13 February 2016

On revenge

"Justice is the constant and perpetual desire to give to each one that to which he is entitled. Jurisprudence is the knowledge of matters divine and human, and the comprehension of what is just and what is unjust."
Institutes, Bk. 1, title 1.
Several times in our lives we will entertain thoughts of revenge. It feels satisfying to somehow give someone their “due” as if it will make us better people. But vengeance is a paltry salve for a deep, festering emotional wound or injury. One could say it is a small bandage over a large gash. And it's not okay to leave it at that. One must clean the emotional wound and apply a “poultice” of love and care to draw the bitterness and emotional toxins out.

At least in my experience, the desire for vengeance stems from a sense of powerlessness. In receiving emotional trauma, one succumbs to the dominance of another and is left feeling inadequate or inferior. For many of us, including myself, we are already conditioned to submit to the authority of another, sometimes because of race. Members of my own family would shrirk back in fear when their white bosses scolded them and this left an impression on me that remains with me today – the tears, drunken complaints, or angry shouts when a parent or a relative comes home from a hard day's work. Growing up in the Filipino American community, I was told not to play with white children, despite being part white myself, as white people were litigation-prone, and should anything happen to their child, they'd sue. When Filipinos are caught in a dispute with a white person or an Asian of another ethnic group, they feel bound to let the other win, believing somehow that in gracious defeat and outward obeisance, things may be a little better than losing everything.

And lest anyone think it is solely a racial or cultural “thing”, Filipinos hurt fellow Filipinos too, sometimes to the point of abuse and even slavery or exploitation. Colonial mentality has been cited many times as the malaise afflicting post-colonial Filipinos; this is an example par excellence. As justice must be tempered with mercy, so can power and authority be abused instead of tempered with justice. Colonial mentality is not always the conditioned inferiority we show to others because of race, but rather the desire to oppress, to steal, to kill, and to destroy because we have no other example but what has been handed down to us by oppressors. 

So whilst we may cower in fear, in the storerooms and backs of restaurants, in the janitor closets and maid lounges, in break rooms and offices, we commiserate in our bitterness, swallowing it in, allowing the poisons of anger and hatred to cloud our judgments and give rise to delusions of dominance. Again, whilst it feels good temporarily, it makes us no better than those who hurt us. Meeting dominance with dominance simply replaces an oppressor with another oppressor. The cycle repeats. An injustice cannot be met with another injustice.

There is an oft-quoted maxim that “Equity delights in equality.” In what ways do we deem ourselves inferior or superior to others? In what ways do we deem others inferior or superior to ourselves? Is it racial, cultural, related to gender or sexual orientation, or perhaps even religious? And here's the tough question, in what ways can we forgive AND assert our human dignity without degrading the human dignity of the other?

I don't think vengeance is the way. I admit forgiveness is something I'm working hard on, but failing miserably at. Perhaps forgiveness is something you are working at too. It is a healing process. It doesn't help when we are told to forgive continuously by those who hurt us. In the backs of our minds, our torturers will get away because of privilege or won't be brought to justice. And it's alright to feel angry at inequity, inequality, and injustice. But it's not alright to let that anger become and consume us. Somehow, we must allow God's grace to transform and transmute our hurt and anger to pursue the ends of justice: Compassion, love, and charity. By such reparations, a moral debt - an obligation - is extinguished and reconciliation achieved. And that, I believe, is justice. 

Pray for me as I pray for you. God bless you, and may we share God's blessing. Amen.