The Real Cost of Revenge

By: Debbie Soufian  |  March 31, 2019

By Debbie Soufian

After taking three semesters of economics, I have become intimately acquainted with the idea of a “sunk cost.” Sunk costs are “costs beyond recovery at the time when the decision was made.” In summation, honoring this cost may be deduced as already having incurred an expense– unable to redeem it for what you paid, you continue to invest in it through emotion, money, or time. Failure to ignore this cost also invites an opportunity cost—defined as the price you pay for forfeiting your next valued alternative.

While all of this sounds theoretical, my economics textbook raises the question of revenge. It states: “When wronged, many people feel a strong urge to take revenge. Assuming revenge is costly, would not a revenge simply be a matter of honoring the sunk cost of whatever injury they have already sustained?”

This, to me, raised some thoughts that surpass the realm of strict microeconomics. Revenge can often be defined as “getting even.” This is a fallacy in which we as humans, out of our own pride, claim we run the world, thereby demanding our authority towards controlling a particular outcome. It is our own entitlement in thinking someone has acted toward us in a way we feel we do not deserve, and that we therefore have the power to even out the playing field based on our terms. In our perception of reality, this is our own limited thinking derived from our own lens through which we see the world. “Getting even” is our ego attempting to control the balance and stability of the world, a balance that we think we have the power to manipulate, let alone sustain.

When we assign power, control, or attachment towards a situation in which we feel we were wronged, that cost has already been incurred. It is a sunk cost; you cannot take back all that spent time or energy. However, trying to “take revenge” as we define it insures we pay a premium for an outcome of inevitably feeling discounted. We do not run the world. We have no idea of the combinations of possibilities as to why the other person acted how they did. Investing further into your own ego only depletes your character, and puts to fire the salvation of peace both within and yourself and the person you believe transgressed you.

Rather than investing in revenge, invest in something that pays dividends and reveals a gain. Pray for that person, that they not only become aware, but also use that awareness to cultivate change, that this change will create love that has the ability to heal the world. Find peace in forgiveness, and know that it is not your responsibility to teach them a lesson. God has the wisdom to grace the world with balance, and correct harm, if you do your part.

I learned a few weeks ago in a Megillat Esther class taught by Professor Mahnaz Shmalo that in this world there is no punishment, only consequence. Cause and effect. If you do not feed the anger, blame, and resentment and instead devote yourself to maintaining a positive character, your reward will be inner peace. The trust that your assignment is to continue the growth of yourself, do your best, and the rest will be taken care of by a Force much more powerful and all-knowing than yourself.  

Before taking revenge, remember that whatever happened in the past is a sunk cost. The opportunity cost we could be enjoying is inner peace and the ability to learn and reclaim our personal power. Isn’t that humbling?