When I was a child in Boisevain, Manitoba, my mother would sometimes send me to the bakery to get bread. I was about 5 but could read.
There were various slogans on the wall behind the baker. I will never forget one of them, and from childhood I made it a maxim that I would live by. (Seems like every time I remember breaking it was against my brother.)
The maxim was, “He who seeks revenge digs two graves.” He blames Confucius.
At 5 years old, I understood.
I thought about this while reading Don Boudreaux’s latest article for the American Institute for Economic Research. It is titled “No Covid Tribunal.” I recommend reading the whole thing.
Notice that Don is not saying that we should do nothing to hold people to account. He writes:
Nor do I oppose formal hearings aimed at uncovering the truth about government officials’ COVID-era actions. While I worry that such hearings, like the Covid policies, will be infected by excessive politics and misunderstandings of science, as long as such hearings do not threaten formal punishment or sanctions against officials found to have acted improperly, such hearings are likely to be found and important. Promulgating the truth is enough to confirm their occurrence.
I think that’s right.
However, as a result of choosing not to be a vengeful person early in life, I think I am also a happier person. There is more than one way to dig my own grave. There are literal ways, of course. But another way is to obsess: “I’m going to get it.” And it takes away from enjoying and achieving life.
Between 1978 and 1983, I went to 4 weekend long intensives given by the late psychologist Nathaniel Branden. I learned a lot. I probably learned the most from the first one, in early 1978 in Manhattan. A lot of what we were dealing with was being shaped, or misshaped, by our parents and teachers. Somehow in the discussion, it’s about “getting back” to the parents or teachers or whoever came. Branden said there’s a Spanish proverb that translates to, “Living well is the best revenge.” It also became part of my philosophy of life. In fact, I used it in a graduation speech in 1981 at Carman High School from which I graduated in 1967.