By Scott Westerman
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“Never does the human soul appear so strong as when it foregoes revenge and dares to forgive an injury.” ~Edwin Hubbel Chapin
In the course of human events, we are all destined to endure times when things don’t go our way. How we react to it will tell the world much about our character.
One of my favorite MSU Deans tells the following story of an incident that happened to him at commencement. I’ll paraphrase a bit to protect the innocent. A student who had felt wronged chose to turn his back on the Dean when on stage receiving his diploma. The Dean was surprised. He had long ago forgiven and forgotten the slight. The spectators must have felt a variety of emotions, none of which reflected favorably on the student. What nobody knew was that the student’s future boss was in the crowd, his own daughter among the graduates. Later that day, the boss sent two emails; one to the Dean, an old friend who had recommended the student for a job, expressing sympathy. The other went to the student. “Your behavior today was inconsistent with the values of the company. Consider your offer of employment rescinded.”
“Revenge,” writes 15th century cleric, Jeremy Taylor, “is like a rolling stone, which, when a man hath forced up a hill, will return upon him with a greater violence, and break those bones whose sinews gave it motion.”
So why waste any time on it?
Here’s some wisdom from the Roman Emperor, Marcus Aurelius. “The best revenge,” he said, “is to be unlike him who performed the injury.”
That journey begins with reflection.
Learn from the experience. Seek to understand what precipitated the incident. All things are the product of the law of Cause and Effect. What part of the cause might you own? If even a modicum of the situation is the result of something you might have done (or not done), apologize.
One of my team members was once accused by a customer of an error he felt he did not commit. When his supervisor brought it to his attention, he immediately contacted the customer and said, “I’m the representative who you talked to. I don’t remember the incident happening the way it was described to me but want to understand your point of view so it won’t happen again.”
Then he listened. It turned out to be a misunderstanding that was easily remedied. The customer remained faithful to the company and this frontline team member grew to lead his team.
If the wrong can’t be righted in your own mind, then what? Here’s some time tested advice from people who have been there.
Take the high road. Fashion consultant Tim Gunn: “Take the high road. No matter how much strife, and consternation, frustration and anger you might be confronted with – don’t go to that level.”
Figure skater, Scott Hamilton says, “The high road is always respected. Honesty and integrity are always rewarded.” He should know. Taking the high road helped him win an olympic gold medal.
Go the extra mile. The legendary student of high performance, Napoleon Hill says that going the extra mile is, “one of the most important principles of success.”
And, “massive success,” Frank Sinatra once said, “is the best revenge.”
If you lose a job to a competitor, if you don’t get the grade you want, if you’re rejected or remonstrated, go the extra mile to demonstrate that you possess the qualities of a true winner. Among those qualities are resourcefulness, tenacity, the ability to learn from experience, humility and forgiveness.
Forgive and move on. You will experience many wrongs along your life’s pathway. Carrying anger and resentment toward those who may have contributed to them sucks energy out of your own constitution, making it that much harder to get to where you want to go. Inigo Montoya, the character portrayed by Mandy Patinkin in the film The Princess Bride put it this way. “Is very strange. I have been in the revenge business so long, now that it’s over, I don’t know what to do with the rest of my life.”
It can become all too easy to focus so totally on those who have hurt you that any forward progress becomes paralyzed.
It’s not necessary to keep these people in your life. In fact I’m a great believer in pruning your portfolio of acquaintances to remove yourself from relationships that are not mutually beneficial.
Let it go. Change your story to one with a happier ending and start writing it right now.
The best revenge is no revenge at all. It’s being the best person you can be, becoming a catalyst for positive change and working so hard toward that end that everyone else will want to emulate you.
At the center of this powerful approach is love. “Man must evolve for all human conflict a method which rejects revenge, aggression and retaliation.” wrote Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. “The foundation of such a method is love.”
Choose love, forgiveness and excellence. If you choose to pursue revenge, the noted American clergyman, Douglas Horton warns, you will end up digging two graves, including one for yourself.
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