Part of living in a fear-based belief system believes that peace only comes from retribution. Being hurt is going to be a constant in a culture that feeds on guilt or shame, but instead of discrediting these things as meaningless, we get even. Our idea of justice is equal or greater punishment. When you really think about it, however, crime and punishment are two sides of the same coin. When someone steals an object, the proper punishment is to take some of their time in life away from them. If someone is to commit murder, the most logical punishment is to take their life. Doesn’t matter if it is life in prison, or death by capital punishment. We live in a system that believes punishment is what increases morality, but it perpetuates attacks with more attacks.
I believe it was Mahatma Gandhi who said, “An eye for an eye makes the whole world blind.” It’s kind of a wild idea to think that we think that two people suffering is called justice. Yes, the person who committed the crime brought suffering onto an innocent person, but the idea that inflicting suffering back brings peace is insanity. We have sayings like two wrongs don’t make a right, but do we truly believe it? What if our idea of justice isn’t justice but returning a crime with another crime? How is it not allowable for someone to steal a possession, but perfectly allowable to then steal someone’s time as a result? Our separation makes us believe that the perpetrator deserves less dignity because they are no longer on the moral plain as others.
Justice or Revenge
What we are really doing is getting revenge. We believe that revenge for the hurt that people inflict on us will give us peace. If a judge can sentence a person to death, why would that stop a high school kid with an AK-47 from doing the same thing? It doesn’t help that just about every action-adventure movie, show, or book is based on revenge. I’m not even referring to the villain in the story. The hero typically seeks revenge against the supposed villain in the story and because the hero is “good” it’s justice. Take a look at your favorite superhero movie and tell me I’m wrong. The only reason why Batman fights crime is that he uses the childhood trauma of watching both his parents die and uses this memory as fuel for vengeance. Does Peter Parker dress up to take on the criminals of New York if his uncle isn’t murdered?
Universal truth means that if revenge is the best way to peace, then that means we should seek revenge for everyone who’s done us harm. How exhausting would that be to have everyone’s hurt in your head and plot how you would get them back? Imagine trying to get revenge on your closest family members and friends. Let’s not pretend that they didn’t cause harm in one way or another. Then we take into account the teachers, the coworkers, and all the authority figures that physically and emotionally gave us pain. All this pain stays in your heart and to what end?
Punishment Still Doesn’t Work
We believe punishment works because we believe that the perpetrator is going to learn a valuable lesson to not do what they’ve done again. How many times has that actually worked? If a poor person needs to feed their family, he might steal from a store. Sending that person to jail won’t solve the fact that this person is still poor. Punishment never gets to the root of the issue.
There have been times that I’ve been punished without anyone addressing why I did what I did in the first place. The reason why we typically choose violence is that hurt people hurt people. We’ve all felt hurt in one form or another. We believe that revenge is a form of accountability. We come to the point where we hate the person who’s hurt us without seeing why they were placed in such a vulnerable place to want to cause harm. Revenge is our default response when it can easily become compassion if we decide to dig deeper into the issue. Instead, we only cause them further suffering in a way that absolutely no one receives peace.