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“An eye for an eye will only make the whole world blind.”
– Attributed to Mahatma Gandhi (1869 – 1948)
To seek revenge is to want retribution – we want people to pay for what they did. When the injustice is repeated over and over again in our mind, the desire for revenge increases.
The flames of anger, hurt, and betrayal continue to be stoked until we have a raging furnace inside us. We have become a victim.
Let me share a story titled, “The Unwanted Package,” that illustrates this point so beautifully.
The Unwanted Package
Once upon a time, a package was delivered to a young woman. When she opened it, her eyes blazed, and she became very angry. Although she was infuriated over receiving this parcel, nevertheless she took it with her everywhere she went.
Soon other packages arrived, and she had to get a larger bag to put them all together so she could continue to carry them with her.
Every morning she dutifully picked up her bag, which was growing heavier and heavier. She took it everywhere she went – on the bus to work and when she met with the girls for coffee or a glass of wine. It went with her to family gatherings and remained on her back as she fixed meals, adjusting her load to make the beds and do the laundry.
Every once in a while, she received another unwelcome and unwanted package which she stuffed in the bag with the rest.
There were moments when she laid her bag down – times when she went for a walk in the woods or walked the beach where waves gently lapped over her ankles. She felt free and alive. She could enjoy the sun and the sweet smells of the forest and breathe deeply the fresh salt air.
She felt weightless and at peace and was tempted to leave the bag behind when she left. But it called to her, and she picked her load up once more, the moments enjoyed becoming burning coals of sadness, regret, and despair.
One day as she walked down the path of life, an old man stopped her and said, “I have been watching you. Every day you carry that big bag. I can tell it is heavy by the way your body sags under the weight and the strain of effort can be seen on your face. You must have something very valuable in that bag.”
The woman, who was aging more rapidly because of the constant strain, set the bag down for a minute and reflected before she replied. She had been carrying her load for so long that it just seemed natural and the thing to do.
“Sir, the things in my bag are things I do not want, have never wanted, and I carry them with me so that I never forget how much they have injured me. If I lay them down, then I might forget. For you see, in this bag are all the betrayals, rejections, insults, lies and humiliations I have received – things that have cut and wounded my spirit and soul.”
The man responded with shock, “Why would you want to keep carrying them around with you? Why don’t you put them down and leave them behind?”
With tears in her eyes she replied, “Because I don’t want to forget what was done to me. I don’t want them to get away with what they did to me. I want them to remember the pain and suffering they inflicted on me.”
The old man looked around and slowly said, “But they don’t know you are carrying this bag of grievances and resentment. They are not around. Whatever was done to you, you continue to do to yourself. You are not exacting any punishment on them, but on yourself. Others may have injured you, but you continue to inflict pain on yourself. “
Amazed, she said, “But if I put it down, won’t I be saying that what they did was okay? That they got away with it? As long as I carry this bag I can be thinking of ways to get even.”
The man kindly and compassionately said, “Is it worth letting a lifetime of joy and happiness pass you by?”
She looked into his eyes full of wisdom and grace and realized for the first time that by carrying her bag full of resentment and grievances she was unable to build a constructive and meaningful life.
She thanked the man and went home. She put her bag down beside her and pondered the things he said. What would she do with all the “rocks” she had been carrying around for so long? Inside were not only the injustices and wrongs, but also her anger which could quickly be fanned into a deep, simmering rage. She no longer wanted to carry them around with her. But how would she get rid of them?
She looked out the window at a garden that seemed all too ordinary and common, and she knew what she would do. Filled with an energy that bubbled up and surprised her, she took the “rocks” out of her bag and built a monument in her garden, filling in places with new dirt and planting new fragrant plants.
Water ponds were added to hold the tears she shed, and pathways wound around carefully placed objects that were no longer stumbling blocks but sculptures enhancing the garden.
Her garden was no longer mundane, but extraordinary and she would invite friends and family over to rest with her in her garden, enjoying peace and comfort.
Resentment is a heavy burden.
We want revenge. The problem, however, is that revenge doesn’t resolve anything. Even if only played out in our heads, there is no long-lasting satisfaction. We simply remain stuck in a cycle of endless need for justification and retribution.
Only now, each time we lament on how unfair life has been, we exact that revenge on ourselves. What someone has done to us – we are now doing to ourselves.
Don’t you want to set your heavy burden down?
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