The Smarter Way To Seek Revenge

The Smarter Way To Seek Revenge

Vengeance is evil but often sweet, and it can be hard to pass up when someone really pisses you off. Here’s a look at how revenge works, how best to enact it, and if it’s really worthwhile at all.The Dark Side Disclaimer
All posts that belong to the Dark Side are going to feature some ideas that might be a little evil or at least require some flexible ethics. Some things will be downright horrible, and you should not do them, but are either for your information or simply for the point of interest (and will be noted as such). Your judgment and actions are your own, so think before you do anything you read here and only use your dark side for good.

There is a lot of evil in the world, and it comes from all of us. We’re all capable of terrible things under the right circumstances, and so becoming a victim in any given situation isn’t uncommon. If you become a victim, you essentially have two options: accept your fate and move on or seek revenge. Today we’re opting for vengeance.

How Revenge Works

If you’ve ever been wronged in your life, you probably understand the concept of revenge. Often it goes like this:

  • Someone does something bad to you and you’re powerless to stop it.
  • You want to get them back, so you create a plot of revenge.
  • You enact said revenge.
  • All is right in the world.

At least, that might be an ideal scenario. We want to exact revenge, because it feels like justice but it’s not. Revenge isn’t about getting the bad guy and restoring harmony to the world. Revenge is simply about causing harm to the bad guy. There’s no real justice, but rather a conscious choice to travel the low road.

The Smarter Way to Seek Revenge
Photo by Katatonic

In fact, getting revenge might even be a bad thing as a study by psychologist Kevin Carlsmith points out:

People expect to reap hedonic rewards when they punish an offender, but in at least some instances, revenge has hedonic consequences that are precisely opposite to those that people expect. Three studies showed that: (a) one reason for this is that people who punish continue to ruminate about the offender, whereas those who do not punish “move on” and think less about the offender, and; (b) people fail to appreciate the different affective consequences of witnessing and instigating punishment.

You can look at this a couple of ways. First, you can argue that you simply shouldn’t seek revenge at all. That’s fair, and a completely noble path to take. On the other hand, you can look at these things as obstacles in the way of effective revenge. Your main obstacle is making sure you don’t feel like an awful person afterwards. Your other obstacle is simply the obstacle you’re already facing: letting go. I believe these are pretty easy things to overcome because there’s a difference between simple revenge — an eye for an eye — and smart revenge — aiming to bring positive change from your actions. The problem with most revenge is that it’s about bringing harm — and not harmony — to the situation. If you’re going to seek vengeance, you need to believe you’re bringing about positive change.

The Best Revenge is Being a Good Person

The Smarter Way to Seek Revenge
Photo by Adrian Lim

What a sappy thought, right? But honestly, being the good guy is almost always the best way to go. A lot of the times this does mean doing the difficult but right thing, taking the high road, and being the bigger person. Sometimes it just means you need to appear that way. Whatever the case may be, the end goal is the same: look so good and honorable that your target of revenge looks like an enormous douche bag. Being, or appearing to be a good person, will bring people to your side.

A long time ago, I was waiting in line for quite a while at an ATM. Midway through the line, a guy came over to his friend — who was in the spot in front of me — and struck up a conversation. At first I thought this was harmless, but as soon as his friend finished using the ATM machine he cut in and decided to use it, too. At the time I was a shy person and most people never even noticed I was there. Sometimes I was in a conversation with people and I’d say something and nobody would even know, regardless of how loud I said it. People used to cut in front of me constantly and this was going to be the last time. I started by politely telling the guy that I was in line before him and I’d have said something earlier but I thought he was just talking to his friend. He insisted he was in line before me, and I think he legitimately believed it. I think, like most people at the time, he just had no idea I even existed. But that didn’t change anything. I got angry and I insisted I was first. Eventually he did the smart thing and gave up. I got to use the ATM, but at that point everyone in the line thought I was wrong and he was right. Other people in the line were saying what an asshole I was the entire time I made my deposit.

The Smarter Way to Seek Revenge
Illustration by drandula

I’m mentioning this story to illustrate a few things. First, picking a battle over minutia is stupid. Second, fighting when angry has all sorts of ways it can only end poorly. Third, the guy who stepped in line before me won that interaction because he played smarter. It was a situation where we were both legitimately in the right — assuming he truly didn’t know he cut in line, of course — and he opted to be the good guy. When you’re the good guy in a public argument, you win the favour of the people around you. You’re suddenly not fighting the battle alone, but with everyone else. It didn’t matter if I was right or wrong — he opted to be virtuous and let me go ahead of him even though he believed I was cheating. Ultimately, this made me feel much worse than anything else. He won by doing two things you don’t normally think about in a moment of anger:

  1. Choosing not to fight.
  2. Being the better person.

This is often the most simple and effective revenge. It’s easy to accomplish. This is a reversal. It’s like with martial arts, where you’re taught to use your opponent’s force against them. This is why being a good person is almost always the best revenge, even if you’re not really being good at all.

That said, I do truly believe that in most any situation the best thing to do is to actually be good. Most of the time it will work out in your favour, as described above, and you can always fabricate a situation (like this one — scroll down to the last section) on the rare occasion you feel it’s necessary. There are times when revenge can be a handy tool, but be smart about it and seek it rarely. Few situations are black and white, and so it’s almost always better to be kind. Almost.

Secrets from the Dark Side is an occasional look at the various ways a little evil can be used for good in everyday life, plus a few interesting pieces of information and anecdotes here and there.


  • The main problem I see with the ATM example, is that you actually cared what the people behind you were saying – people you don’t know and will probably never see again. The guy cut in front of you, intentional or not, and it was right that you go first, along with everyone else who waited in line. Also, that situation is fairly low impact – try applying high road logic to someone you see stealing your mail, or keying your car, for example.

    • Jiff, I don’t think Adam’s problem was necessarily because he cared what others thought. I think his problem was that he tried to right the situation by drawing attention to the other guy’s wrongdoing and thus publicly embarrassed him. The other guy cared what people thought of him too because he tried to justify his position. As the article says “fighting when angry has all sorts of ways it can end badly.”. And as for caring what people think: you don’t know who else in that queue might have known Adam. Gossip gets around.

  • ATM Story – That’s not revenge, that’s standing up for yourself.

    Revenge – when someone is tailgating me in traffic (I’m not going slow), they go in the other lane to try to get around me and I box them in with another car. Sweet, sweet revenge. Sometimes automatic karma takes too long and you don’t always get to witness the result, so you’ve got to do manual karma.

    • A perfect example of why revenge is dumb. I’ve done this, I admit it. It’s a dumb thing to do. I’ve read more than one story where a driver who had offended a bad driver has been assaulted. I’ve nearly been a victim myself.

  • everytime someone talks to me about ‘getting back’ at someone who’s driving they perceive as incorrect, i think “ok, so you’re intentionally driving in a manner that’s more likely to cause an accident in order to prove a point.”

    when i am driving and see someone else driving in a manner that i perceive as incorrect or dangerous, i do my best to stay away from them.

    I think the best revenge is to get to my destination safely.

  • I saw a show about the psychology of social situations like the ATM queue. I wish I could remember it’s name.

    It demonstrated that there is a way to legitimize getting in ahead of others in a queue, but it seems to me you could use the same technique to turn the tables on the queue jumper without aggravating the situation.

    The trick is to make an excuse, any excuse except “I’m in a hurry”. So to insert yourself in the queue you might say: “excuse me, do you mind if I go ahead of you? My cat has diarrhea.”. Likewise if you had spoken up as soon as you realized the queue jumper’s intentions and said “excuse me, do you mind if I go ahead of you? My cat has diarrhea.” there’s a good chance the person will acquiesce. It doesn’t have to be a white lie, your excuse can be pretty lame really. It doesn’t always work, they could deny your request, but in that case by default the other person becomes ‘the bad guy’ because they denied a person in need. If it works, you have neatly corrected a wrong done to you without drawing attention to the queue jumper’s error. They save face, you get to the ATM

  • yes I think the douchebag often doesn’t know he’s offended and would be most surprised when you exact retribution.

    Even when caught in the act, arrogant bastards will deny everything and will make you explain it to them and make you look lame or trivial in front of witnesses.

    I once boarded a night train at an intermediate location and found someone in my allocated seat. This person said they had a ticket for that seat so I saw the conductor who directed me to another seat which again had someone in it. This happened three times until I found an empty seat.
    Either people moved into the empty seat and defend it or the railways were incompetant in seat allocations.
    The lights were out so if I made a fuss, I would have looked like a noisy asshole.

  • Just hit he/her immediately. Let them worry about getting revenge on you. Life is short.

    On the other hand, just let it go. Don’t ruminate.

    Stay or go just like in Karate. He who hesitates is lost.

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