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Is Revenge a Basic Instinct Of Man?


Revenge – the bane of mankind

From time immemorial, civilization has been witness to a number of wars. At times, these wars were so devastating that they have destroyed an entire community altogether. One of humanity’s most basic instincts is that of revenge. Revenge is one of the defining traits of humanity. The drive to exact vengeance on one’s enemy is the driving force behind many pivotal events in human history. The object of every war is to get revenge on the other side. Revenge is also a common motive for robbery and murder. There is no denying that revenge is a force for terrible deeds in this world, but at the same time, it is a basic human desire.

What does revenge mean?


Having said so much about revenge as the basic instinct of man lets first try and understand what is the literal meaning of this emotion that is so much talked about, ever since humanity came into being. Revenge: to avenge (as oneself) usually by retaliating in kind or degree: to inflict injury in return of an insult.

A walk into history

Stories of revenge are the oldest that man has ever told. So much so that even if one talks about mythologies, there are revengeful stories among Gods as well. When Adam and Eve eat fruit from the Garden of Eden, God takes his revenge from them by banishing them from the garden forever. Mahabharata, the great Indian epic is all about revenge. The entire war happened just because Pandav’s lost against their brothers Kaurav’s in a game of dice. In return the Kaurav’s publicly tried to play with the dignity of the Pandava queen Draupadi. In retaliation such a huge war the Mahabharata took place. Talk of Ramayana and it also has tales of revenge hidden within.

If we talk of the stone-age when no arms & ammunition were so easily available, there was no law of the land killings still happened. When man first learned to use tools and communicate, there was no police force or other entity capable of enforcing rules of any kind. If not for the threat of later revenge, there would not have been any reason for early humans to refrain from killing and stealing from each other. Revenge is the most basic and the crudest check on greed and just available to humans. The threat of retaliation provides enough of a negative incentive against many crimes as to be a very effective deterrent for a plethora of would-be criminals. However, revenge is by no means a perfect deterrent.

Great Shakespeare also has written a story based on Revenge. Hamlet, a very popular play written by Shakespeare and enacted in many forms is through and through a tale of revenge. Our own recent Bollywood movie Omkara is an adaptation of Hamlet. Stories of revenge have been a favorite with our Bollywood directors and scriptwriters. This very emotion has been an inspiration for many writers. Despite knowing the negativity of the instinct there is a strong force to get attracted towards the same.

Revengeful Instincts: Man v/s Woman

Is Revenge a Basic Instinct Of Man

Revenge is not a gender biased feeling. It is a universal instinct cutting across all races, communities, genders. Though recent statistics reveal that women have higher revenge instincts than men, nevertheless the proportion of male v/s female is quite similar. Both of them have similar reasons too. It could be a bad marriage, bad relationship, coming in the way of growth path in career.  Reasons might have changed with time and peoples way of dealing with situations as well. But, revenge still exists very very strongly in our minds to date. The form might have changed the frequency and magnitude may have slowed down. But the oldest emotion known to man exists till date.

Some of the common traits of a revengeful behavior:

  1. If someone is nasty to me, I will be nasty to them.
  2. If someone treats me like an enemy, I will treat them as one.
  3. When I am in a problem and a person does not help, I will not help the person in problem either.
  4. If someone damaged something dear to me, I would also try to damage something dear to that person.

Tolerance of Revengeful Behavior:

Tolerance of Revengeful Behavior

How far is revengeful behavior tolerable? We do understand that revenge is a natural instinct in man. But till what degree is this degree tolerable. Does a very acute tendency of taking revenge demand medical attention? How do we catch such signs in our children and what measures can we take to put it to a stop or to minimize the reactions? When a person gets too aggressive, loses temper quite often, uses abusive language for petty things, these signs should not be ignored. If the person can think of killing somebody in order to take revenge then the person certainly needs medical help. The person needs to be counseled.

Revenge is certainly not a positive emotion neither are the outcome of revenge very positive. It’s better to talk about it and deal with it with maturity. Taking medical advice is for sure fine. It’s better to prevent something that can be devastating. Learning to control our negative emotions and turning into a calm and composed human is not a bad thing after all. Something, which has stood the test of time in a negative light is something really not worth nurturing. Today if there is a means to get over it, we certainly should give it our best try.

The mistakes that our ancestors did in the form of revengeful wars, really has not helped anybody. As they say, one should learn from the mistakes of the past and lead towards a brighter future. Revenge is an instinct on which we do not have control, but certainly, we can devise ways to minimize its effect. It’s our world, let’s make it more beautiful. Revenge is one instinct imbibed in our system, but to react in a controlled manner is something in our hands.

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