called circular revenge.
Circular revenge can ultimately lead to much worse things happening on both sides than the original reason justifies. In my opinion, circular revenge is the most dangerous man-made phenomenon on our planet because it often results in deadly hatred and total destruction. Deadly hatred towards the other as a person, as a human being in his entirety, or as a member of a certain group, people or race. The core of that hatred is the overriding tendency to want to hurt, humiliate, destroy another person or group of people as much as possible. Preferably all three.
But besides becoming the most harmful of all human feelings, hatred easily grows into the fiercest. So fast and fierce that of all our feelings it is the most difficult to curb or control. It is because of that hatred and the associated circular revenge that the Israel-Palestine conflict has raged unchecked for decades. With the final highlights for the time being October 7 and the current war.
But could it be worse? Doubtless. While the Israelis are now taking revenge for what was done by Hamas on October 7, countless Palestinian youth, still powerless for the time being, will want to take revenge for what is now being done by the Israelis in the coming years. Revenge simply has no statute of limitations. And their fierce need for revenge will, I fear, be guided by this statement by writer and soldier Cyrano de Bergerac (1619-1655): “The world may end, if only I can take revenge.”
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