Justice and Revenge

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When a home is robbed, it is possible that the stolen items could be retrieved and returned to the victim. If that robbery occurred in a violent manner, the injured victim may not be able to retrieve a sense of security right away or ever again. He has two choices: 1. Let the natural feelings take their course as he learns to get back to the business of living a somewhat normal life. 2. Deny all feelings of fear and only allow his rage to grow until it becomes his consuming inferno.

Does the first choice make him more of a “victim” than the second? Of course, it doesn’t. He will seek out justice, but he won’t see that as his sole purpose for the remainder of his life. Many will tell him to move on while not realizing that he is moving on. Grief, anger, fear, anxiety – all are normal reactions to a traumatic event unless they become disproportionate in comparison to the traumatic event or are taking much too long to resolve. Unfortunately, few cultures understand the necessity of emotions at such a time as this. Emotions make bystanders uncomfortable.

The second reaction is far more socially acceptable in the short term. People will applaud his strength and reserve. They will be relieved to have the ugly incident quickly forgotten. But over time, the victim will let the rage seep into every aspect of his life and the lives of everyone with whom he associates. He will lose friends and family members who “just can’t take it anymore.” His lack of any other emotion will create a void that he must fill with…something: booze, drugs, food, sex, or whatever he can find.

I believe the same process is at work on a community scale in reaction to real and perceived traumas. For instance, the large manufacturer that employs many people living in a rural area suddenly closes it’s doors and leaves the community baffled as to how it happened. Will they struggle with the tough questions necessary to bring more jobs in and make sure those jobs are stable? Or will they blame local political leaders for not saving those jobs? In another scenario, enraged people are stockpiling guns after having been convinced by the gun lobby that the president is an Islamic terrorist who is hell-bent on the destruction of our nation.

I believe we are conditioned towards seeking out revenge rather than justice for a myriad of reasons. Regardless, I think we can overcome that tendency through the realization of what is most beneficial to us and our community. First, we must accept the trauma as having occurred. In one case, the community has suffered a huge economic loss. In the other, the community has suffered a huge loss of feeling safe and secure within their own country. The perpetrators are negotiable.

Secondly, we need to allow the display of all relevant emotions: shock, fear, anger, sadness, worry, etc. That means everybody gets the same opportunity to display different emotions than others at any given time. We don’t need to worry about the others – we just need to worry about ourselves and what it will take for us to find our new “normal.” We must resist the desire to obsess and whip ourselves into a self-justifiable rage.

Finally, we will arrive at a place of stability and find ourselves ready to let go of the often conflicting emotions that were desperate for release. Now we are ready to pursue justice with clear minds and strong hearts. Now we are going to find our freedom.

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