Revenge is Mine but is it Really Sweet?

“Beloved, never avenge yourselves, but leave it to the wrath of God, for it is written, ‘Vengeance is mine, I will repay’, says the Lord.”  — Romans 12:19 Lex Talionis

Vendetta, revenge, retribution, retaliation, payback, getting even, the concept goes by many names but it all boils down to the same thing:  “An eye for an eye and a tooth for a tooth.”

  • Lex Talionis. the principle or law of retaliation that a punishment inflicted should correspond in degree and kind to the offense of the wrongdoer, as an eye for an eye, a tooth for a tooth; retributive justice.

It is interesting that if you look in the Quran, Torah or New Testament, the three major works of the three key monotheistic religions, you will find numerous threats and accusations regarding the execution of the Lex Talionis principle.  However, in terms of the scholarly interpretation of the principle, most jurists or executors of the principle have preferred to rely on some form of restorative justice.  Those whose job it is to interpret these writings have realized that a literal, reciprocal and physical adaption of Lex Talionis would leave the world both blind and toothless.

  • Gandhi: “An eye for an eye leaves everyone blind.”

revengeWhy then, do our political systems and countless pundits seem to be hell bent on applying a literal interpretation of Lex Talionis to world events?  There seems to be a major disconnect between our political systems and our spiritual systems.  Of course, many religious people also seem blind to the fact that their very religion does not readily endorse the idea of revenge or vengeance.  In the writings of Jesus:

  • “You have heard that it was said, ‘An eye for an eye and a tooth for a tooth.’ But I say to you, do not resist the one who is evil. But if anyone slaps you on the right cheek, turn to him the other also. — Matthew 5:38-39

Back to the question, why do our nations seem to more often pursue a policy of Lex Talionis than a policy of restorative or compassionate justice?  Are such principles so at odds with our basic human nature as to render them worthless?   It is that possible that we can only be satisfied by tearing out the eyes or teeth of those who have done us harm?

Let us take a significant emotional event for almost every citizen of the USA.  The 911 bombings.  There was little doubt and probably even less discussion about any possibility of dialogue or détente with Al Qaeda.  In fact, even today, I am sure that most people reading this are aghast at such a suggestion.  Few voices were raised against the subsequent bombings in Afghanistan and Pakistan.  Simon Critchley had this to say nearly ten years later about the US retaliation:

“Opposites attract — the awful violence of 9/11 is justified by Al Qaeda as an act of revenge that in turn justifies the violence of America’s and Bush’s revenge. My point is that revenge is an inevitably destructive motive for action. When we act out of revenge, revenge is what we will receive in return. The wheel of violence and counter-violence spins without end and leads inevitably to destruction.”  —-

No doubt it took ten years before Professor Critchley felt safe to utter the above sentiments.

I have to confess, I have never been a pacifist.  Those who know me would laugh at the idea.  In fact most people who know me would probably think that more often than not, I have endorsed the idea of vendetta or that “revenge is a dish best served cold.”  Thus, it might seem somewhat hypocritical for me to suggest that we should perhaps be looking at a different response to aggressive actions by our enemies.  However, such a response might actually be more proactive than reactive.  I seem to notice as I get older that proactive responses work out better than reactive responses.  Does anyone really think that the USA and the rest of the world is safer today after the obscene amount of money and lives spent on our socalled “War on Terrorism.”

“A March 2011 Congressional report[192] estimated spending related to the war through fiscal year 2011 at $1.2 trillion, and that spending through 2021 assuming a reduction to 45,000 troops would be $1.8 trillion. A June 2011 academic report[192] covering additional areas of spending related to the war estimated it through 2011 at $2.7 trillion, and long term spending at $5.4 trillion including interest.” —

The following table shows strictly USA casualties but the total casualties including Mideast civilians, terrorists and opposing military are probably well over 200,000 people.  (

USA Wounded or Killed in the Mideast
US Military killed 6,639
US Military wounded 50,422
US DoD Civilians killed 16
US Civilians killed (includes 9/11 and after) 3,000 +
US Civilians wounded/injured 6,000 +
Total Americans killed (military and civilian) 9,655 +
Total Americans wounded/injured 56,422 +
Total American casualties 66,077 +


A few days ago, Marie Harf, a spokesperson for the US State Department suggested that instead of killing terrorists and destroying the economies of our purported Middle East enemies, we needed to find ways to help build up their economies.  Her suggestion was not simply criticized by many but was widely ridiculed for being naïve, liberal and too compassionate towards our enemies.  Of course, right wing commentators had a field day with bashing her:

Rush Limbaugh:  “This woman is an absolute throwback to 1960s, feel-good liberalism that is senseless.  It’s chickified, it denies reality, and this is the number two spokeswoman at the State Department.  Her boss is not very much more cogent.”

Sean Hannity:  “Among all of the stupid things that I think I have heard about radical Islam, the State Department jobs program has to be ranked the highest among them. I mean because if that’s their mentality, Colonel, then maybe we should give people free housing, terrorists housing, and maybe we should get them Ferraris, and Obamacare.  I’ve seen a lot of terrorists on TV that need dental work.  Maybe free dental care.  Maybe that will make them like us.”

There were few to be found on either the right or left who cared to come out and help Marie defend her comments.  Her subsequent efforts at an explanation only appeared to make matters worse.  Harf’s basic problem was that she wanted to attach a different perspective to the Middle East problem.  A perspective that implicitly refutes the principle of Lex Talionis.   If she was naive about anything, it was in assuming that she had a potential audience for a concept that remains foreign to many people.  It is a concept that thinks our respective enemies might be dealt with on some other plane then revenge and retribution.  It was one that does not exist for the majority of humanity since it is one that chooses to circumvent the principle of Lex Talionis.

“Lets get them Niggars!” 

“What do we do when we get them?”

“Hang-em, what else!”


hanging“Lets get them Injuns!”

“What do we do when we get em? Hang em?”

“Hangins too slow, we shoot em!”


“Lets get them Jews!”

“What do we do when we get em?”  Shoot em?

“No shootins too slow, we gas em!”


b-1bombing2Lets get them Commies!”

“What do we do when we get em?  Gas em?”

“No gas is not strong enough, we bomb em!”


“Lets get them Arabs!”

“What do we do when we get em?  Bomb em?”

“No bombings not precise enough, we drop a drone on em!”


“What goes around comes around” or “as you sow, so shall you reap” is the basic understanding of how karma, the law of cause and effect, works….This can seem like such a vicious cycle of action and reaction.  It’s practically impossible to live in this world without doing some wrong, whether out of anger, revenge, or just inattention. The teachings of the Gita and Hinduism are all about breaking this cycle of karma and transcending the material world and regaining entrance into the spiritual world.” —-Gadadhara Pandit Dasa 

ghandi-quote-on-forgivenessSomewhere this minute, a father, friend, soldier, leader, mother, sister, brother, aunt or co-worker is planning revenge.  Somewhere this minute, someone with a grudge will be planning to kill a whole bunch of people.  Somewhere this minute, someone who feels the need to right the wrongs in the world, will go out and massacre a whole bunch of innocent people.  Somewhere this minute, someone who feels you are wrong and they are right are planning to kill you.

  • Confucius said“Before you embark on a journey of revenge, dig two graves.”

Time for Questions.

Will Jesus’s admonition to turn the other cheek protect you or your loved ones?  Will the principle of Lex Talionis help you rest easier in your bed?  Will following Jesus or Lex bring back your loved ones?  Which principle is more likely to help prevent future carnage and mayhem?  Can we really love our enemies or is this simply a naïve idea that will never work in the real world?

Life is just beginning.

“The alternate domination of one faction over another, sharpened by the spirit of revenge natural to party dissension, which in different ages and countries has perpetrated the most horrid enormities, is itself a frightful despotism.  But this leads at length to a more formal and permanent despotism.” — George Washington





My 10 Favorite Quotes for Living.

Happy Presidents Day. Karen and I are in San Francisco visiting some friends. I thought I would repost this blog since it was one of my early ones and I do not think too many of you will have read it. My niece prompted my rereading of this blog when she told me she wanted to print Santayana’s quote on her body as a tattoo. Probably reflecting my age, but I would hope my “wisdom” I advised her not to. Instead, I recommended she get the quote on a wall frame and post it in her house. Easier to change then a tattoo. Anyway, these are some of my favorite quotes and what they mean to me. Please feel free to add your posts in the comments section. I would love to know what you like.

Aging Capriciously

Some say, you can judge a person by their goals and the vision they have for the world.  Others say, you should judge a person by their actions and not their words.  I suggest we can judge a person by the aphorisms and thoughts that govern their behavior.  Each of us from the time we were born has been told stories and parables that have left their mark on our lives. Who we are is shaped by these stories and the indelible morals they have imprinted on our lives.  Often we only remember some short phrase or memorable quote from these tales but they continue to have an important impact on our lives long after we have forgotten the actual source or story they are derived from.

For my blog today, I am going to print my TOP TEN FAVORITE QUOTES of all time.  If you want to judge me…

View original post 2,027 more words

Best or Better? Which is better?

?????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????Years ago when I was working in the TQM or Total Quality Management consulting profession, we used to say that the “Best was the enemy of the Better.”   I am not sure who this saying originated with, but the meaning was very clear. When you think you are the “Best” you have little or no motivation to be even better. Remember the Avis ad “We try harder because we are number two.”   The “King of the Hill” has only one place to go and that is down. All champions know that their tenure is short lived. It does not matter whether it is chess, motorcycle racing or the world of Hollywood stardom; those who are on top today, will soon be displaced by someone who is better, smarter, faster or more talented tomorrow.

“Be the one who nurtures and builds. Be the one who has an understanding and a forgiving heart one who looks for the best in people. Leave people better than you found them.”  ― Marvin J. Ashton

better and betterA number of years ago, I went to a Masters Swim meet. The winner in the Men’s 100 meter Freestyle division was 60 years old. They announced his winning time along with the following interesting fact. Forty years earlier, he had been captain of the Yale swim team and his time in the 100 meter freestyle was a national collegiate record. The time that he swam the 100 meter freestyle in at the master’s event was the same time as his collegiate record. He was still swimming as fast as he did forty years earlier. Nevertheless, his time in today’s event would not even quality as a high school record anyplace in the world. Times change, progress marches on. Athletes are younger, bigger, faster and smarter than years ago. Ironically, so are chess players. Look at the records of the world’s top chess players, and you will see a pattern of increasingly younger players attaining Grandmaster status.

better-work-world-wants-to-help-you-find-your-next-employee-for-free-if-you-will-just-let-us-place-the-people-you-do-not-hire-3-638The United States has the best workers in the world! I don’t know if this statement is true or not, but if you believe it, you are treading on thin ice. If you think your employees are smarter and better than any other group of employees, will you be motivated to train, educate and continue developing your employees? If you believe that you have the best products in the world, will you be motivated to continue improving your products or will you rest on your laurels because “you are the best?” Many organizations have developed mission and vision statements proudly proclaiming their desires to be the “Best organization in the world” or the leader or some other “Best” attribute. See the following examples:

  • Ameren’s mission is to generate electricity, deliver electricity and distribute natural gas in a safe, reliable, efficient and environmentally sound manner. Our vision is to be the recognized performance leader of the U.S. electric and gas utility industry. Being a performance leader means we will achieve operational excellence, industry-leading customer satisfaction and superior financial performance.
  • American Standard’s mission is to “Be the best in the eyes of our customers, employees and shareholders.”
  • Our mission at Avon Corporation is to operate the best specialty retail business in America, regardless of the product we sell.

The three examples above are only from the “A” company names in an alphabetical list of Fortune 500 companies. If you went through the entire list of Fortune 500 Companies, you would find dozens of other such statements with organizations proclaiming their desire to be the: Best, industry leader, provider of choice, etc. Few would challenge the merits of what sound like such high minded and laudatory goals. However, the lack of challenge is dangerous. Dr. W. E. Deming used to remind us that you are only as good as your competition. Great athletes and great performers tend to stand out when the quality of their competition is profound.

There is a certain level of “mindlessness” to any goal of being the best. It implies that once there, the game is over. 1852110-Make-BetterYou have won and you can now reap the harvest of your hard work. Nothing could be further from the truth. Ingemar Stenmark is considered to be one of the greatest skiers of all time. In some events, he is listed as the greatest. He won 86 major races in his career. At age 25, he won his last major medal! Michael Phelps set the world record for the 200 meter freestyle in 2008. Less than a year later, his record was broken by nearly a full second by Paul Biedermann. Michael Phelps is now 29 years old and is said to be trying to make a comeback. Usain Bolt holds the world’s record for the 100 meter sprint. He is now 28 years old. How much longer will Usain be on top? In the world of professional sports, 29 is considered “old age.”

Even as a kid in drawing class, I had real ambition. I wanted to be the best in the class, but there was always some other feller who was better; so I thought, ‘It can’t be about being the best, it has to be about the drawing itself, what you do with it.’ That’s kind of stuck with me.” — Damien Hirst

Professional chess players are in many ways not much different than professional athletes. One trains his/her body, while the other trains his/her mind. The world’s top chess player today is Magnus Carlsen. He is ranked number one in the world and is the current World Chess Champion. He became a Grandmaster at the age of 13 making him the second youngest grandmaster in history. At the age of 19, he was the youngest player in history to be ranked number one in the world. He is all of 24 years old today. The current reigning youngest Grandmaster is Sergey Karjakin who in 2002 attained the record at the ripe old age of 12 years and seven months. One would think that in an area which depends on brain cells rather than muscle cells, that age and experience would trump youth and innovation. Such is not the case as history repeatedly proves. Whether in chess or sports, the advantage goes to the young.

better poemThose who think they are the best will soon be supplanted by the better.   What makes one better is more than simply youth. Training, DNA, techniques, equipment, methods, diets, computers and other technologies all contribute to the constant emergence of competitors that are better, faster and smarter. In business, your competition will produce better, faster and cheaper products today than they did yesterday. The world is not and never has been static. Dynamic forces are forever changing the landscape. Anyone who thinks they have a lock on being the best is in for a big surprise. The best do not last very long. The “king or queen” of the hill gets knocked off in a nanosecond today as compared to a microsecond yesterday.   Tomorrow the King or Queen will only last for a picosecond.

I don’t believe you have to be better than everybody else. I believe you have to be better than you ever thought you could be.Ken Venturi

Those who try to be the best will never succeed for very long. Those who set their goals at being better and better will continue to develop products and services that meet the needs of their stakeholders whether these stakeholders are customers or simply admirers. No one can forever be the best but it is simply foolish to assume that once you are the best, that the job is done. In business or in life, the turtle always beats the hare because she simply keeps on trying and trying and trying. The race is not to the swift but to the diligent.

“I returned, and saw under the sun, that the race is not to the swift, nor the battle to the strong, neither yet bread to the wise, nor yet riches to men of understanding, nor yet favor to men of skill; but time and chance happens to them all.”   Ecclesiastes 9:11 

Time for Questions:

Which is better, best or better? Do you think we should continually try to be better and better or should we stop when we are the best? What happens to those people who become the best? Have you ever been the best at anything? What was it like? How long did it last?

Life is just beginning

“The beginning of thought is in disagreement – not only with others but also with ourselves.”  ― Eric Hoffer,




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