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Soft Vengeance

And speaking of vengeance…. You want to read an inspiring revenge story? Read about South African Albie Sachs.

Sachs was a lawyer on the wrong side of apartheid, was exiled in Mozambique in the 1980s, and blown up by a car bomb in 1988. To the disappointment of the death squad hired to kill him, he lived. Arm blown off. Blind in one eye. He lived. I met the man, as a graduate student in London in 1990 — he was writing the new constitution for a Democratic South Africa, which is now considered one of the most progressive constitutions in the world. Kind of like having Thomas Jefferson in your lunch room. Lovely, friendly, funny man. He went back to South Africa — today he is a retired Supreme Court justice. He not only lived to see the end of apartheid, he stuck around long enough to rewrite all the goddamn laws. Check out this quote from an interview with him:

His calm, philosophical demeanour enabled him to meet the person who organised the placing of the bomb in his car 20 years ago. They came face to face years later, assailant and his victim; two men from diametrically opposed philosophies brought together by unique circumstances. Sachs called him “an instrument of his side” and the security official proffered his hand upon meeting him. Albie Sachs declined.

“I told him I couldn’t shake his hand but maybe we could meet after he went to the Truth & Reconciliation Committee. Nine months later, we saw each other again and I then shook his hand. He came to see me and we had an extraordinary conversation. This was the man who had tried to kill me but we didn’t hate each other.”

In Sachs’ words, the man left that meeting absolutely beaming. But he heard later, his assailant went home and cried for two weeks.

Sachs said:

“I feel that we have achieved what I call my soft vengeance. It is much more beautiful than ordinary punishment. It is a huge transformation… that validates everything we went through.”

I love this quote. And what does a South African freedom fighter have to do with infidelity? He’s an inspiration. People survive far worse shit than infidelity, and they rise above it. Your life was blown up? This man was literally blown up. The notion of “soft vengeance” is so moving to me. Far better than destroying the man who tried to destroy him, Sachs shattered him by succeeding. And had the grace to shake that man’s hand.

You may never get crying remorse from your cheater, they won’t go to a tribunal like the TRC to atone for their crimes, but you can be like Albie Sachs and not let the bastards kill you.

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  • Lovely piece and a great lesson in there.

    I have not yet been able to let go of what STBX did to me by cheating for years – whenever we have a discussion he seems to needle me into ‘punishing’ him with my words. And I oblige him with great gusto.

    Perhaps the lesson here is to just let it go. He knows what he did. I know what he did. Everyone else is unimportant. I hope I can forgive one day and I’ll try but either way it is time to LET IT GO.

    I can’t move forward if I keep raging about the past. It can’t be changed and whether or not he ‘gets it’ is irrelevant. I get it. I married a bad egg. Now it’s time to find the future I deserve.

    Thanks for another great post, CL.

  • Thanks JL. Letting go is imperative. That doesn’t mean forgetting it, just not letting it poison your future happiness. Your new life will soon eclipse your old life. He’ll go on to make someone else miserable.

    Don’t “punish” him with your words — it isn’t punishment to him. It’s centrality. It’s ego kibbles. It lets him know that he MATTERS. (Well of course he matters, you were married to him…) Nothing punishes him more than your silence and contempt. Making him irrelevant to your world. And it’s the best thing you can do for your own healing. Hang in there.

    • Agreed. Today I had to deal with him briefly, as he sent the kids home EIGHTS HOURS EARLIER THAN AGREED.

      I texted him, he had some lame-assed excuse and I just finally said ‘hey, no worries, obviously it’s not important to spend time with them for you. Now bugger off’.

      End of. I’ll be here for them and he can go piss in the wind. He’s proven over and over again that he might SAY they’re really important and he REGRETS all that happened…but his actions don’t match his words and the kids are finally picking up on it.

      • Ugh! I’m so sorry. It’s one of those awful positions to be in — he’s unreliable, so you have to be super-reliable for your kids. If you weren’t there (8 hours early) YOU would’ve been the bad guy. And you won’t be that bad guy, because you don’t want your children to be in harm’s way, unsupervised, or dumped off, or whatever. BTDT.

  • Well, I still think an M-80 stuck up the assailant’s ass would have worked wonders for mutual healing. I do not favor soft vengence. I think it let’s the other person off the hook much too easily.
    I think it was Ghandi who said “revenge is sweet, sweet enough to eat” (he also said ” A friend in need, is a pain in the ass.”).

  • I, too, love the concept of soft vengeance. It reminds me of that saying…”The best revenge is living well”.

    As always, thank you for the valuable perspective.

    • I could get on board with that concept.

      There are some real sickos out there in the real world. I would know. I was married to one of them.

      By the time I understood just how bad it was, how messed up, how fucked up (sorry, Lord, but You know the situation warrants it) the whole thing was, I had already healed, and there was no evidence to make criminal charges look like anything more than a vengeful spouse.

  • The concept of Soft Vengeance is perfect. I think it is what everyone would ultimately seek given perfect circumstances. It involves the full recognition by the offender of the full extent of their crimes and as in this case, the full remorse and accountability for not only what they did but what they were as people when they did it. But nothing like this is available to us chumps. Our perpetrators lack the requisite capacity for shame and the knowledge of what human connection means to those, their victims, who can feel it. Albie Sachs’ perpetrator was filled with hate but wasn’t likely disordered mentally. He therefore was reachable with truth. There are other huge differences which chumps would face in following the soft vengeance ideal. For one, there is no public admonition or accountability forced upon our perpetrators. There is no world wide message that one side is good and unjustly victimized and the other is hate and evil. Do not underestimate the importance of such societal affirmation in healing the victims of such harm. There is no Committee on Truth and Reconciliation for our perpetrators to confess publicly in front of. I believe that soft vengeance is the ideal. It requires full truth, full accountability, public assignation of evil and innocent, and real repentance and change. But we are up against so much worse (in terms of character development in our perpetrators) and armed with so much less (in terms of external support). I agree, work on building your own life rather than fixating on fighting these cheaters. But clearly see how far we are from societal justice in dealing with them. It almost isn’t a fair comparison to put soft vengeance as an example before us to aspire to, but it is nonetheless valid. It is indeed what we’d all want. And for those of us who face smug no-nothing’s who judge our unwillingness to “forgive”, it provides a perfect unassailable example of what we want from our refusal to forgive. We want this kind of win-win repentance, accountability, and upholding of truth. Why do they want less? I will use this story as the answer when challenged that I ask too much. No, I simply ask for what’s best for everyone involved – the perpetrator and their victim.

  • Bravo, I could not agree more. You have relieved my conscience, cleared up the fog in just one paragraph. Again Albert Einstein was right, ” if you can’t explain it simply you don’t understand it well enough.” Obviously you do understand it well enough and thank you sincerely for your help. I appreciate people like you and Chump Lady so very, very much.

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