The Benefits of Forgiveness And Revenge


By Diane Gold

We hear the words “benefits of forgiveness,” and we feel all mushy and tingly inside, feeling good about our ability to be good, moral people. When we hear the words “benefits of revenge,” most of us question whether there are any. The feeling of wanting to get back at someone who has hurt us is a natural, human reaction, according to evolutionary biologists, Martin Daly and Margo Wilson, whose research led them to study 60 societies and whether each had the words “blood feud” or “capital punishment” in evidence (as per Michael McCullough’s article, referenced below). 57 out of 60 did.

According to Michael E. McCullough, researcher at University of California, Berkeley, who wrote the article “The Forgiveness Instinct” in Spring, 2008, forgiveness is also a natural, human. He says,

Revenge“My research on forgiveness has led me to this unsettling conclusion: The desire for revenge isn’t a disease that afflicts a few unfortunate people; rather it’s a universal trait of human nature, crafted by natural selection, that exists today because it helped our ancestors adapt to their environment.

ForgivenessSince we, as humans, are social; we have developed a code of mores that define what is and is not acceptable reaction to various actions. We have laws that help regulate our actions, as well.

It might seem that forgiveness is an impossible task were it not for the threads of hope that make us human and make us change makers. We are all daughters; we are all sons. We, as parents, have the duty to educate and protect. When someone does something wrong, it is our duty to teach a better way.

But, oh, we are so complex.

As per Martin and Margo,

“Morality is the device of an animal of exceptional cognitive complexity, pursuing its interests in an extremely complex universe.”

What I get is that because of our complexity, we have the ability to choose how to deal with our innate forgiveness and revenge mechanisms.

It’s almost but not impossible to temper our lust for that joyous fire of revenge on auto-pilot. In modern-day society, it is often not a good choice to act on our revenge, other than to experience that momentary rush of personal power. And it’s always a good thing to reveal our forgiveness.

Animals act to survive. Sometimes, we perform a vengeful act to feel satiated, even if we know the act is not necessary and is hurtful. Is our fancy of hate and revenge so important, even if it doesn’t help our circumstance and although it is damaging?An Eye For An Eye, Only With Good Reason

I am not speaking about the need to retaliate in order to preserve our lives or our way of life, no. I am questioning “an eye for an eye” without good reason. I was raised in the “make love, not war” era which developed in response to the loss of international life in an era of war in Vietnam. Eye For An Eye Imbalance


I know that forgiveness trumps revenge (when it’s not about survival). I also know that educating new ways to respond to hurtful deeds needs to be a more common option. It is always more courageous to put out a hand of forgiveness, especially if we have done so one minute ago and been scorned. Always one more attempt at a peace offering is the way to educate and cultivate forgiveness.


We have talked about intrinsic traits of our humanity: forgiveness and revenge. With repetition, we can choose how to act. We don’t go around clobbering people who hurt us; we turn toward our laws. We sometimes choose to talk to our attacker about the behavior and its effect on us. We also may choose to educate her. The education process is one of the hardest since, despite our efforts and our honesty, the aggressor who has hurt us may show no remorse and may spit in our face.

It’s so much easier to be charitable to someone who regrets her act, much more difficult to be magnanimous toward someone who laughs at our pain and is happy about causing it. Having the capacity of grace in this instance shows our choice to build meaningful lives. We can walk away, keeping our anger in; we can be confrontational and let our anger out; we can peacefully talk through our anger; we can train ourselves in forgiveness. As recycling cartoon character, Captain Planet, used to say,The Power Is Yours!



“The power is yours.”




Here are some actions that can benefit us. The actions are a process toward becoming more evolved beings. As with all changing habits, we need to repeat the steps in order for them to take effect.


We are going to treat revenge as an addictive chemical substance, one that does not benefit our life or the lives of the community, as if we are addicted to it and are replacing the habit with forgiveness. Yes, we can keep in mind that standing our ground or defending what is ours can protect the survival of our kind and our community. But peaceful alternatives are always a better option.

The lines are not so far apart between taking vengeful action and defending our home. And the lines blur easily. Should we repeatedly act with kindness in our heart, we will see the benefits of forgiveness. We easily can make the better choice and be better equipped to know when we act from bruised ego or from the need to protect our way of life, with work, will and focus.


1) Look for your vengeful feelings, and recognize them as soon as they appear. Applaud this recognition.

2) Reach out immediately and tell someone of your vengeful thought or act. It is not important that most human beings are wired to feel vindictive. It does matter that humans temper their spirit.

3) If appropriate, tell the person who wronged you what s/he did in calm, kind words and how it made you feel. Discuss another option that would have been better for you.

4) Look for the times you have feelings of forgiveness, and recognize them as soon as they appear each time. Be happy, and see how to replace revenge with this forgiveness.

5) Pick one special activity to do when you feel the revenge bug coming on such as dance for a few minutes, jump rope for one minute or call a friend. It must be pre-planned in order to be ready for the moment of decision, to make it useful. This preparation avoids stomach ulcers and regret.

6) Go take the Forgiveness Quiz, based upon Michael McCullough and colleagues’ research scale:

The Forgiveness Quiz

7) Come back to comment at:

Think of all the ways in which we have learned to control ourselves. We can make revenge one of those ways. Think of all the good that comes from forgiveness. We can consciously pump it up.

Let’s get started now.



Please leave  a comment and LIKE.


Diane Gold, Founder of Warriors of Weight, Turning Habits Into Health, is a mentor in tai chi, kung fu and meditation, a music, fitness and stress expert, dedicated mom, studying plant-based nutrition and habit change.

As of late and because of the climate of our world, she has been looking at whether environment or nature is the cause of forgiveness and revenge. She says,

“It would be easy to say we could work on our behavior and then, in generations, if we gave good example and showed forgiveness and not revenge, the latter would go away.

Connected“No! It’s in us for survival reasons. As humans with high thought process, we CAN realize when revenge is for survival and when it’s only for ego. We can temper ourselves. That’s why I equate forgiveness and revenge with any habit of substance, emotion, gambling or ice cream; it will always be there, but doesn’t always require an action.

“We have choices, and, because of our “exceptional cognitive complexity,” we can make great ones. Let us all team together to step toward enhancing our forgiveness in substitution for our revenge, when possible.

“We’re all connected, so let each of us take part in working the benefits of forgiveness and revenge.”

Leave a Reply

You must be logged in to post a comment.