Picture this: someone has scratched your car with their keys. Deliberately, because they don’t like you. Now, you’re walking along a dark street and happen to spot their car. Nobody is watching, and you know this is a CCTV blind spot. You have a bunch of keys in your hand. What do you do?
What if the wrong done to you was more serious? What if someone you love was murdered, the killer feels no remorse, and you are put in a position to decide their fate? What do you do?
Here is something I’ve come to believe: your decision in this matter has nothing to do with the wrongdoer, it has nothing to do with the incident, with revenge, justice, restitution, rehabilitation, or any of the things we tend to think of straight away. It has everything to do with you. We must understand that our response to what is done to us, tells the story of who we are.
Scratching the other person’s car makes you someone who damages another’s property. “But I had a reason!” Well, so did they. If you ask for the murderer to be hanged or killed by lethal injection, you are someone who took another human being’s life, and showed no mercy. The entire world may think you were justified doing that, but what does it do to you? What does it make you? The motivation matters far less than the action you take, because our actions shape how we think, who we are.
This applies to nations, too. The USA has one of the most aggressive, vengeful systems in the world for responding to those who have committed crime. You may reason that crime deserves punishment, but the response again says more about the country than about the criminals. This aggression and tendency to violence persists in their behaviour on the world stage. In contrast, Norway’s response to crime is very different. It doesn’t seek revenge, it seeks to rehabilitate. It asks why crime is committed and focuses on solving the problem, preventing reoffending, rather than demanding the fleeting satisfaction of feeling the offender has been punished. The reasoning that this speaks of them, not of crime, is borne out by their ranking in the world peace index.
Here is a rule of thumb: if you are responding to a situation and someone comes around the corner, observing your behaviour with no knowledge of what went before it, what will their first thought be? That thought should matter to you, because that is the purest description of what you are doing. What we do, in the end, is the only way to tell the world, and ourselves, who we are.