It was an ordinary afternoon, and I logged onto Facebook to kill the last few minutes of the workday. Mixed among the usual status updates about baseball teams and weekend plans, was a troubling declaration from my friend Layla (name has been changed). Layla lamented that kids were picking on her daughter at school and she was frustrated at the lack of concern by the bullies' parents. The virtual peanut gallery ran to Layla's rescue and offered soothing comments and the-same-thing-happened-to-my-kid stories.
I stared at the computer in wonder. Once upon a time, Layla was the teenage tormentor. She wasn't the type to physically hurt someone, but she was the quintessential frenemy. If you were on her good side, life was great. Woe to you if you were not. She was manipulative and just plain mean. She would embarrass you in front of a group of people, criticize relentlessly and start vicious rumors. Reading her status update made me think "Layla, you know exactly what goes on in the minds of insensitive adolescents. Use that to your advantage now."
Let me be clear: I don't wish any harm on Layla's daughter. I was picked on often as a kid (comes with being tall and awkward), and hearing about bullying breaks my heart. I also don't harbor any resentment toward Layla regarding the rumors she spread about me in seventh grade. I don't care. If I cared I wouldn't be her virtual friend now. This situation interests me because it appears to be karma, but it's not. Karma only counts if Layla allows this situation to make her feel some sort of remorse for the way she treated people in her younger years. From what I could tell, her only concern was garnering sympathy for what her daughter was going through. (In fairness, my only gauge of the situation was a Facebook status update.)
This brings me to revenge. Revenge is when one tries to control karma. You don't want to wait for the universe to pay someone back, so you do it yourself. I've certainly tried my hand at revenge. The incident that stands out the most took place my sophomore year of college. I was seeing a guy who was being unfaithful to his girlfriend. The more into the relationship we got, the more indignant he became. He blamed me for the situation -- as if he had nothing to do with it. I got fed up and decided I'd make sure his girlfriend found out what he was doing. "That'll show him!" I thought. "Once she finds out, she'll break his heart and then he'll know how I feel."
My revenge didn't go as planned. The result was they both blamed me. She did not leave him in the dust the way I had hoped. I imagine it hurt less for both of them to hold me accountable -- that way she didn't have to deal with him and he didn't have to deal with himself.
Revenge is pointless because no matter what you do you cannot make someone see things the way you see them. If you drop a piano on your philandering ex-husband's Lamborghini, all he will see is his baby broken into bits and he will feel sorry for himself. He will not necessarily understand and apologize for the pain and suffering he put you through. He will also call the police, which he is well within his rights to do.
We the people have a hard time seeing beyond ourselves. We only see how we are treated and aren't on the lookout for the effects of our actions on others. When I was playing collegiate mistress, all I could see was how badly the guy was treating me. I didn't think of the pain I was causing his girlfriend.
Revenge is also a foolproof way to let someone know they get to you. This gives a person a lot of power -- knowing that they can break you down. Don't give that power to anyone. It's better to ignore the emotional offender. I know it's not instantly gratifying, but in the long run it's the best thing to do.
The Good News
There is a silver lining. If someone is going to feel bad for the way they once treated you, they will do so all on their own. You don't have to do a thing. Case in point: the guy who treated me poorly in college, found me five years later and apologized. He apologized so many times I asked him to stop. He then asked if I would consider dating him. I said no.
In the same way, I have looked back on a handful of situations and realized I was really, really wrong. In some cases, I have gone back and apologized. Admitting you were or are wrong is liberating. It means you take your life into your own hands and you can change the bad behavior. If you hold everyone else responsible then you give them power over your life. This is what truly selfish people do -- hold everyone else accountable, and that is why you cannot teach them a lesson. In their own minds, they are infallible. I say let them live (miserably) in their own minds, and I'll be on my way.