Sunday, April 13, 2014

Revenge: why do kids want it and what to do about it

[while lance and his cousin are playing rough]

cash: hey that hurt!

lance: oops, hit me back so we’ll be even.

dad: you mean revenge?

lance: what?

dad: you’re asking for cash to take revenge on you.

lance: oh ya.

dad: one problem here is that it looked to me like you hit him by accident. i mean, you said “oops”.

lance: ya it was an accident.

dad: so why should cash hit you back?

cash: so we’re even.

dad: well that’s what revenge means, but… if you cut my leg off on accident, then i should cut your leg off on purpose?

cash: no lol

dad: so what are you talking about?

[no reply]

dad: it’s not *even* if one person did something *on accident* and then the next person did the  thing back but *on purpose*.

lance: ya that’s stupid.

dad: but even if you hit cash on purpose not on accident, it still doesn’t make sense why you care to have things be even.

[no reply]

dad: it's the same kind of mistake you made when cash got jealous about getting fewer suckers.

lance: it is?

dad: ya. cash wanted you to feel pain (lose a sucker), so that he feels better. that’s the same as you wanting to feel pain, (get hit), so that cash feels better.

lance: oh!

cash: i don’t get it.

dad: k, let me ask you this to help clarify things: what do you gain if lance loses something?

cash: hmm. nothing.

dad: so then why does it make you feel better if lance loses something?

lance: lol, it doesn’t make sense.

cash: but what if somebody hits me first? then shouldn’t I teach him a lesson?

dad: what lesson?

cash: that if he hits people then people will hit him back.

dad: so let me understand what you’re saying, correct me if i’m wrong. you’re saying that the lesson is to learn to stop wanting to hit people. is that it?

cash: ya.

dad: but people like that don’t stop wanting to hit you just because you hit them back. he’ll just want to hit you again to take revenge.

cash: so i’ll hit him again.

dad: and he’ll hit you again. and that cycle will never end. so when does the lesson work?

cash: uh…

dad: teaching lessons by hurting people is stupid. it doesn’t work. there’s no lesson being learned.

[switch to talking about self-defense]

cash: but before you said that if somebody hits me, i should hit him back to get him to stop.

dad: that’s not what i said. i said this: if somebody hit you and you think you’re still in danger, then yes you should defend yourself to protect yourself from danger by hitting him back, trying to make sure he doesn’t keep hitting you.

cash: ok so…

dad: but that’s not revenge. you’re not hitting him *so that* he feels pain. you’re hitting him *so that* you protect yourself from danger. and whether or not he feels pain is just a side effect, it wasn’t the primary goal, it was just a secondary goal so that i can achieve the primary goal.

lance: but you’d be hitting him to make him feel pain so that he stops.

dad: well that’s *if* you choose to hit him. maybe instead you choose to shoot him dead.

lance: what!?

dad: well, if an intruder broke into our house while you guys were sleeping upstairs, and if i had a knife to my left and a shotgun to my right, what should i do?

lance: what?

dad: should i pick up a knife so i can fight him with the same weapon he has? or should i pick up a shotgun?

lance: use the knife?

dad: and risk your lives!?

cash: no! use the shotgun!

dad: right! i’ll use the shotgun and shoot him dead. but i didn’t do it so that he feels pain or otherwise loses something. i did it to protect us from losing something — our lives. and him losing his life is a side effect of my primary goal which was to protect ourselves.

lance: but what about how we put people in jail? isn’t that revenge?

dad: no, it’s self-defense. society wants to protect itself from murderers.

lance: but don’t the murderers feel pain while in jail?

dad: well some people who run the jails like revenge. so they try to make the inmates feel pain. that’s bad. also some judges care about revenge. also some of our laws justify revenge.

lance: so don’t they need pain so they can learn their lesson?

dad: what’s the lesson?

lance: oh ya, nobody learns lessons by being hurt.

dad: so self-defense is good. and revenge is bad. don’t confuse the two because they are different. revenge is about wanting somebody to be harmed, and self-defense is about wanting to protect yourself from harm.

lance: ok.

dad: be clear on *who* you are concerned about.

lance: what do you mean?

dad: doing self-defense means you are primarily concerned about *yourself*. doing revenge means you are primarily concerned about *him*.

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