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Revenge- a dish best served cold?

Revenge- a dish best served cold?

If you are in rage, longing for revenge, whether you return evil to him or not, you will evermore torture yourself with pain that always is the echo of hate!- Buddha

La vendetta es una minestra che se mangia fredda, the old time Mafiosi in Sicily claimed. Vengeful thinking is human nature, but we have choices about how we react to things that stir us up and get us off balance. 

Revenge is a waste of time and energy that causes harm to all parties involved. We see it played out in various ways: harassment; negative social media posts; and most extremely in mass shootings intended to make others “pay” for wronging them by gunning others–often completely uninvolved people–down.

‘Revenge is a dish best served cold‘ was referenced in Star Trek II: The Wrath of Khan, when nemesis Khan Noonien Singh himself (masterfully played by Ricardo Montalban) quoted  it as a Klingon proverb. It was actually first written by  Pierre Ambroise Francois Choderios de LaClos (1741-1803), in his 1782 book, Les Liaisons Dangereuses: “La vengeance est un plat qui se mange froid.”

The saying also appears again in European literature in the novel, Mathilde, written in 1841 by French author Marie-Joseph Eugène Sue: ”La vengeance se mange tres-bien froide” or revenge is best eaten cold.  Revenge: unwelcome, unexpected, unforgiving, unfeeling and no doubt unappetizing.

The saying was popularized in Mario Puzo’s  The Godfather, a book and film that provide many analogies for business and personal interactions. The Godfather depicted how respect must be given and the unpleasant consequences that result from disrespect. When Don Corleone exacted revenge against movie producer Jack Woltz, it came in the cold-hearted form of waking up in bed next to his champion racehorse’s severed head. 

The worse of the two is one, who, when abused, retaliates.One who does not retaliate, wins a battle hard to win.-Samyutta Nikāya 1.188

R & R: Revenge and Retribution

One of the reasons that people seek revenge is the memory that humans have for harm done to them or their people; they seek justice through retribution to deter future transgressions. When one person harms another, an account is established in the minds of the concerned. People living in remote places where (dis)organized law enforcement is distant, tribal rule and revenge are immediate and effective for achieving justice. 

Is There a Biological Basis for Revenge?

Dr. Stephen Beckerman, Associate professor of Anthropology at Penn State, studies revenge dominance and status. Biologically, there is a basis for revenge – revenge satisfies the same area of the brain that responds to opiates and sex. So the Bermuda Triangle of the brain isn’t ‘sex, drugs and rock & roll,’ it’s: sex, drugs and revenge. 

Hammurabi’s Law as well as the Hebrew Bible/ Old Testament, Exodus 21:24 states : “..An eye for an eye,” but Leviticus 19:18  instructs us: “Do not seek revenge. Love thy neighbor as yourself.” Which biblical advice is appropriate?

A study by Kevin Carlsmith, PhD.(Colgate University) and his colleagues conducted a study on the effects of those who acted on the need for revenge and those who did not. The results: those who did not act vengefully were happier–because they had nothing to ruminate on; when the situation was over, they moved on and forgot about the event more easily.

What About Karma?

Buddhist Philosophy anticipated modern science 2500 years ago with the understanding of a continuous universe in which each event has causes and all events are inextricably linked.  Buddhists use the term “Karma” to refer to the interconnection of causation- similar to the concept of “you reap what you sow”. If you sow negativity, surely negativity comes your way; not in a cause and effect manner, but more of negative input yields negative results. 

What Do I Do When I feel Vengeful?

Modern society is rife with opportunities to be wronged and wrong in return; what are we to do?  Life is long –  and it is better to withdraw our negative energy from the other individual according to Steven E. Hodes, M.D., a traditionally trained physician with a metaphysical point of view about healing and the mind-body-spirit connection, author of  Meta-Physician on Call for Better Health: Metaphysics and Medicine for Mind, Body, and Spirit  (Praeger Publishers, 2007). HIs book offers practical, spiritually aligned advice for alternatives to revenge. 

When the need for revenge strikes, ask yourself: will spending energy on getting even improve my life beyond the momentary satisfaction from revenge? The answer is always No. Less is better: less attention, less focus on the wrong, less energy thinking or obsessing about it. The most helpful action is inaction. No response is the best response; that unlocks us from pondering rebuttals or getting caught in the no-win game of arguing our point, especially with someone who already doesn’t respect us.

Additionally, some people actually thrive off of conflict and confrontation; the drama is like oxygen to them. If we respond or act out in revenge, that satisfies their need for attention and drama.  The knowledge that we have a choice in how we react can free us from becoming entangled in arguments, defending ourselves, and causing more harm to ourselves and others. Wait to calm down. Reach out to someone for help, whether it is a family member, friend or professional.

We all must endure difficulties and it can be easy sometimes to dwell in self pity, thinking we are the only one who has had things “tough.” We’ve all suffered loss, accusations, and attacks on our character. We have all been betrayed and have been hurt by others. Through it all, it is hard to not lose our true nature- and harbor thoughts of hatred, greed or revenge. Understand that, in the end, it is in your best interest to allow the heat of passionate feelings to cool, stay focused on your own life, and to adopt a metaphysical response: stop, sit quietly, and calm our minds.

And yes, words from “The Voice” himself, Frank Sinatra: The best revenge is massive success.


Leigh Roche

Leigh has written for many online publications and print outlets.An educator, yogi and skateboarding lover, Leigh has written about skateboarding and mindful living and anything that comes to mind through the merciful filter of her keyboard. Contributor: Huffington Post/ Huff Post Columnist:  Action Sports  News Pronto  Business Daily Media, AIr BTW MagazineView Author posts