by Robert Evans Wilson Jr.
On a summer day in 1973, my 12-year-old sister was riding her horse on the quiet streets near our house. There was a little more traffic than usual, as two cars came toward her from opposite directions. Cindy rode onto the well-tended lawn of a stately two-story house to get out of the way. While she waited, her horse relieved himself. She then rode on, unknowing that her steed had left a pile of manure on the Emerald Zoysia grass.
Cindy was 200 feet down the road, when a car sped past, then skidded to a tire-squealing halt in front of her horse. The startled horse reared up; throwing Cindy to the pavement below. A man leapt out of his car, then—without asking if she was hurt—started screaming at her for allowing her horse to defecate on his lawn. Crying and in pain from bruises to her back and arms, Cindy struggled to her feet, then managed to catch her horse who had only wandered off a few feet.
She apologized profusely, but the hysterical homeowner was not satisfied. He insisted she walk her horse back to his yard, where he forced her to remove the horse droppings with her bare hands. Then without offering her an opportunity to wash her hands, he ordered her off his property.
I was enraged when she told me this story. As a hormone-filled 16 year old, I wanted to retaliate on her behalf. I told her I would get 200 pounds of salt; then under the cover of night, use it to write a message on his lawn. Within a few days, alphabet-shaped sections of his grass would die. Revenge would be sweet as his neighbors read in brown letters the profane words that described the true nature of his character.
Fortunately, my sister is more forgiving than me, and refused to tell me which house he lived in. Cindy’s wisdom probably kept me out of jail.
Revenge is a powerful motivator. It is a survival instinct that dates back to our caveman days. If we were attacked and did not retaliate, then our enemy would attack again until he or she succeeded in killing us.
The problem is that when someone hurts us today, that primal urge still rises quickly. It doesn’t take much—it can be an emotional injury, an insult or a rejection—to stimulate that response within us. If we act upon it, we usually find ourselves feeling worse than before the slight. And if we get too carried away, we may find ourselves on the wrong side of the law. As Mahatma Gandhi observed, “An eye for an eye makes the whole world blind.”
The trick is curbing that response, and using that powerful motivation in a positive way for ourselves. I like the way psychologist and author Vijai P. Sharma puts it, “It is better to let the other person get away with it, so that you can get away from it.”
We can control our instinct and put it to work for us instead of against us by using that energy in positive ways. Exercise is a great way to blow off that initial steam you feel. I like to get out on my in-line skates and skate 10 or more miles. Not only does it burn energy, the repetitive activity is meditative and allows me to put things into perspective.
Loving yourself by investing in your personal growth and development is another way to thwart those primal urges. Use your time to get better at what you do; pour that energy into your business and hobbies. Treat yourself to a massage, a gourmet meal or a mini-vacation. And surround yourself with friends who know and love you best. As Welsh poet George Herbert said in 1630, “Living well is the best revenge.”
Robert Evans Wilson Jr. is a motivational speaker and humorist. He works with companies that want to be more competitive and with people who want to think like innovators. For more information on Wilson’s programs, visit www.jumpstartyourmeeting.com.