The next Research on Tap: Forgiveness vs. Revenge

Dr. Stacey L. MacKinnon knows how tough it is to decide between forgiveness and revenge. The Assistant Professor of Social Psychology once opted for playful revenge against her husband for a relatively minor offence — a decision she would come to regret.

“I am not a great cook,” laughs MacKinnon, thinking back. “So I somehow believed I’d feel better if my sister-in-law and I made my husband dinner and then spiced his Spanish pork chop so awfully he wouldn’t be able to eat it. We were initially disappointed when his pork chop tasted better than ours. But, within a few hours, it was clear he didn’t feel very good. And, unfortunately, neither did we.”

MacKinnon can’t recall the offence that inspired their culinary revenge. She does remember her husband forgave her, though he retains a lingering mistrust for her pork chops.

While forgiveness appears to have been the preferable choice in this example, MacKinnon says there are problems with a straight-up policy of forgiveness.

“No one agrees what forgiveness is,” explains MacKinnon. “Is it something the forgiver does privately without telling the wrong-doer? Is it something that needs to be acknowledged by both parties? If so, how do you forgive someone who is dead? Does the perpetrator have to apologize in order to be forgiven?”

MacKinnon says there are few details about forgiveness we all agree on. We know it’s a difficult thing. And that’s why she says a sometimes useful alternative is just talking with friends or co-workers about the problem.

“Talking about revenge, specifically, has the potential to be somewhat therapeutic,” says MacKinnon. “Especially if you don’t plan to carry out the revenge. You can think of wild schemes to get back against the person, and it’s completely harmless. Often these sessions end with a great deal of laughter over the creativity of the revenge plots. There’s a lot to be said for blowing off steam in a safe, controlled environment.”

You can discuss some of Dr. MacKinnon’s ideas with her at the next Research on Tap. Every month, we bring a UPEI researcher to Mavor’s in the Confederation Centre of the Arts for an evening of ideas and good cheer. MacKinnon’s discussion is titled "Revenge and Forgiveness: Deciding whether or not to, how to, and how it's going to feel afterward."

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