I came across this quote the other day and was surprised to learn that it came from Albert Einstein.
You know…the guy who brought us relativity, E=MC2, and a host of other life altering discoveries. While most of those are too complex for me to discuss, the statement above is fairly straightforward.
I’m not sure why it surprised me. After all, Einstein was a pretty smart guy. I guess he struck me as more of a math and science type, devoting his time to complicated calculations and experiments involving light and atoms.
But, his keen awareness encompassed other things, as well. He was paying attention to more than just chemical elements; he was observing people, too. And based on this quote, those observations were spot on.
I’ve been all three of these people at various times, which is why I wanted to take a deeper look.
The term just desserts connotes a treat…as in sweet revenge. And science has shown that for a brief moment when we exact revenge, there are feelings of satisfaction. But, it’s short-lived.
In one experiment researchers scanned the brains of people who were deliberately wronged and then given the chance to “even the score.” For one full minute there was a rush of neural activity in the caudate nucleus, an area of the brain known to process rewards, like nicotine and cocaine.
We expect revenge to provide an emotional catharsis; a purging of the hurt and anger that results from an offense done to us by another. But, further research wasn’t able to confirm this to be true and, in some cases, showed the opposite.
Most people aren’t good at making predictions about the future and are wrong about the perceived emotional benefits they expect to gain.
Revenge doesn’t actually fulfill our expectations and can prolong the unpleasantness of the situation. Instead of delivering justice it can create a cycle of retaliation because people are often in different places on the moral continuum.
Some people become fixated on the misdeed, reliving it over and over. They never have an opportunity to heal and move on.
“A man that studieth revenge, keeps his own wounds green, which otherwise would heal, and do well.” ~Francis Bacon
There were many times in my life when I wanted revenge for various slights done to me. I considered all means of retaliation, but usually settled on not speaking to them (that’ll show ’em), or taking it out on myself.
Those times that I acted in self-destructive ways usually involved nicotine and/or alcohol. I’d often backslide on a cigarette habit that I’d finally given up or overindulge on my favorite wine.
That tendency was definitely rooted in weakness and when I wasn’t brave enough to stand up for myself I turned the revenge inward. This was a direct result of being in an abusive relationship for many years. It was only after a lot of hard work and growth that I turned weakness into strength.
Wikipedia describes forgiveness this way:
Forgiveness is the intentional and voluntary process by which the aggrieved party undergoes a change in feelings and attitude regarding an offense, lets go of negative emotions such as resentment and vengeance, and with an increased ability to wish the offender well.
It’s important to both the offended AND offender because forgiveness moves people forward as opposed to remaining emotionally engaged and stuck in a negative situation.
Harboring hurt and anger is debilitating both physically and mentally. Stress hormones such as cortisol and adrenaline are released in the body and can cause high blood pressure and heart problems.
However, forgiveness doesn’t automatically mean reconciliation. In cases where the offender is a serial abuser, the forgiving person shouldn’t return to the relationship unless the offender agrees to seek professional help.
In these cases the person who has been hurt can forgive in order to help themselves by letting go, but shouldn’t forget the offense. It’s imperative that they always remember, so they don’t allow it to happen again.
This was the case for me when I left that abusive relationship that I mentioned earlier. I could have disparaged this person and “gotten even” on a few fronts, but chose forgiveness. Coupled with the personal growth I later achieved, I came to understand that it really was the best revenge.
Psychologist Robert Enright outlined four steps necessary to forgiving other people:
- Uncover the anger – Think about how you either address or avoid the emotion.
- Decide to forgive – Realize that copin/ignoring the offense doesn’t move you forward, but forgiveness will.
- Find compassion – Did the offender act maliciously or due to challenging circumstances in their own life?
- Let go of harmful emotions – Such as anger, resentment, blame, and victimhood. Instead, consider what valuable lesson there is from the experience and the growth to be gained from forgiveness.
- Acknowledge your accountability – Take responsibility for your offense and the hurt you caused.
- Ask yourself – Why did this situation occur in the first place? What was within your control and outside of your control?
- Moral of the story – Figure out what lesson and insights you can derive from the experience. Then determine how to avoid repeating that mistake.
- Forgive yourself – It’s not enough to simply say the words. An important step in forgiving yourself is making restitution with the aggrieved person. Apologizing and offering a gesture of kindness to back up your words goes a long way towards legitimizing an admission of failure – to the other person and yourself.
Ignoring negative people isn’t easy.
Sometimes they’re family or a coworker. Maybe it’s a friend or cranky neighbor.
Whoever it is they are certain to suck the life right out of you. And speaking of life, whose life is perfect anyway? Everyone has their share of troubles. Perfection is a myth that produces expectations beyond anything close to reality.
It’s how you handle those inherent difficulties that separates the optimists from the pessimists. Additionally, how you handle pessimists can greatly determine their effects on your life.
If it’s someone in your inner circle like a family member or coworker, that’s not a simple task. There are strategies you can use like those in this Psychology Today article.
For anyone who qualifies as a secondary contact, it’s helpful to keep a safe distance.
But, the one thing they all have in common is their inability to see their own negativity. They view anything less than ideal as some force outside of their control working to make them miserable. They blame other people and circumstances for their unhappiness.
And sometimes there ARE things outside our control that cause legitimate grief.
However, we do control our attitudes and actions and that’s where negative people fail. They’re pros at playing the blame-game and take no responsibility for anything they say or do. They don’t recognize how their behavior contributes to outcomes. The glass is perpetually half empty.
Fortunately, those closest to me don’t fall into this category. The few that do are casual acquaintances that I have no emotional investment in. So, they’re easy to ignore and limit contact with.
The important lesson to remember is:
“Someone who wants the best for you is what’s best for you.” ~Andrea Grossman
And ignore the rest. It’s what smart people do.