Think about the Dowager Countess of Grantham, marvelous Maggie Smith. When she doesn’t like something, she gets a face like a cat that’s smelled something bad. And you get the message.
If you read authors like Edith Wharton and Jane Austin, you know there’s not a lot of bellowing and stomping around. Hearts are broken, fortunes lost, people became ill, or bereaved, despondent or angry, and through everything, they all use their inside voices.
Compare that to, say, the last week on this blog, in which the volume on everything was turned up to 11 (although the comments remained civil and I thank you all for that). Daughter had to rant in public to make her point, Dad had to shoot a computer to make his point, I had to “hate” Dad to make my point. And I’m not generally a hater. But I got swept into what seems a trend of our time: anger that becomes superheated, superfast.
It’s not necessarily just that America is getting less civil. For some reason these days, it seems we need the volume on all our emotions cranked way up. Even negative emotions. Maybe especially negative emotions. We need to watch screen violence that is increasingly extreme, we need to fight our battles publicly and with insults and vehemence, and we need to grieve extravagantly, where everyone can see us.
When a friend let the air out of the tires of a boyfriend’s car in revenge for his latest transgression, I was both impressed and shocked. I’d never done anything like that before–or since, for that matter. Revenge is not something that occurs to me. It seems kind of pointless, but maybe it helps healing. I’m not sure. Recent events have me thinking.
I am glad and relieved Osama bin Laden no longer walks the earth. He didn’t deserve to breathe the same air as the rest of us. I don’t believe in Hell, but if there were one, I’m sure he’d be frying like bacon.
But is this revenge? And does it makes us feel better?
In a quick scan of literature on revenge, I found a paper from the Journal of Experimental Social Psychology that asks “What makes revenge sweet: Seeing the offender suffer or delivering a message?”
And the answer these researchers came up with is that revenge does its job for us when the offender knows exactly what he or she is being punished for. For full vengeful satisfaction, it’s not enough to see a random bad thing happen to the person, and it’s not enough to exact revenge if the offender doesn’t know that it’s revenge or why it’s happened.
We want to know that we got our point across.